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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dancing Outlaw (Limited Edition)
Dancing Outlaw (Limited Edition)
Other // Unrated // December 6, 2004
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted August 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie:

You've probably never heard of Jesco White, better known to some as the Dancing Outlaw, but that doesn't mean he isn't famous, or at least infamous. He had a guest spot on Rosanne, Hank Williams III wrote a song about him called D. Ray White (which he has performed with him live) and Throw Rag sampled him for the intro to the song The Beast on their debut album, Tee-Tot. If that weren't enough, Mastadon quote him in the introduction to their song Hail Of Fire. Jesco might not be a superstar, but the man has got an interesting cult following.

Born in 1956 in Boone County, West Virginia (a very impoverished area of the Appalachian Mountains), Jesco White grew up admiring his father who was a semi-famous Appalachian tap dancer. When his father was shot dead during Jesco's teenage years, he decided to literally follow in his father's footsteps and has since become one of the last practitioners of mountain dancing (tap dancing). Jesco has also had some serious problems with drugs (he admits to sniffing a lot of glue) and alcohol as well as some unusual mental issues. He grew up dirt poor and has had more than a few run ins with the law in his time, but still he continues to dance.

Jacob Young's 1991 documentary, Dancing Outlaw, follows Jesco as he goes about his life and we see three very different sides of him. The first side, 'Jesco,' is the hard drinking part that doesn't treat his wife Norma Jean so well and who is a bit of a troublemaker. The second side, 'Jessie,' is a lot mellower and considerably kinder to those around him and those he interacts with. The third side is 'Elvis,' which is basically just Jesco wearing Elvis inspired outfits and acting like Presley, who he idolizes. If you're starting to get the inkling that maybe Jesco White dances to the beat of a different drum, you're on the right track. He's a strange cat, to be sure, but through it all the guy keeps dancing. He might get rip-roaring drunk and wind up in the slammer, but he'll come back dancing. He might threaten to slit his wife's throat with a knife in front of a video camera, but he'll come back dancing. He takes his art very seriously and you really can't help but feel for the guy, even if at times you really don't want to. Interviews with Jesco's mother, his wife, his brother and sister flesh out the portrait with chilling effectiveness and we get a fly on the wall look at their unusual lives.

When the Dancing Outlaw documentary earned Jesco some notoriety, Rosanne and Tom Arnold wanted him to appear on Rosanne. He agreed and off he went to Hollywood. Jacob Young and his crew followed along and thus was born Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes To Hollywood. While this follow up film lacks the frightening charm of the first, it does portray an interesting culture clash and it gives us a look at Jesco's brush with fame. When he arrives on the set of the show, Tom Arnold quickly gets him into a limousine and sends him off to a tattoo parlor. Jesco had some swastikas tattooed on his hands in prison and while he says he didn't rightly know what they meant or what they stood for, Tom offered to pay for him to have them covered up and he agreed. After touring around Hollywood a bit Jesco makes his appearance, but the producers wouldn't allow any clips to be used in the documentary so all we get is some backstage footage. That said, it is interesting to see Jesco White interacting with Tom and Rosanne as well as John Goodman and a couple of other cast members.

Jesco White is still alive and kicking to this day. He's more or less called it quits and he can't dance like he used to due to some stomach problems from heavy drinking. A fire destroyed the trailer we see him living in as well as much of his Elvis memorabilia, but he's still around and still on peoples' minds. In 2006 a benefit was held for him - he didn't want money, only enough water and wood to get through the year. His is an interesting, tragic, and amazing story that has yet to end. It's unlikely that he'll ever be truly famous but the man's cult following is justly deserved and here's hoping Jacob Young will go back at least one last time before Jesco's story finally finishes.

The Video:

This DVD presents the movie in its original fullframe aspect ratio. Both Dancing Outlaw and Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes To Hollywood were shot with a camcorder so this transfer really doesn't look any better than a good VHS tape, which is fine all things considered. The picture quality is far from great but it's certainly watchable enough. Aside from some minor compression artifacts and a bit of color fading the picture is fairly clean. A few scenes look a bit murky and the detail you'd get from film or high end DV is obviously absent but by and large the disc looks fine.

The Audio:

The audio quality is on par with the video quality. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is reasonably decent and easy enough to listen to, but it does show its low-fi and low-budget roots. There's some background noise and some occasional hiss present, but it isn't overpowering or all that distracting. For an older fringe documentary shot with a camcorder, it sounds just fine.

The Extras:

Aside from a static menu screen, Moviefish Home Video has supplied a collection of twelve Dancing Outlaw Outtakes (29:41). If you dug the documentaries, you'll enjoy the outtake footage as it really is more of the same type of material. We see Jesco in his 'Elvis' persona and we get a few more interview bits with his mother. Along the way we see him perform and we see him interacting with his wife. There are a few interesting stories and anecdotes in here that make it worth checking out. Also on the DVD is a Dancing Outlaw Bonus Track (12:46), which is a collection of seven never before seen clips shot for the movie. These are also basically just outtakes. You can check out some extended clips and unused bits from the movie, but really, it's more or less just some moderately interesting raw footage that didn't make the final cut.


Dancing Outlaw is at times hilarious, at other times, quite heart breaking but it's consistently fascinating despite the fact that the movie is, like it's subject, very rough around the edges. The presentation on the DVD is about as good as the rough source material will allow but the bonus footage is welcome and the two main attraction documentaries are both well worth seeing. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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