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Originally published Friday, December 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Danielson": A leap of faith if you don't know Christian rocker's music

He sings like a strangled mouse, but musician Daniel Smith has the kind of independent career that is sustained by a small but loyal fan...

Special to The Seattle Times

He sings like a strangled mouse, but musician Daniel Smith has the kind of independent career that is sustained by a small but loyal fan base.

Which is good, because even if one can't really get a fix on him as an artist while watching "Danielson: A Family Movie," one certainly gets a strong impression of Smith's tireless work ethic and faith in his creative process.

"Danielson," an interesting but frustrating documentary by J.L. Aronson, traces Smith's ascent from Bible camp to international cult status. The film underscores the degree to which South Jersey native Smith has made music a family affair, enlisting siblings, in-laws and friends in a traveling, costumed act called the Danielson Famile. (Smith strains, sweetly, to explain how his first name morphed, as a convoluted tribute to God, into the band's moniker, Danielson.)

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Danielson: A Family Movie," a documentary with Daniel Smith, Sufjan Stevens. Directed by J.L. Aronson. 105 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Northwest Film Forum.

What "Danielson" doesn't do enough of is reveal Smith's music on its own terms. Not that Aronson was obligated to make a concert film. But it would have been a good idea to let us hear more of what people are talking about when, in the film, they come away from a show excited, mystified or something in between.

Certainly, there is reason to be intrigued: The Danielson Famile is a sizable ensemble, but their sound is oddly minimalist yet ecstatic. Smith's squeezed vocals may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's not hard to hear in his music a kind of rock 'n' roll Christian mysticism, slightly lonely yet befitting the family's strong, driving religious faith.

The best thing about "Danielson," which began shooting in 2002, is watching Smith hang on even as bandmates leave and a key player in the group — singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens — becomes a huge star on his own, bigger than Smith will ever be. Throughout, Smith carries on, certain his destiny is out of his hands.

Tom Keogh:

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