The Devil Inside

When the subject of a documentary has been self-documenting himself for most of his natural life, it presents a filmmaker with no dearth of source material. It does, however, raise an obvious challenge: How do you condense decades of experience and introspection into a cohesive narrative? Given his subject's near-mythical cult status and exponentially renowned psychotic episodes, The Devil and Daniel Johnston's director might have had his work cut out for him had it not been for a career in commercial advertising.

Cutting the fat to push the product comes second nature to an ad man. Combined with an interest in instinctive freeform music (see his other music docs about jazz great Jon Hendricks and Half-Japanese, Johnston's monster and heartbreak songwriting soul mates), Jeff Feuerzeig's day job fully prepares him to tell the story of this tumultuous Texas legend.

Whereas most creative kids go through a period dabbling with boom boxes or home video recorders, Daniel Johnston made such unsophisticated means his signature. He was raised in a strict Christian household where his artistic impulses were not well received, much less lovingly fostered. Most documentaries would have eyewitness accounts or hearsay of such treatment. Feuerzeig is able to let us experience for ourselves as Johnston tape-records his mother's damnations. We follow along while he gains notoriety as Austin's singer-songwriter savant. We join Sonic Youth's search party when Daniel goes AWOL in New York City. We sit across from his father, who transforms from stoic patriarch to blubbering mess as he recounts having to crash-land a plane after Daniel hurled the ignition keys out the window in mid-flight.

In putting the audience so close to Daniel Johnston's successes and setbacks, Feuerzeig exposes an intricate double-helix wherein the unquestionable purity of Johnston's cataclysmic talent intertwines with an equally undeniable madness. The Devil and Daniel Johnston screens at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St. Tickets are $5.50 to $7.50. Call 817-738-9215 or visit themodern.org.
May 12-14

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Geoff Johnston