DANIEL JOHNSTON Interview (5/1/16, Cinefamily)
We had the honor of attending a special “Show and Tell” event featuring Daniel Johnston at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles. For those that aren’t familiar with Cinefamily, this wondrous nonprofit organization hosts unique film events at a historic theater that once featured only silent movies. Lucky for us, silence was in short supply as we were graced with nearly two hours of fascinating (and in some instances never before publicly shared) footage and commentary relating to the legendary Daniel Johnston’s creative repertoire.
The night began with a home movie of Daniel creating a campy horror short film entitled “Sorry It Was An Axe-Cident,” featuring Daniel attacking and dismembering loved ones. As one of the organizers stated, this was a “relatable” piece of cinema, something that any adolescent male with a film camera would have been proud of, chalk full of teenage angst, gore and juvenile humor.
Louis Black, formerly of the Austin Chronicle (and current Board Member at Cinefamily) shared his memories of meeting and helping to discover Daniel back in Austin Texas in the 1980’s. Louis recounted how Daniel had once handed him one of his infamous tapes, telling him it wasn’t for him to review but rather simply to listen to. Perhaps it was Daniel’s wide-eyed innocence, unsophisticated solicitation methods, or sly reverse psychological tactics, but whatever the strategy was, it apparently worked! Louis stated how he felt compelled to listen to the cassette he had been given and ended up playing it consecutively for 3 days in the office, creating a buzz of interest amongst co-workers at the newspaper.
Another highlight of the evening was hearing Marie Javins, a former intern at the Austin Chronicle, talk about her experiences in meeting Daniel and documenting his musings and performances in the later 1980’s. Daniel fondly recalled Marie’s presence in those halcyon days, although he and Marie had different recollections of whether she was fully clothed the first time they met! Historical accuracies aside, there was a sweetness to both Louis and Marie’s recounting of their early experiences with Daniel and it was evident in their interactions how they still treated Daniel with a gentle reverance three decades later.
Another memorable piece shown was an unearthed music video for Daniel’s track “Life in Vain” produced by Atlantic Records during their investment in Daniel for his first major label release in 1994. This music video, which few people had apparently seen, featured an uncredited (but unmistakable) young Mathew McConaughey.
The crowd also was privy to footage featuring Daniel during his more intense, emotionally labile periods, with an intense gaze and manic energy that appeared to cover up a deeper sadness and anxiety about the state of the word around him. In some of these clips, slow-motion shots fixated on Daniel’s face, with his forced smile seemingly hiding dark states of depression and debilitation. Daniel’s well known fixation on the Devil was demonstrated here as well as he stated that “I turned my back on God. I paid more attention to comic books. I was a fool. Now I’m lost…”
However, if there was one theme for the evening, it was that of resiliency. Pouring your energy into creating art. Transcending the banal limitations of life whenever possible, connecting with people through a shared humanism and experiences of love and loss, life and death.
After the event, when he was done interacting with countless loyal fans (including one Mr. Bobcat Goldthwait who we witnessed amongst the attendees), I had the chance to sit down with Daniel and talk in greater depth about his recent short-film documentary “Hi, How Are You” as well as other topics. In honor of the evening at an old silent movie theater, here’s a special black and white “cinematic” version of our interview:
Thanks again to Daniel, Dick and the good folks at Cinefamily for this memorable evening.
For more information about Daniel and his projects, check out www.hihowareyou.com.
For more information about the exciting things going on at Cinefamily, check out www.cinefamily.org.
Inner Edge Music