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Be Glad They're Not Your Neighbors

Updated on August 3, 2011

REVIEW: The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is an 86 minute documentary directed by Julien Nitzberg and produced by Johnny Knoxville of “Jackass” fame. The film covers a year in the life of four generations of the White family.

The most famous member of the clan is Jessco White, who followed in his father’s footsteps and took up mountain dancing, a form of tap dancing set to fast-paced country music. Jessco was the subject of two documentaries: Dancing Outlaw 1991 and Dancing Outlaw II 1999. Jessco was also the subject of a biopic, White Lightning 2010.

In The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, Jessco is featured along with his large, extended family.

Their story is set against the back drop of impoverished Appalachian country, where they escape the many hardships they face by heavy use of drugs, alcohol, brawling, and other extreme violence.

Family patriarch D. Ray White was murdered on his way to a mountain dancing performance in 1985. Of he and his wife Bertie May’s thirteen children, a daughter was murdered and a son died from “unintentional” self-inflicted wounds. Four other children died before the age of 45. A grandson is in prison for 50 years after shooting his aunt’s boyfriend in the face and later having a shootout with police.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia covers 12 months of interviews with family members as well as various parties, general hell raising, court dates, and rehab centers.

Several law enforcement officials from Boone County are interviewed. They have nothing good to say about the family.

The dark tone of the documentary not withstanding, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia has a particularly high degree of intensity. The last such hard-hitting documentary about the harshness of Appalachian life was Harlan County, USA, 1976, Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning story of a coal mining strike in Kentucky.

In Harlan County, USA, a resolution is reached at the end of the film. No so with The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.

The cussing, fighting and partying continued for the White family with no end in sight.

The continuous flurry of anti-social behavior in The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia became almost too much for me on several occasions. Still, I kept watching because the White family members were highly-compelling. It is for that reason that I recommend this documentary.

As it ended, I felt grateful that none of the White family were my neighbors.

Extremely grateful.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Jessco White

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