If the Outsider Music doc really is becoming a genre all its own, then The Devil And Daniel Johnston deserves to be the standard bearer. Jeff Feuerzeig's richly constructed film charts the life of the titular troubled genius from childhood to the present day. Rock 'n' roll's capacity for recycling legend means the stories of Johnston's life, and the way in which they're told, could easily fall into cliché. Instead they are original, engrossing and sometimes heartbreaking.
Daniel Johnston was a precocious West Virginia kid who created a unique world of art and music from an early age. The son of conservative, god fearing, totally bemused parents, the young Johnston - a Sam Rockwell lookalike with Elmo vocal chords - leaps out of the screen as the star of his own brilliant homemade super-8 comedies. It's a great entrance and symptomatic of a life recorded. Every moment of Johnston's life seems to have been saved for posterity, in preparation for beckoning fame. It's narcissism, but it's also something more; a broken psyche honed on superhero comics and fundamental Christianity and filled with delusions of grandeur that would torture and destroy him and his music career. Johnston today is a bloated, defeated shell.
"AN OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT"
The Devil And Daniel Johnston is a frantic trip of pain, laughs and drama, ingeniously rendered as a sort of first person narrative. That Feuerzeig took the fruits of his subject's tormented psyche and carved out such a coherent, moving (as well as beautifully illustrated) life story is an outstanding achievement. It makes a star of a kid whose mind failed his talent. It's the least Daniel Johnston deserves.