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The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (Tribeca Festival Premiere) 2010

TV-MA CC

From Executive Producer Johnny Knoxville, this edgy and often hilarious look at a dying breed of American outcasts exposes the corruption, poverty, and West Virginia's environmentally and culturally devastating coal mining culture.

Starring:
J. Parker Bazzle II, Big & Rich
Runtime:
1 hour, 28 minutes

Available to watch on supported devices.

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By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on February 15, 2011
Format: DVD
There are some people who will look at the documentary "The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" as a hysterically funny portrait of a true outlaw family. Indeed, I viewed this with a friend who thought we were watching a mockumentary fiction until about a third of the way through the picture. There is also a contingent of viewers who will see this as a sad document of our times--a glorification of corrupt values and a critique on what constitutes celebrity in the modern era. In truth, it is hard not to be amused AND disheartened by the outrageous and largely illegal antics of this notorious clan. As a sociological treatise, the Whites elicited similar conflicting opinions in me in much the same way that the infamous documentary "Grey Gardens" did many years ago. "Grey Gardens" chronicled former socialites, with a tie to the Kennedy presidency, whose life had devolved into an impoverished and co-dependent mess. But as much as you wanted to feel bad for them, its stars reveled in the new found attention and opened their lives to the cameras with an almost guileless innocence. Alternately heartbreaking and hysterical, I never have gotten a bead of exactly who was exploiting who in this scenario. The Whites are similarly camera ready--willing to let their bravado and bad acts represent who they are in every respect.

The Whites are an extended family from the back woods of West Virginia (but you're probably smart enough to have gotten that from the title!). The patriarch achieved some fame as a dancer and his legacy fell to his son Jesco (after two other sons were murdered and another moved away). Jesco became a local legend as The Dancing Outlaw and a dubious celebrity whose exploits have been chronicled in song by Hank Williams III and Big and Rich among others.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This documentary really made me think hard about the words of one of the interviewees that said families like the Whites were a product of outside people and corporations coming into West Virginai and using the people and the resources (coal) there for their own profit (much like Africa was used by the European powers during the colonialism and imperialism ages). The corrupt companies where a young death were certain produced a group of people that were convined they had no future and nothing to live for, so they might as well live hard now and never worry about the consequences of their choices.

Now 2 and sometimes 3 generations later, we see the family that was a product of this exploitation, and what a sad family it is. I have been a huge fan of the Dancing Outlaw since I saw it in college 12 years ago. I was very excited to watch this follow up documentary. When I watched it, I felt the full range of emotions: from sadness, to hatred, to anger, to outrage. When I watched the pain in Kirk's son when she had to go away to rehab, I thought of my own young son and began to cry. I looked over at my wife and she was crying too. I don't think I have ever seen so much pent up rage, anger, and pain in any family.

I saw Jesco and Mamie live when they toured in my area recently. The only thing sadder than the movie was the live glimpse I saw. Jesco's mind is gone. There is nothing there. He is for all intents and purposes out of this world. He will not remember anything that happened that night. I left not entertained, but heart broken. I am still trying to figure out if the White's are being taken advantage of or trying to make the best of their situation. No matter what you decide, this movie is one very emotional and powerful look at a family that most of America will never get to see for themselves.
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Format: Amazon Video
When it comes to the White family of Boone County, West Virginia, there's their world, and then there's the world everyone else is a part of. They don't live by the rules most other people live by. They have no respect for authority. Law enforcement has had more run-ins with them than with any other family in the county. They've broken just about every law and have been arrested on just about every charge: Larceny, prescription fraud, shootings, armed robbery, embezzlement, forgery, drug abuse, perjury, fighting, custody battles, etc., etc. A judge, who's now retired, used to say that if ten families were altogether excluded from Boone County, the crime rate would be cut by just about half; there's no question that the Whites would be one of those ten families.

Why would director Julian Nitzberg choose to document a year in the lives of such people? Defense Attorney Peter Hendricks seems to wonder the same thing: "There's a kid down here from a very humble upbringing - he was admitted to MIT. MIT. I mean, why isn't someone following him around with a camera?" He already knows the answer, and it seems to dishearten him: "The Whites have that kind of charisma. Not only can they draw you in - they keep you there." Indeed, most of us are innately attracted to that which is different. We may not always want to be a part of it, but we sure do love examining it from a distance. "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" does what all good documentaries do: It gives us that safety, that sense of being an observer without having to risk our well being.

This is an honest, unflinching, and all around amazing film. It's not merely a portrait of an untraditional American family; it's a glimpse into the lives of people with an altogether different mindset. The Whites value nothing.
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