As the Brian Wilson of indie rock, Daniel Johnston makes damn good copy. His awkward, earnest brand of folk-pop, recorded no-fi style and shot through with warbly vocals, confesses innocence and dread, complementing an already legendary back story: raised by strict religious parents, by the time the gifted Johnston became the toast of Austin’s 80s underground music scene he was already afflicted by the evangelical delusions that would eventually land him in institutions and sabotage his career while fueling his creativity.
Feuerzeig’s documentary has in essence been made for him — Johnston practically recorded his entire life, not only in song, but in art, audio diaries, and home movies, all of which the director makes ample and successful use. It’s all here, from evidence of Johnston’s budding talent as a teen producing eyeball cartoons to Sonic Youth’s frenzied search for the lost manic depressive manchild. The Devil captivates, happy ending and all, but there’s also a stench of carnival freakshow in other musicians’ association with the “mad genius” Johnston to increase their cool quotient.