White Lightnin' Taps Its Way Into Sundance's Heart

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A 1991 PBS documentary called Dancing Outlaw introduced the world to the life and times of gas-huffing, vengeance-seeking, tap-dancin’ Jesco White. White Lightnin’, which premiered recently at Sundance, is British director Dominic Murphy’s reportedly more surreal take on this fabled Appalachian anti-hero. While not locked in reform school, work camps, or the psych ward, the young Jesco White learned his special breed of clog dancing from his father, who was eventually killed in a random act of hillbilly violence. In White Lightnin' Jesco picks up his daddy’s tap shoes and hits the road, where he comes to grips with the art, addiction, and madness that have plagued his violent life story. And somewhere along the way he meets his wife, played by none other than Carrie Fisher. While David D’Arcy speaks almost fondly of White Lightnin's redneck-exploitation (he was probably stretching for other ways to describe this “hillbilly slasher saga”), Dennis Harvey was less enchanted by the film’s “pretentious glimpse of hillbilly hell.” Most early reviews are apprehensive about the film’s distribution chances unless its grotesque lyricism finds a niche market. But I can't imagine this, being the first film written by the co-founders of Vice Magazine, not generating more distribution steam in the near future. If anyone knows how to generate buzz it is those guys. It will appear at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

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Around the Internet

SonaBoyJanuary 28, 2009 1:43 AM

I believe the term is actually Rednexploitation.

Todd BrownJanuary 28, 2009 6:53 AM

I've been hearing nothing but great things about this one ... need to track it down ...

andrewzJanuary 29, 2009 2:13 AM

I've seen the original documentary some years ago, but not Dancing Outlaw 2 which chronicles Jeseco's adventures in Hollywood and Roseann's attempt to get him on her show. IIRC, he appeared during the end credits of one episode.

I'm leery of this movie. The documentary captured Jeseco and his family in a direct way. I fear a more traditional movie format may cause some mediation which seems to be where some of the criticisms originate. Honestly, a narrative movie is just not the best vehicle for Jeseco's story.

I don't recall Jeseco's dad dying from random violence, but I could be wrong. It was his rambling about his sunglasses that I remember most and IIRC, it was somehow intertwined in the recounting of his dad's death. If the opening credits are similar to Napoleon Dynamite's, there'd better be some sloppy scrambled eggs.

Having Carrie Fisher as his wife is an interesting choice. I wonder if they will reenact Jeseco's first meeting with her where he recounted that he originally was going to rob her because her "sparkly dress" made them think she was rich. But then he fell in love with her instead (this while they had been huffing gas with a sock in an RC can shortly before).

andrewzJanuary 29, 2009 5:53 AM

Any idea where I can get "Talking Feet"? Does it have Jeseco in it or is it all Ken Burn's style photos with panning camera shots?

MLearyJanuary 29, 2009 6:22 AM

Looks like Smithsonian Folkways has "Talking Feet" on DVD, which is a really straightforward documentary of different kinds of folk dancing. In looking at what few clips of it are online, it looks like he died after that documentary was completed - so the mystery of his murder remains unsolved as of yet. And the internet ain't tellin'!

Apparently, the director of "Dancing Outlaw" saw "Talking Feet" and wanted to film D. Ray White some more. When he found out that he was dead, Jesco took his place.

boone/lincolnMarch 10, 2009 11:53 PM

how many of ya'll have met Jesco "Dancing Outlaw" White??? I am from Lincoln County WV, which is located right beside Boone County, WV. These documentaries dont even begin to describe the JESCO "DANCING OUTLAW" WHITE