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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 06.29.09] movie review documentary

Year: 2009
Directors: Julien Nitzberg
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: cyberhal
Rating: 8 out of 10

The White clan are West Virginia’s most psychotic, fun living, pill popping, gun toting and just plain dangerous family ever. “Boy, this is how we do it hillbilly style” says one of the clan as he blows stuff away with a rifle in the backyard. There are loads of people in the White clan, and I could barely understand their thick Appalachian accents, but I have to tell you, I love these people. A beautiful toxic tonic to the fake drivel that make up the Kardashians. An inspiration to anarchists everywhere, and also to people who think that Ozzy Osbourne turned into a giant pansy. The doc. was the brainchild of Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, and MTV stumped up the finance.

You might have already heard of Jesco White, son of the mountain dancing legend D. Ray White who was shot to death in 1985. Jesco carries on the tap dancing tradition and was the subject of the 1989 cult documentary The Dancing Outlaw. This time the spotlight is on the whole psychotic family. We get to follow them around for a year of hell raising, philosophy and tragedy. “Philosophy?” I hear you gasp. Yes, well Jesco is pretty damn smart. He ain’t had no schoolin or nuttin, but he’s a highly intelligent if somewhat moody chap. The scene where Jesco takes us on a tour of his family’s grave plot and muses on the vagaries of life is incredibly poignant and a total head-do. The cemetery is basically stacked full of his brothers, sisters and cousins most of whom died young from car crashes or shootings.

Right, well on a more up note, the music in this doc. is finger plucking brilliant. A treat of blue grass banjo foot stomping toe tapping tunes. Much of it was composed by Deke Dickerson. Jesco’s good mate Hank Williams III is in the mix too, and actually provides commentary as well as tunes that Jesco dances to. On another technical note, I liked the fast paced editing, MTV style, and the fact that at 88 minutes it wasn’t too long. I hate really long documentaries. The scenes and on the fly interviews with family members were intercut with set piece interviews with Members of Authority, who provide their own rueful and basically resigned view of the clan White’s behavior.

Partying with the Whites is a bitter sweet trip. It’s fun to watch the smiley Mousie get out of jail and then track down her ex-hubby, and virtually rape him in the back seat of a car. We visit the grocery store where they got married. It’s less fun to watch young Mum Kirk as she snorts prescription pills in the hospital room where here newly born baby lies. And yes, the authorities do step in and take the baby away. Much to Kirk’s credit, she checks herself into rehab in an attempt to get her kid back. Hearing about how ex-stripper Sue Bob’s son shot his uncle in the face, twice, is both shocking and fascinating. Several members of this drugged but articulate clan attribute their craziness to the legacy of coal mining in West Virginia. Something about being unafraid of death and celebrating the moment. Jesco seemed to think that his behavior was partly a function of the way his fans expected to be entertained. Sitting in the middle of an audience of LA hipsters laughing their asses at the glorious train wreck, I can’t help but agree with him. Although even with no cameras rolling, this family would still be raising hell, so let’s not get too post modern and Baudrillard, alright?

I saw this documentary at a sell out late night event at the end of the LA film fest. Jesco was actually present, as was his party monster bad assed sister Mamie. Before the documentary, the director Julien Nitzberg made the following announcement “we can’t start the performance until Jesco and Mamie get smoked out so if there’s anyone in the audience who can help with that, I’d appreciate if they show themselves right away.” And of course, someone helped them out. After the show, a blue grass band took the floor and Jesco danced a number for us, which was brilliant. I had no idea what West Virginia was like before I saw this documentary. But then what do I know, I’d also never heard of “huffing gasoline” before. I think that the West Virginia tourist board should definitely adopt this excellent documentary as a promo video for the state.

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quietearth (11 years ago) Reply

Hilarious review Hal, great job!


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

Funny englishman!


Anonymous (8 years ago) Reply

You saying you had no idea what West Virginia was like before seeing this film shows just how ignorant you really are. Just like anywhere else in this Country there is many different types of people.


Anonymous (8 years ago) Reply

It offends me that you really think WV is like this. Just because you see on a documentary , gangs, poverty, and drug use in LA; It doesn't mean that's how the State of California is. This was a documentary about one single family, not the State of West Virginia. WV has a diverse culture with many different types of people. One of the things holding this country back is close minded people holding on to stereotypes so firmly that they don't give a person a chance.

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