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The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2004)

Cast: Daniel Johnston, Daniel Johnston, Mabel Johnston, more...
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jeff Feuerzeig
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Sony Pictures
Genre: Documentary, Music, Documentary, Music, Quirky Characters
Running Time: 110 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: French
    see additional details...

A decade after wowing critics with his debut feature Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King, director Jeff Feuerzeig finally delivered his sophomore effort -- a documentary about the life and music of singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston. Using archived film clips and recordings with newly shot footage and interviews, the film paints a detailed and honest picture of the tortured genius. The Devil and Daniel Johnston premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Says: The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005; $19.95). "A one-of-a-kind cinematic experience," (San Francisco Chronicle), Jeff Feuerzeig's doc is a stunning portrait of a musical and artistic genius who nearly slipped away. "An imaginative and at times heart breaking tribute." (

Read GreenCine's exclusive interview with filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig. Known in the early 90s for his highly unusual (and highly entertaining) approach to music docs (e.g., Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King), Feuerzeig disappeared for a while only to return with a work that reaches miles farther and deeper. David D'Arcy talks with him about his moving portrait, The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Full article >>

GreenCine Member Reviews

That Evasive Thing Called Genius by ZenBones September 26, 2006 - 5:02 PM PDT
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
"Geniuses" seem to be crawling out of the woodwork as of late. In the past two years, I've been introduced to undiscovered 'geniuses' like Jandek and Henry Darger (in the films "Jandek on Corwood" and "In the Realm of the Unreal"). And I'm happy to see that Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre is finally getting the recognition that he deserves because of the documentary "Dig." I don't find those above to be quite the geniuses that the documentaries about them make them out to be, but I do think they are all very talented and fascinating. As for Daniel Johnston, well he is sort of fascinating. But talented [?] ... it escapes me completely. I can't help but compare him to Jandek, another subterranean self-made musician/composer, and of course to Elliott Smith whose music shares an innocent, squeaky quality with Johnston, and who was also deeply fucked up by the fire-and-brimstone religion of his youth. For all I know those two might have been inspired by Johnston, but to me their talent far exceeds Johnston's.

Still, I am happy for those who are in simpatico with Johnston for as an outsider myself I know how important it is to connect. Also, even though I really didn't like his music, I'd take it and his persona over 95% of the other musicians and performers out there. But somehow I don't totally buy the adoration of this man by most of his fans other than their interest in his novelty. I'm sure many of Johnston's fans really do appreciate his music, but I also sensed from this movie that a lot of people are just so hungry for something that isn't polished, chic, glamorous, gothic or manufactured, that they've embraced him simply because he is the antithesis of MTV. [Viewers of the film will sense the irony in that statement]

Anyway, if you do find yourself a fan of Johnston, this film will do for you what "Tarnation" did for me (i.e., peel back the layers of your pain and wrap it around you like a blanket). For the rest of us who are not touched by his music and art, there's still a pretty fascinating documentary here. There's little irony in the fact that the two things that destroyed Johnston were both institutions; one religious, and the other controlled by a profession that is about 2% real science and nurturing and 98% about 'managing people' so that they won't bother anybody. It's impossible to know who Daniel Johnston would have been had he not had demons poured into his brain, but perhaps he would have just been a guy cleaning tables at McDonalds that the world would have ignored forever. The good thing about this documentary is that it might make you ponder the next person you see with a mop in their hand and wonder where their genius lies.

Faith-Based Filmmaking by talltale September 22, 2006 - 4:13 PM PDT
4 out of 6 members found this review helpful
If you be among the uninitiated as to the "talent" of lapsed/born again/lapsed/born again, southern singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, beware the Sundance "find" and award-winning documentary THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON. Halfway through this mess of movie that perhaps properly reflects the mess of the life it heralds, my companion asked me in all seriousness if this might be one of those Christopher Guest-type mockumentaries like "Waiting for Guffman." Dan fans will cry "Cretin!" at my description, but really, the movie abounds in silliness and is a failed attempt at giving Johnston anything approaching credibility as a talented songwriter, let alone singer or artist (his drawings are also given a "push" to greatness).

Listen: I am not saying that this guy is not some amazing seer, but on the basis of what documentarian Jeff Feuerzeig shows us, we've just got to have faith--and a lot of it--a la the Christian definition: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Sorry, but faith-based filmmaking doesn't do it for me. Nothing we see or hear shows all that much talent at work. Finally, at film's close, we get to hear an almost full-length song from Daniel (his "Casper" number), and indeed this has some charm and sweetness. And this story of an in-and-out-of-institutions young man whose parents forced religion down his throat is a sad one, as it would be were it about anyone. And there is irony aplenty in a record contract signed in a mental ward that gives away the store to the artist (nice change there!). But in terms of preaching to the converted, this movie leaves in the dust any Michael Moore opus you'd care to mention. Kurt Cobain was evidently an enormous fan of Johnston's work. To me this makes perfect sense. In fact, I suggest a double bill of this movie and "Last Days."

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.87)
79 Votes
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