Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

We watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston on Saturday night, and it's both powerful and shattering. It's a documentary about the life of Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter whose work is both childlike and dark. And paranoid. And frequently off-key.

And brilliant. His lyrics are incredibly piercing, and his voice often echoes Neil Young in a kind of fractured way. It's all disjointed and unnerving and--frequently--quite beautiful.

Just about everyone has covered a Daniel Johnston song: Sonic Youth, Kurt Cobain, Billy Bragg, Beck, Tom Waits, Pearl Jam, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, and David Bowie.

And two hundred others, roughly. He has an incredible following among musicians.

Johnston's life has been unbelievably troubled. He's manic-depressive and has had several extended stays in mental institutions. His illness has almost cost him his life, most notably when he removed the keys from a plane being piloted by his father and threw them out the window. His father, miraculously, crash-landed in a wooded area and they both survived.

His erratic and often disturbing mental state makes the documentary very painful to watch at times. This isn't one of those stories where there's some kind of hearwarming triumph at the end, just a fractured, tenuous existence that has somehow survived.

Here's a link to the Rotten Tomatoes page (88%), and the Amazon link is here.

Oh, and one other note: the filmmaking is first-rate in this documentary. Absolutely first-rate.

Site Meter