Hello and welcome to a very special edition of Buried Credits we have dubbed “Star Wars Month”! For three weeks in January we will be exploring the films of the three main actors of the original Star Wars trilogy! Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Carrie Fisher.
White Lightnin’ (2009)
Very loosely based on the life of Jesco White, an Appalachian mountain dancer, White Lightnin’ is a thriller full of sex, drugs, and fast stepping dancing. At the age of six, Jesco White (Owen Campbell, The Americans, Believe) became addicted to huffing, sniffing gasoline, lighter fluid, glue, and more. Growing up in a run-down neighborhood in the mountains of West Virginia, Jesco was surrounded by people who got high, even down to giving children like himself more hardcore drugs. His father, D. Ray (Muse Watson), was considered one of the greatest mountain dancers ever and tried to keep young Jesco on the right path by teaching about the Lord and how to dance, but Jesco kept getting into trouble so often times he would be sent to reform school. After some time he was eventually sent to a psychiatric hospital. While he was there, when he was older (and portrayed by Edward Hogg), D.Ray was killed by some men. After Jesco is released, he gets back on track with the help of his fathers banjo playing buddy and takes to dancing in bars, then his life is forever changed when he has to hitch a ride and ends up meeting Cilla (Carrie Fisher) and the two of them fall in love.
White Lightnin’ is an intense ride and riveting exploration of mental health as well as the dangers of substance abuse and addiction, set in a more rural mountain town backdrop full of drug addicts and all around crazy people. The film spends a good chunk of time in chronicling various sections of Jesco’s life, which gives us just the right amount of character development and story each time. The acting is great and I have to commend young Owen Campbell especially, as he portrays a child going through addiction, which is heart-wrenching. Edward Hogg’s performance as the older Jesco is also wonderful, as was Muse Watson as his father.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning, too. I’ve never been a huge fan of the use of black and white after the invention of color (just a personal preference), but here it was absolutely gorgeous and only enhanced the experience. Furthermore, the film has a brilliant soundtrack of country yarns, with tracks used to great effect to encapsulate what’s going on in Jesco’s head. The final act is also something… An spiral into drugs and depression with an intense and shocking finale that left me speechless, which is honestly hard to do.
The only thing that really annoyed was how the film would constantly cut to black. I don’t mean a quick black screen and then we are back; I’m talking about a legitimate editing tactic of cutting to black for a few seconds – often with a dramatic voice over – for dramatic effect. It used this effect so often that it eventually lost its emotional punch and became annoying. Aside from that, Carrie Fisher is in a good chunk, but whenever she’s not in it during the final act the film honestly feels like it’s missing something.
On the topic of Fisher, this might be my all-time favorite performance of her’s. Sure, I haven’t seen too many, but she was absolutely breathtaking. Fun, sexy, mature, she just radiated passion. To be quite honest, she’s a great actress, but it’s often times hard to see her as anyone but Princess Leia. In White Lightnin’ though, she absolutely becomes the character of Cilla. She is legitimately perfect in this film.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
White Lightnin’ is a near cinematic masterpiece. I don’t often like white trash kind of movies, but this was enthralling and moving. It’s dark and intense, but it also displays moments of love, laughter and caring as well. The film never feels too dark, nor dark for the sake of being dark, and it almost always feels so incredibly tender and emotional. The acting is fantastic all-round, the finale is disturbingly beautiful, and the cinematography is stunning. Quite possibly my second favorite drug addiction-related film, right behind Requiem for a Dream, White Lightnin’ needs to be seen.