They’re “wild” alright, but are they “wonderful”?

Confession time: Being a bit sleep deprived and apparently under-caffeinated, I nodded off for probably 10-20 minutes of MTV/Dickhouse’s “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” Therefore, I have to be a bit careful about making any sweeping statements about this documentary from filmmaker Julien Nitzberg, a sort of follow-up to Jacob Young’s 1991 short, “The Dancing Outlaw,” which became a viral cult hit. It’s safe to say that judging from what I heard from the crowd — many of whom were fans of the earlier documentary and/or the “Jackass” TV series (which has some fans in the cinegeek world, though I’ve never been moved to watch it) — I might have been the only person in the theater who didn’t have a great time with the film.

The earlier film deal with Jesco White, a gas-huffing Elvis Presley fan whose brain-damaged schizoid psychology and criminal tendencies tend to overshadow his talent as a “mountain dancer,” a sort of bluegrass forerunner to tapdancing. Executive produced by Johnny Knoxville, “The Wild and Wonderful Whites” deals with the ongoing struggles of Jesco’s extended family, led by super-tough, extremely shrewd, ultra-raspy voiced occasional singer Mamie White and on into the more violent third generation members of the clan. There are some captivating moments, in particular Jesco dancing to music provided live by punk country’s own Hank Williams III and the sugary soda-fueled gyrations of one of the youngest Whites, who just might be a dancing chip off the old Jesco White block.

However, apparently somewhat like Slant’s Nick Shager, I was largely left cold by the portion of the film I managed to stay awake through. I’m not sure I’d be as critical of its moral stance, or lack thereof, on the Whites, but I found myself wondering just what the vignettes about the various family members — who are perhaps too numerous for clarity — and their purportedly fun-loving dysfunction add up to. I’m not sure how I feel about the way director Nitzberg flirts with celebrating a clan whose members abuse themselves and each other to this degree. It’s still possible I might find something more there in a less tired state and, if this sounds in any way interesting, you’d be well advised to check out the not so safe for work trailer.

I should also add that, in terms of a crowd vibe, the mood at the Los Angeles Film Festival screening could not have been a happier or more upbeat one. I spoke to some really nice people there who really seemed to enjoy it and “get” the film a lot more than I — and the post-screening dancing by Jesco White, backed up by a terrific bluegrass trio, was something else.

  

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What the wild & wonderful Whites won’t do (probably)

One screening I’ll be attending tomorrow for sure at LAFF is “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,” about a rather intense West Virginia family into various forms of criminality, dysfunction and tap-dancing. I’m looking forward to it (you can see the trailer here), but below is something I won’t be expecting to see.

  

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