Moped in a movie: The Devil And Daniel Johnston

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Moped in a movie: The Devil And Daniel Johnston

Postby Micronaut » Wed Apr 12, 2006 7:41 pm

http://theedge.bostonherald.com/movieRe ... eid=133941

After running off on a moped and joining a carnival, he ends up in Austin, where he gets a job at Mickey D’s and starts recording his work - mostly autobiographical pop-music laments and ditties - on cassettes.

If you’re in the mood for a movie about a manic-depressive who has never moved out of his parents’ home, you could do worse than Jeff Feuerzeig’s ‘‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston.”
Johnston, the film’s real-life protagonist, is a one-time employee of an Austin, Texas, McDonald’s restaurant and was once described as America’s finest singer-songwriter by the late Kurt Cobain, a man who knew manic-depression.
Johnston and his work have generated a cult.
The film, which benefits hugely from home movies made by Johnston through the years chronicling his every move and every bad haircut, is a celebration of Johnston’s art, music and tortured life.
If, like me, you find his art and music childish, self-indulgent and monotonously morose and Johnston himself an off-putting, if not alienating figure, you may not be as thrilled by the film as Johnston devotees. ‘‘Songs of Pain” indeed.
The fine line between genius and madness has been far more entertainingly examined in such films as Terry Zwigoff’s fine 1994 documentary ‘‘Crumb.” Johnston makes Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar seem as huggable as Forrest Gump by comparison.
Growing up in Virginia, Johnston produces comic books and animation in his parents’ basement. After running off on a moped and joining a carnival, he ends up in Austin, where he gets a job at Mickey D’s and starts recording his work - mostly autobiographical pop-music laments and ditties - on cassettes.
He is discovered by area DJs, music critics and, bingo, MTV. He pines all his life for a fellow college student he hardly knew and is plagued by paralyzing bouts of depression and debilitating antidepressants. In New York City for a gig, he eludes his handlers for two weeks by living in a men’s shelter in the Bowery.
Johnston doesn’t let the fact he can’t play guitar stop him from performing on that instrument in Texas, where guitars are almost as revered as guns. His art and music appear to have struck a chord with the persecuted inner child huddled inside his Generation X and grunge-decade fans (one of Johnston’s songs is about Casper the Friendly Ghost). But for the disinclined, Johnston worship is like trying to explain Deadheads.

Johnston, whose Crumb-meets-Torquemada drawings are hot on the fine-art market, comes across as someone battling mental illness between attempts to become famous. His deepest desire is to be another John Lennon. But he’s never found his Yoko.
Feuerzeig, who was named best director at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, adds a distracting lacy overlay to Johnston’s home movies. ‘‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston” is an impressive display of the editor-compiler’s art.
Johnston comes across as crazy like a fox half the time, and scenes in which he demonstrates a growing religious mania suggest he may be a garden-variety nut-job.
Facing the prospect of leaving their troubled 40-something son to fend for himself after their death, Johnston’s aged parents make a tear-filled plea for help and understanding at the film’s end. On one level, ‘‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston” is their story, too, and the anguish of caring for a mentally ill child is etched on their faces.
(‘‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston” contains profanity and some disturbing imagery.)
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