Film | The Devil and Daniel Johnston – a hardhitting yet uplifting portrayal of a man struggling with mental illness

Hyde Park Picture House was the perfect setting for an authentic and often haunting documentary about the life and influences of troubled singer, songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston, shown as part of this weekends Leeds Love Arts Festival.

Suffering from extreme manic depression and bipolar disorder from a young age, the documentary features many hard-hitting scenes showcasing the darker side to Johnston’s turbulent music career. The chronological order proves informative and interesting, but it was unnerving and disturbing to watch the decline of a person’s mental state played out in front of you, narrated by his immediate family and close friends.

Despite the emotional turmoil displayed through the medium of film, it was often uplifting to witness the struggles Johnston has overcome, and is a delight to see that at the time of production in 2005 he was still making music. The self-documented style, with most of the footage filmed by Johnston himself, addresses the romanticised cliché of the fine line between creativity and madness by dealing with the realities of psychiatric hospitals and the suffering Johnston and his family felt. The documentary features it’s own fair share of musical famous faces, such as Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and Kurt Cobain. Even cartoonist Matt Groening stars at the end of the documentary, giving it a subtle edge of stardom and the recognition Johnston’s work deserves.

Whether you enjoy Johnston’s music and art or not, this documentary makes for an interesting character study of the troubled star that proves to be an unforgettable experience.

 Emma Bowden

Image: Tartan Films


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