“The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” is a documentary film featuring Jesco White and other members of the White family and is now showing in Huntington.
Jesco White, who hails from Boone County, is best known for his dancing and Elvis impersonation. A PBS documentary during the early ‘90s made him famous — or as some may say, “infamous.”
Jesco’s most famous quote from the “Dancing Outlaw” documentary: "I'm tired of eatin' sloppy, slimy eggs," which was directed toward his wife’s apparent difficulties with cooking fried eggs.
Johnny Knoxville, the star of the MTV series “Jackass,” and MTV producers, spent time in Boone County with White and his entire family to make the new documentary, which is more about the entire White family than it is about Jesco.
Tribeca Enterprises is promoting the film and at its Web site (www.wildandwonderfulwhites.com) says, “Shoot-outs, robberies, gas-huffing, drug dealing, pill popping, murders, and tap dancing — what do these all have in common? These are just a few of the parts of being a member of the Wild and Wonderful White Family.”
The filmmakers claim the legendary family is as known for their wild, excessive criminal ways as they are for their famous mountain-dancing members.
Producers said the film explores both the comic and tragic sides of life for the White family.
“This stylish, fast-paced family portrait exposes the powerful forces of corruption, poverty, and West Virginia’s environmentally and culturally devastating coal mining culture that helped shape the White family, a dying breed of outlaws preserving a dying form of dance,” the producers said.
The documentary, directed by Julien Nitzberg, follows the legacy of the White family.
The film portrays the White family as an Appalachian clan that is notorious for fighting, shooting, and other criminal activity by larger-than-life characters. They tap-dance, shoot and stab people, including members of their own family, and sell (and do) a lot of drugs.
Some have called the film "Sopranos" meets "Coal Miner's Daughter."
The film has received some very good reviews from Hollywood movie critics.
Family patriarch D. Ray White, murdered in 1985, is a dancing legend and folk hero to the White family. He was profiled in the PBS documentary "Talking Feet," and was a master at inventing clever scams to counter "company town" corruption and poverty: he is said to have had his entire family declared mentally ill, to collect government aid funds.
Hank Williams III appears in “Whites” to back Jesco up on musical numbers, and celebrates the clan as "true rebels of the South." Director Nitzberg describes the film as "a portrait of American 'badassdom' at its best."
Nitzberg followed the White family from the Boone County Courthouse to bars to hospitals and to rehabilitation centers.
The White family doesn’t hold anything back when showing how they live and how they die.
In one scene, Jesco and sister Mamie, celebrate their mother Bertie Mae White’s 85th birthday. She is called “The Miracle Woman” because she raised over 30 of the White family’s children.
When Bertie — who is the matriarch of the family — dies, the White family is truly devastated.
Mamie expresses her pain with anger and rage, while Jesco keeps his pain inside.
As the film unfolds, we meet more upstanding Boone County residents, including attorneys and churchgoing folks with jobs. In addition, other officials interviewed by Nitzberg include, Sheriff Rodney Miller and Capt. W.R. White, of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department; former Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Parker Bazzle; attorneys Frank Curnutte and Pete Hendricks, as well as film of the West Virginia Coal Festival and other events Jesco White attended.
Asked to comment on the reputation of the White family early in the film, Boone County evangelist Patricia Smith pauses, then says—“I'd really rather not comment on that.”
Tragedy and death seem to always be a part of the family’s way of life.
A young clan member speaks to the movie viewers from prison, jailed for having shot his uncle multiple times in the face and sparking an armed police standoff — he presumes he’s charmed the judge into granting an early release, but viewer’s soon learn he’s wrong. He gets a 50-year jail sentence.
Viewers learn about Kirk White and her troubles with drug addiction. She has just given birth to a baby girl and the film then shows mom snorting powdered lines of prescription narcotics on a hospital room nightstand with a family friend.
Kirk has her child taken by Child Protective Services, but then bravely enters rehab so that she can get the baby back.
She tells her son she is sorry and it is a genuinely touching moment in the film.
Other family members, like Sue "Bob" Ann White and Mousey White, tell stories of partying, pain and tragedy.
Many Boone County residents are embarrassed of the White family, while others feel the family is misunderstood and unfairly judged.
The film shows a side of Boone County that many want to hide. Some say it promotes the negative stereotypes of southern West Virginians as all being “poor white trash.” Others say the family has been exploited by Hollywood again, which seems to want to make profits from their names and talents.
One thing is certain, the White family is real. They show their emotions for all to see and hear. The film shows them as being sincere, moody, personable, funny and sometimes crazy.
Jesco and the entire White clan has gathered a loyal following over the years and this new documentary film will no doubt bring more attention to them, to Boone County and to West Virginia.
Is it good or embarrassing? This film allows the viewer to decide.
The documentary film can be seen in Huntington until Aug. 7 at The Warner Theater, located at 1021 4th Avenue in Huntington.
Tickets for the film vary in price from $3 to $6 depending on the date and time. For information on show times and prices, call 1-304-525-4440.
Whites has been scheduled for the week of Aug. 13 at the Park Place 11 theaters in downtown Charleston. The film is not listed on the theater Web site, but Nitzberg believes the film will be featured there for at least one week. The theater is located at 600 Washington Street East, and the phone number is 304-345-6540.