directed by Jeff Feuerzeig
USA 2005


To open a film with the statement about Daniel Johnston, as “…the greatest singer-songwriter alive today.” Both is bold and provocative, especially since few ever heard about him. But during the film, it becomes clear, that there may be some truth in that statement, especially after one learns about the contract Elektra drew up for him, where they didn’t demand either success, touring or public appearances, nor would pressure him for material, and would secure him with any medical help he would need. At the same time, the insanity of Daniel Johnston is visual via this contract, as while Elektra basically offered him money for the rest of his life, asking nothing of him than he continued to do what he already did, he turned it down, as they also managed Metallica, and hence he saw them as advocates for the devil.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston” is a brutally honest and intelligent documentary portrait of the artist Daniel Johnston, from his early teenage years up until today, mixing recorded material with interviews and documentary collages.

One only has to listen to a few phrases of his lyrics to realize his genius, putting odd words together in almost childish na´ve simplicity into profound poetry, full of pain, love and broken dreams. Then to see him go into deep depressions and insanity only is the more painful. In one sequence, his manager talks about Johnston as a genius, while the film shows pictures of Van Gogh, Poe and Byron, and then having him talk about he had to commit Johnston, because he was a danger, not only to himself, but also to others. A central sequence, it notes upon our romantic view upon insanity and artists, where we hail their insanity in relation to their art, and then harsh realism, where one has to commit a genius you love, because it is the only right thing to do.

Another central passage is the one about his obsessive love with Laurie Allen, solid footnoted by interview segments by friends and family, as well as Johnstons’ own songs, recordings and drawings, Laurie being his Beatrice, his muse, who made him write some beautiful songs of love and the pain of loss. Sadly missing from the film is the Daniel and Laurie meeting years later, which is part of the additional material on the DVD.

Kudos to Feuerzeig for creating an honest portrait of Daniel Johnston and one of the best documentary portraits I yet have seen. A must see and one of the best films of the year.

Henrik Sylow


Theatrical Release: January 2005 (Sundance Film Festival)

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DVD Review: Tartan - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Henrik Sylow for the Review!

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Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:45:45 (4% PAL speedup)

1.78:1 Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio 2.0 Dolby Digital English, 5.1 Dolby Digital English, DTS English
Subtitles English Subtitles on recorded passages
Features Release Information:
Studio: Tartan

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Audio Commentary by Jeff Feuerzeig and Henry Rosenthal
• Deleted Scenes
• Cinema of Daniel Johnston
• Original Theatrical Trailer

DVD Release Date: August 21, 2006
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Chapters 16



Comments Recorded on 8mm, 16mm and HD, the transfer is, as far as this goes, beautiful. Details are strong, solid colours, and minimum of artefacts in blown up sequences.

Sound comes in three different forms, DTS the best, as it adds so much space to the sound stage.

Additional material begins with a audio commentary by director Jeff Feuerzeig and producer Henry Rosenthal. An amazing commentary, where they talk about Johnston, his music, background and illness, as well as production details, as driving 115 miles to make a 5 second shot of a motel.

Following this are some deleted scenes, and then featurettes, which has, for me, the best element, namely the reunion of Daniel and Laurie, where they get to talk out. Knowing what Laurie represented for Daniel, this featurette really is the cherry on top.

Finally three short films by Daniel Johnston.

 - Henrik Sylow



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