Danielson: A Family Movie Reviews
Funny thing is...I believe him. He's being completely sincere. For me, this is the kicker. I don't have a whole lot of love for Christian Rock. I've found the label applies primarily to disingenuous groups with mediocre talent who exploit a built-in fanbase. Oddly, I think Daniel Smith would agree. He refuses to be pigeonholed so easily. His music has an organic, unpolished brightness about it. It's mildly punky, a little folksy, and most assuredly unique. I'm reminded of Modest Mouse, Daniel Johnston, and The B-52's. The sound grows on you like a warm rash. The band sports nurses costumes, meant to signify the healing power of Christ, that lends them a wacky, unsettling uniformity. Wacky because, like The B-52's with their bouffant hair-do's, the look is intentionally kitschy. Unsettling because I can't help but think of fascism and Christianity.
But now I'm projecting. When I hear Daniel Smith speak, I think of Marilyn Manson. I mean this as a compliment. Marilyn Manson tries so hard aesthetically to distance himself from the main-stream that it comes as a shock when you hear him in an interview. He's soft-spoken, gracious, intelligent, poised, and objective. Daniel Smith carries himself with the same mien. He wins you over with his lack of pretension. In short, I'm a fan. I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but there it is. Sometimes I just gotta shut up and listen to the music.
But going into the movie only for Stevens, I was very surprised by how much I liked it. It's great to see a band that's so genuine, and to see them become successful on top of that! The Danielson Famile are fantastic people, and I've definitely become a fan of their work after seeing this movie. Hopefully, I'll catch them (or at least Danielson) in concert sometime soon. :)
The film follows the band's rise to 'fame' - or whatever it was that they rose to - and captures the genuine bond that the family shares with one another as they gradually grow and gain lives for themselves. Rachel gets married, Megan goes to design school, Daniel's wife has a baby, and despite their deep desire to continue touring together, life essentially goes on. While most stories would end there, this is where 'Danielson' just begins. With the band seemingly poised for an explosive start and its members gradually paving lives for themselves elsewhere, the parts and players constantly fluctuate with rotating instrumentalists. And when Daniel Smith - the main hub of the Danielson wheel - finally takes to the stage as a solo act, he only brings one other member with him. That member just happens to be a then little-known musician named Sufjan Stevens.
The pairing is ironic to say the least: the soft-spoken strumming of Stevens juxtaposed with Daniel's staggering falsetto; one making your head turn to listen more intently with the other making you ask to turn it down. It isn't long before the inevitable occurs and Sufjan is swept up into the sea that Danielson always skirted around without ever officially swimming in. A sea of sold out shows and chart topping singles that crash on the banks of approval and applause from circles that Danielson had every hope of appealing to. And yet an indelible mark is left on Sufjan's style from his Danielson days: his use of a variety of instruments, his unique approach to discussing topics of faith, and even his 'family' feel during live shows. Still, one can't help but feel a little sad to see Daniel struggle to follow the Famile act while the artist he mentored leaves him behind.
In the end, it is more than appropriate to call J.L. Aronson's documentary 'a family movie'. Sure, it's clean family fare as far as MPA ratings go; but more importantly it captures the complexity of issues that families inevitably face: excitement of working together towards a dream, the somewhat awkward reality that those dreams become, and the struggle to remain true to those dreams in the face of success and/or disappointment despite whatever prides and jealousies may come. This is family at its best - where love is the law and leaves enough room for everyone....purple jumpsuits and all.
And the music is of course bizarre. It's a celebration of artistic freedom I suppose, but outside of that it is difficult to suggest that the music has any sort of lasting power. But just I say that there are clearly those who attended his shows, thought he was a genious, and were somehow inspired on this man's message of faith.
A famil dressed in doctors and nurses outfits. A man singing while wearing a tree outfit which has the 9 fruits of the spirit hanging from it's branches. Bizarre arrangements that incorporate whatever instrument these guys can get their hands on. An almost socially inept frontman who seems to never quite make sense in his interviews. And an oddly raw and unpolished documentary all make this one a unique experience that can't quite be rated.