White Lightnin’ – Review

Posted January 20, 2009 in
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Director: Dominic Murphy

For those who are familiar with Jesco White, or have seen the documentary featuring the eccentric hillbilly – prepare to be surprised and shocked. Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’ takes Jesco’s story and ‘extrapolates’ the story to a level of psychopathology in both story and presentation. A stark, desaturated presentation gives the film a depressing and hopeless feel – almost essentially black and white, a palette of exclusively cool colors sets the mood for a life of struggle and mental illness. The constant narration was punctuated by extended blips of solid black screen, further pushing the uncomfortable tension of the film. One issue I had with the film is the depravity hides the humor that exists in Jesco’s real story – the seriousness of the film creates an uneasy, uncomfortable, almost David Lynch feeling. Jesco White, the infamous dancing outlaw is portrayed as a simple man driven by his own quest for vengeance accompanied by a gas huffing fueled psychopathic rage – a rage the real Jesco White dreamed of but never realized. The film also hides any deeper elements in Jesco’s life or relationships preventing the audience from understanding Jesco as a real person rather than a mechanism for revenge. In many ways, the film is an alternate reality and interpretive exaggeration of Jesco’s real story.

One of the highlights of the film is the music and sound design. The soundtrack of the film is stunning – hillbilly music gone completely schizophrenic. The music fits the film in such a phenomenal way, it is reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange’s pairing of Walter/Wendy Carlos’ synth driven classical – bizarre yet fitting.

– Ryan Powers