The Devil and Daniel Johnston

A devastating and inspirational documentary about mentally ill songwriter Daniel Johnston. The film tells his story from his early days of wanting to be the high school art star to his first successes as a singer in Austin’s weird ’80s music scene, through his religiously inspired mental breakdown. Johnston’s work is so colorful and variegated, and his efforts at making a narrative of his life are so weird and childish and clichéd, that he pretty much guarantees a good movie. But director Jeff Feuerzeig does an amazing job anyway, neatly arranging the details of Johnston’s life and choosing a constantly appropriate flow of images. This is only Feuerzeig’s second feature, and I hope he makes more, because the ability to clearly tell stories is rare enough among documentarians. To do it with visual flair and such a keen and entertaining editorial sensibility is a real gift.

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