White Lightnin’

Montreal Premiere

  • England 2009
  • 84 min
  • 35mm
  • English
Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival 2009
Official Selection: Berlin International Film Festival 2009

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“A white-trash psychobilly nightmare” — VANITY FAIR

“A demented slice of genius” — THE GUARDIAN


Director: Dominic Murphy
Screenplay: Shane Smith, Eddy Moretti
Cast: Edward Hogg, Carrie Fisher, Muse Watson, Owen Campbell
Producers: Mike Downey, Sam Taylor
Distributor: Vice Films


Erupting like a meth-fuelled bat out of hell, this bottle-slash of Appalachian fury brings the story of notorious outlaw mountain dancer Jesco White (Edward Hogg) to the screen in a hail of sweat and deliria. Jesco spends his childhood struggling with demons, slipping from one reform school to another, huffing lighter fluid, picking fights and carving his arms bloody to pass the time. By the time he crashes into adulthood, his brain has been irreversibly damaged by his abuses, leaving him fully functional but more than a little dangerous in the impulsivity department. His father was a gifted mountain dancer and he taught Jesco everything he knew until the day he was murdered. Jesco uses dancing to control his rage, but that doesn’t always work out very well. Performing in bars and just about anywhere else he can kick up earth, he develops a cult following, alongside a growing rap sheet. Jesco falls into a toxic romance with a haggard cougar three times his age (Carrie Fisher, in a raunchy and brave performance), plays gigs, bashes heads, repeatedly blows his brain cells out, spiralling deeper and deeper into psychosis and ultimately into animalistic murder.

A portrait of a damaged outsider who finds inspiration inside pain and motivation in madness, WHITE LIGHTNIN’ falls into a genre of filmmaking that defies easy classification. It’s inspired by the true life and crimes of Jesco White yet deviates from the facts in such extreme ways that it can’t really be considered a biopic. Just the same, its spirit is bang-on to the man’s many myths, and given the drug-blasted haze of White’s history, it’s difficult to imagine a stronger way to depict his life in cinematic terms than this twisted rebel yell. Violent, shocking, funny and stylish, it’s a striking feature debut from U.K. filmmaker Dominic Murphy (who once made a doc on Jodorowsky!) that blew audiences away when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Edward Hogg’s performance as the self-destructive White is so mercurial it’s practically on fire. Jointly scripted by Vice Magazine founders Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti (the latter being the co-director and videographer of the great HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD), this is a film with dialogue that drips venom and gasoline, featuring a Hades-hot soundtrack by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and the legendary Hasil Adkins. Best not light a match anywhere near the theatre when this one hits the screen.

—Mitch Davis

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