The Devil and Daniel Johnston

The Devil and Daniel Johnston ★★★★½

"It's funny, but it's true
And it's true, but it's not funny"

In The Devil and Daniel Johnston, there's an striking lack of voice-over, there's no narrator. The archival images and sounds are just merely complementary (but also insightful).
What it does is that it let's the its characters move the narrative forwards instead.
And the film cares about the people.
The film ends with a few thoughts from Daniel's parents followed by a video of him dancing.
It doesn't ever really judge these people, it doesn't present neither a cruel nor one-sided reading of Johnston, the artist, the person, the outsider.

The music cues are almost contemplative, Feuerzeig makes no cuts. Just enough to let you breathe in Daniel's unorthodox genius.
It also helps that the songs are short.
And the recurrent use of the piano notes from Some Things Last A Long Time was a nice touch.
He uses these interludes next to the archival images because he wanted to save these other little, original recreations of the events without people for the rest.
And they worked perfectly, this film speaks volumes for itself.

The editing is, quite frankly, brilliant.
I'm not an expert, so take this with a grain of salt, but this is one of the few documentaries I've seen that shoots, frames and edits its interviews with great skill.
Especially when compared to, say, Finding Vivian Maier, where the camera work is very motonous, and the people we see are too close to us as if the film wants and begs to feel personal and intimate, but it makes for a jarring experience when most of the people interviewed never really knew the subject or thought lesser things of them.

Rest in peace, Daniel Johnston.
I've known about this documentary for ages, but never actively looked forward to it, and it's sad that it was his passing what finally brought it to my attention.
But I'm glad, I'm happy I was able to take my time and see it.
For, as much as this doesn't ask or answer any questions (does it need to?), and there's not a single interviewee who is an expert on mental illnesses, drugs, religion or even the music itself, and everything in it can be reduced to be simply anecdotal and oversimplified, I can finally understand who he was outside of recycled articles and YouTube videos made out of those recycled articles.

Jon liked these reviews