I was first exposed to Daniel Johnston when the trailer of this movie came out. It was during my phase of needing to watch every single trailer that came out but it was always worth it when I found a gem to become obsessed with. The Devil and Daniel Johnston was definitely one of them and even though I wasn’t really sure who he was I was fully caught up on his music and career before the movie actually came out.
It was extremely easy for me to get into Daniel Johnston ‘cause I loved his voice from the very beginning. He has that strange voice that so many people cringe and move away from but I can’t get enough of. This movie does a great job of outlining his life and career. I think at times they give him the benefit of the doubt more than the maybe should. The best thing about watching this film now is how most of his career was based out of Austin. When I first saw the film I had only been to Austin on day trips as a kid but now I know Austin well and can get around no problem so seeing a lot of familiar places in the movie was interesting.
The other thing about watching the movie now is really how little they show you of his music. Yes, songs play in the background but you never really get to hear a full song. This movie seems to be best if you are already a fan going in. I think this stood out to me a lot because Elizabeth was not into this movie but it totally makes sense to me. If we knew each other in high school I’m sure her not liking the movie would of made me mad but the way the movie is laid out really makes it feel like a love letter to Daniel as fan instead of, hey this guy is amazing, come check him out.
I think this movie is great but in terms of great documentaries I don’t think it has what it takes to transcend genres.
The problem I had with The Devil and Daniel Johnston is that it’s a documentary about the life and trials of a genius musician. Except . . . he’s not a genius musician? Not to me at least. I tried listening to Daniel Johnston in high school, but it all just sounded horrible to me; just like a child screeching into a tape recorder from 1985.
I wanted to watch this documentary because I did think it would be interesting and it’s not like I knew a ton about him. And I probably would have found it more interesting as a portrait of a bipolar man. But watching it under the assumption that this guy will blow your mind with his ingenius take on music and songwriting was just sort of maddening.