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The Devil and Daniel Johnston - Preview

Preview by: Jack Foley

WHO is Daniel Johnston, you may ask?

A self-taught musician and songwriter, Johnston is often hailed as being an Outsider artist, having achieved a cultish renown for his primitive, unimpeachably sincere music.

He commands a dedicated following among fellow musicians, numbering among his fans the likes of Sonic Youth, David Bowie and the late Kurt Cobain, while his songs have been covered by acts such as Half Japanese, Tom Waits and Teenage Fanclub.

Film fans may be able to glean more about this artist if they catch The Devil and Daniel Johnson, an intimate documentary that won the directors' award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

It is also playing at the Edinburgh Film Festival as well as the upcoming Raindance Film Festival, where it promises to be among the most talked-about documentaries on show.

Daniel Johnston first came to attention in 1985, roaming the streets of Austin, Texas, handing out home-made cassettes of his songs, seemingly at random.


From the outset, he was different, not so much concerned with recognition as an artist, but craving the limelight and the kind of glory and adulation enjoyed by his idols, The Beatles.

Sadly, he also suffers from mental illness which caused him to alternate between periods of normalcy and mania. His best moments inevitably serve as precursors to his worst.

Jeff Feuerzeig's film has been praised for the way in which it respectfully deals with its subject matter, refusing to become exploitative or overly flashy.

It paints a vivid picture of a remarkable person that has deservedly garnered acclaim on the festival circuit.

Feuerzeig, himself, is quoted as saying: "With literally every key moment of Daniel Johnston’s life and every emotion he felt available to me, I was able to assemble a deeply personal and satisfying narrative that displays Daniel’s essence in all its naked glory.

"My journey of discovery was to take a ride on the fragile precipice of madness and genius, and Daniel supplied me with the tools to take us there. It was a privilege to have gotten so close to a fire that burns so intensely."

Related story: Raindance 2005 line-up unveiled

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