— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —
Most people don’t know much about mountain dancing or “clogging.” I don’t even know much about this style of dancing apart from what I’ve read on Wikipedia while researching the movie “White Lightin.'”
Taking this into mind, I don’t assume a lot of people know about a man named Jesco White. Once again, the Internet proves to indulge us with a plethora of information on the acclaimed mountain dancer and entertainer. For those in the loop, White is best known for his desire to overcome personal demons that include depression, alcoholism and drug addiction in order to become a dancer just as his father was before his death. The reason that I mentioned research for Dominic Murphy’s first feature film is because “White Lightin'” is inspired by events that transpired throughout White’s “infamous” career. Of course, a lot of Jesco’s biography is exaggerated in the movie in order to add a religious undertone but that doesn’t stop the film’s haunting impact.
Since childhood, Jesco White has been ostracized and abused by his superiors. This led him to discover pleasure in getting high off of motor oil. Continuing down the road to destruction, White is sent to a boot camp. He leaves and returns this camp for the majority of his younger years before his father decides to teach him the art of “clogging.” But, sadly, D. Ray White is killed, thus leaving his distraught son and abusive mother. Jesco is institutionalized for years before being released to the outside world, where he acquires his late father’s dancing shoes.
There is an abrupt change from childhood to adulthood in “White Lightin.'” This is one of the many unexplained transitions that explain the troubled entertainer’s star — but instead of hurting the film, this stylistic choice magnifies the struggles of the character. The reason that I say “character” is because it becomes increasingly obvious just how much of the movie is fictional. But these dynamic changes to White’s career are not in vain as they are used expertly to add a layer of social commentary concerning the state of society and Murphy does this through religion.
Church sermons separate the three acts. Each of them speak about the Rapture. I’m not a religious man but I’ve seen enough television shows to tell you that the Rapture is apparently a time of rebirth. Just like Jesco White, who seeks redemption through dancing, those involved in the Rapture seek forgiveness for their sins and just like White, they must face a series of obstacles in order to achieve it. In the world where Jesco is presented, his obstacles are drug use, racism and murder — just to name a few. But it’s the last sermon, which speaks about Satan’s success over man, that drives home the idea that Jesco White is a misguided soul and this ushers into an immensely powerful conclusion which is sure to leave the audience in shock.
The film is also shot in black and white. This adds to the atmosphere. Director Dominic Murphy intended this to a breeding ground for sin. Little does White know, but a “Rapture” has already begun. The world is colorless because of the evil that permeates from it but White’s life is colorless because of more personal demons.
Almost everything in “White Lightin'” is unconventional; the abrupt transitions, it’s strange soundtrack, and the fact that nothing is really explained. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the movie is more of a summary than an in-depth look at White, but it still feels like you’ve read an entire tome on the troubled entertainer. It’s soundtrack is also worth mentioning because of it’s awkwardness. It fluctuates from deafening screeches to melodies but this works perfectly.
The only thing conventional about the movie is the wide array of excellent performances. Edward Hogg, who narrates and plays Jesco White, is sure to earn prestigious for his acting. Owen Campbell, who sets the mood of the entire movie through his performance as the young Jesco. It’s uncompromising, realistic, and perfect. Other cast members do an equal excellent job as these include Muse Watson, Raymond Waring and Carrie Fisher who plays White’s lover, Cilla.
Dominic Murphy’s debut picture is a masterpiece. It’s dark humor, unconventional structure and brilliant performances make “White Lightin'” a film that deserves to be talked about for years to come.
Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMariusz.