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The Devil and Daniel Johnston   (released 3/22/2006)
By Neil Norman

What is Creativity? How does it work? Does your environment have effects on your creative development while growing up? Where do you draw the line between genius and crazy? These are some of the ideas presented in the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, directed by Jeff Feuerzeig.

The film tells the life story of Daniel Johnston, one of the most famous Singer/Songwriters and Artists you've probably never heard of. Divided into three parts, the film chronicles Johnston's early home life, rise to fame as a musician, and current state of existence.

What is fascinating is that Johnston himself shot a lot of the early footage on super 8. He also recorded most of his life, ranging from impromptu concerts to fights with his mother, on a cheap tape deck. A gifted child at an early age, Johnston stood out in school for his artistic ability and seemingly unstoppable creativity. Unfortunately, that was also what created a conflict with his family (who appear in the film) and their deeply rooted Christian values. Whether or not this conflict was a stepping stone (or just the first bump in the road) to his later condition is for the audience to decide.

The amazing parts of this film are how we actually get to see into Johnston's life. Feuerzeig deftly weaves interviews with family members, musical friends, and footage and audio of Daniel himself in depicting the long hard road that he had to travel. Suspense is built for the viewer that doesn't know Daniel's history until we finally find out what happened to the creative influence that so many people fell in love with.

Testimonials abound in this picture from people that knew Daniel, but the real wisdom comes from the artist himself. The self proclaimed "Manic Depressive with grand illusions" is comfortable being who he has to be, instead of what others think he should be, no matter what the costs.

Feuerzeig paints a fascinating and haunting portrait of the crazy genius in this film. Some people might believe that Daniel was off his rocker, but many more worshiped him for the ease with which he connected to the Creative energy. Who are we to say which one of us is crazy? One thing's for sure: Even if we can't decide, we will still be inspired.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston plays as part of the Florida Film Festival at the Enzian Theater on Monday, March 27th at 9:30PM.

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