White Lightnin' Taps Its Way Into Sundance's Heart


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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