Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jacob Young @ Film Kitchen on Tuesday, June 12th.

I know that, during the run of this blog, I've made only scant mention of West Virginian filmmaker Jacob Young. That's a bit of an egregious oversight. Young is one of the most compelling documentarians working in the United States. He's focused his efforts on presenting people and stories from his home state. Of course when you're born in the Mountaineer State (the most beautiful and enigmatic place in the Eastern United States), there is plenty of ground to cover.

Some of Young's early subjects have included Appalachian junkyard owners, the rich industrialist who plagues the land with those goddamned three crosses, the warden from the Moundsville Penitentiary, white supremacist author Dr. William Pierce (author of The Turner Diaries - a book found on Timothy McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombing), and the swami-turned-felon of the North American headquarters of the Hare Krishnas. Young has received some well-deserved praise for his West Virginia Public TV-produced Different Drummer series, which (of course) documented the antics of a string of eccentric WV characters. One episode is about a senior citizen hussy, who dolls herself up and sings show tunes in the dives of the hollers, performing as "Amazing Dolores".

But Young has received his greatest notoriety with The Dancing Outlaw. This was a documentary about the "Last Mountain Dancer", Jesse White. This Boone County native has appropriated at least two alter egos- Elvis (The King) and Satan himself (nicknamed "Jesco"). Young presented White, his family, and his girlfriend in all their backwoods splendor. Jesco assumes center stage as he relates stories about his lamentably departed father and siblings, and his own gas-huffing, thieving, and alcohol-sodden childhood. But when he's not raising hell White plies his trade in a mix of clog and tap dancing, accompanied by bluegrass music. This was his own father's stock-in-trade, and Jesse has aspired to keep the dying art alive.

Having received his fifteen minutes of fame, Jesco later resumed his place in the spotlight when Roseanne Barr became a fan of The Dancing Outlaw. He was actually invited to Hollywood to appear on her show, and Young was along for the ride to document his adventure. All did not go as expected. Barr had Jesco removed from the set when she noticed a tattoo of a swastika on his arm. White later had the offending symbol covered up when he realized its significance. He explains that it was merely a youthful indiscretion.

It would be a more just world if Jacob Young had received as much acclaim and name recognition as Jesco. But his misfortune pays off for us tomorrow. We can actually meet him in person at Pitsburgh Filmmakers in Oakland (Melwood Street). He'll be at Film Kitchen, presenting his newest documentary- Urim and Thummim*. It's about a man named Todd Walker who bought an object at a Nashville Goodwill for 69 cents. Apparently he was pleased to discover that the thing proved to be a visual gateway to both Heaven and Hell. But evidently others were skeptical about his claims. Young followed Walker on a "witness tour" aimed at convincing the locals that the relic was a genuine and miraculous holy object.

If you are so inclined, you can chat with Jacob Young at the reception (7PM) that precedes the screening. I've spoken with him on two previous occasions, and I've found him to be both accessible and generous with his thoughts. But if you are the shy sort, stick around for the Q & A session after the film. It's sure to be illuminating.

* - Find out more about this obscure-sounding title here.

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