Starring (as themselves) Daniel Johnston, Bill Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Louis Black
This is a documentary based on the life of musician, song-writer, and artist Daniel Johnston. Throughout his life he had taped conversations and videoed life going on all around him, many of these are used in this documentary. Johnston is something of a cult hit in the music industry. Numerous big names have come out in support of his music, and Kurt Cobain in particular raised his profile by wearing a t-shirt of Johnston’s album art for Hi How Are You. But to the world at large he is fairly unknown.
Daniel Johnston suffers from bipolar disorder, and a lot of his music if based on hallucinations, mood swings, and obsessions. In particular one fixation one girl, Laurie Allen, he met in his teenage years.
It is hard to ignore the music in this film, it is almost frightening in its honesty. But I don’t think I could listen to much of it. Johnston is a hugely talented song-writer, but the raw nature of his singing means that he probably comes across much better in live performances.
While this is fascinating look at Daniel, and his struggle with mental illness, this film seems a little exploitative. I suppose every documentary uses the subject, but somehow the impression of Daniel Johnston being used by the documentary really comes across.
They say that every artist is a little crazy, but as one of his friends says in this film, the abstract is a lot easier to take than the reality.