Here are some various clips of TV personalities and critics discussing Just, Melvin
Clip Montage (CNN, Jenny Jones, The View, NBC, NY1, Fox, Inside
Edition, Roger Ebert, Oprah Winfrey)
Independent Spirit Awards
a Video clip of Roger Ebert's Review
|"Ebert & Roeper And The Movies"
Air Date: April 7, 2001
(transcript from show #1532)
(1 of 5 films featured)
...our next movie is one of the angriest, most painful documentaries
I have ever seen--and it's one of the best. It's titled "Just,
Melvin" It debuts on HBO cable in two weeks, and it tells the
story of a man named Melvin Just, who as a husband, father, stepfather
and grandfather repeatedly committed incest and violent abuse against
almost every single member of his family. The story is told by two
of the survivors: his daughter, Ann Marie, and her son, James Ronald
Whitney, who directed the film.
[SHOW CLIP FROM THE MOVIE]
As family members the filmmakers have access to everyone involved, including
Melvin's wife, who was Ann's mother and stood by while abuse took place.
[SHOW CLIP FROM THE MOVIE]
The litany of incest and abuse continues, as we see a family devastated by
this man. And what is incredible is that the filmmaker actually confronts
Melvin Just himself, and he talks to him on camera.
[SHOW CLIP FROM THE MOVIE]
There are a lot of movies about abuse, but very rarely do you get
to confront the abuser in person on the screen...This moie is one
of those incredible documentaries you can barely imagine being made.
Its story is horrifying, and the testimony of the survivors, including
James Whitney and his mother Ann, is both grave and inconsolable.
What's liberating is they actually confront their molester, and
they nail him right on camera. The name of the documentary is "Just,
Melvin" It will play twice on HBO, starting April 22nd. You
have never seen anything like it...the movie is so amazing: it shows
a history, a multigenerational history of abuse in which this one
person in this family--without any resources or any escape hatch--was
just able to impose his evil will year after year after year...I
thought it was really powerful. It debuts in two weeks on HBO.
THUMBS UP! --Roger Ebert
ROGER EBERT, SUN-TIMES CRITIC
January 30, 2000
"Just, Melvin... "One of the best documentaries I have ever seen. THUMBS UP!"
-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
The New York Times
April 20, 2001
HBO, Sunday night at 10 (following 'The Soprano's')
Over at HBO, taboo-shattering continues apace on its Sunday-night
documentary series. "Just, Melvin" is a man's startling attempt
to take revenge on his grandfather, who sexually molested his nine
daughters and stepchildren.
"I know my family's not exactly normal," says the filmmaker James Ronald
Whitney with titanic understatement. Molestation became a family tradition.
It's painful to listen to Melvin Just's various offspring and stepchildren
describe in rank detail what he did to them. It's even more grueling to see
them in childhood photographs, looking cute and innocent, though Mr. Just
began having sex with them when some of them were toddlers. As adults, the
ravages in them are apparent: they are suicidal, addicted to alcohol, drugs
and cigarettes. Grandma Fay, Mr. Just's former wife, is a bag of bones and
can barely breathe, but she gamely smokes and drinks beer. She weighs 72
pounds after chugging 16 ounces of beer.
The sick root of this family tree is Mr. Just, seen as an old man in a
wheelchair, paralyzed by a stroke. Though he was imprisoned for eight years
for his crimes, he denies them to his grandson's camera.
||It's hard to connect the clean-cut Mr. Whitney - who comes from Washington
State - to his relatives. With his blond hair and smooth cheeks he looks like
a cast member from "The Partridge Family." He is an accomplished pianist and
articulate: a stark contrast with one of his aunts, whose speech is so
garbled that some of her interviews require subtitles. But he, too, was
molested as a child, by an uncle, and so was his mother, one of Mr. Just's
She tells her grim story as she chops vegetables in her bright clean kitchen.
Mr. Whitney, too, has led a strange life. He shows videotape of himself as a
champion contestant on "Star Search." Most of his other relatives live in
trailers or on the back of pickup trucks. Many of them live surrounded by
clutter and seem too dazed to notice.
It gets weirder and weirder. After denouncing Mr. Just, his children visit
him at the nursing home, where they embrace him and tell him they love him.
Elsewhere in this potent film, Grandma Fay recalls, "I was a punching bag to
him," but someone else describes him as a "a sweetheart." Some sweetheart.
-- Julie Salamon
April 20, 2001
DIRECTOR: James Ronald Whitney
AVAILABILITY: Now on HBO
RELEASE YEAR: 2000
When I first saw JUST, MELVIN just over a year ago at the SXSW film festival I quoted a
stunned audience member who declared sitting through the ordeal was tantamount to being "slapped in
the face by the hand of God."
Seeing it a second time hasn't lessened the blow. Premiering this
month on HBO, JUST, MELVIN is a scathing documentary about
three generations of sexual and psychological abuse (and most likely
at least one murder). And it's all the more shocking because the
director is James Whitney, the grandson of the subject Melvin Just.
A former dancer and game show whiz, Whitney grew up hearing tales of granddad. While most families
spin sprightly tales of "grandpaw" and his funny ways, the Melvins spoke of whippings, sexual deeds
most foul and in the film's most chilling scene, how grandma used to bring in the babies from crib
to bedroom for him to have his way with.
The stories naturally haunted Whitney his whole life and finally he picked up a camera and he
announced in making the film he would be exposing the buried truth and he would not rest until
Melvin was behind bars or underground. Functioning like a gripping thriller or an all too true
horror tale, the legacy of Melvin is played out with various family members telling their versions
until the climax when Whitney confronts his grandfather on camera.
It's easily the most moving (and oddly entertaining and grimly funny) film I'd sat through
in years. When the house lights came up several people in the audience, after composing themselves,
silently approached Whitney's mother and hugged her.
...MELVIN remains one of the three most devastating film experiences of my life. Thankfully, even on
the small screen MELVIN mesmerizes (and like in the theater, you may still feel so uncomfortable
you'll want to look away).
Scarier than THE EXORCIST, more revealing of the national underbelly
than AMERICAN BEAUTY and more honest and healing than a thousand
hours of Oprah, JUST, MELVIN is just one of the best films
of the year.
-- Paul Zimmerman
ROGER EBERT, SUN-TIMES CRITIC
Houses of Pain|
"Two documentaries about wounded families, one angry, the other healing, have caused a
stir during the closing days of the Sundance Film Festival. "Just, Melvin" is the
lacerating portrait of a monster who molested almost everyone in two families and seems to have gotten
away with murder... It is not the first documentary about family abuse, but it's probably the most
painful. It isn't uncommon to hear abuse victims share their memories, but "Just, Melvin" does
the unimaginable and shows the evil old man being confronted by the accusations, first in an
extraordinary meeting with James, later in a family visit to his hospital room... [Whitney's] film is
not only devastating, but subtle in its artistry, with great attention to a soundtrack that suggests
echoes of long-ago words of hate and current painful memories..."
-- Roger Ebert,
Family Movies From
"Just, Melvin is a harrowing American Gothic family
portrait full of humor, insight and rage, and is easily the most jaw-dropping documentary to come along
in a decade."
-- Aaron Gell
Park City 2000
"First flick: "Just, Melvin." Whoa. Wow. Three generations of incest told
through the eyes of director James Whitney, whose mother and her brood of sisters and step-sisters are
the victims of their monstrous step-dad, Melvin Just. Everyone is completely candid. This film even
has a murder mystery... [Whitney] could win the Academy Award."
HBO hits hard with 'Just, Melvin' tomorrow
Preview: We may not like hearing about the depraved behavior of Melvin Just, but it's important that we do.
April 21, 2001
"Just, Melvin" is just an incredibly intense television viewing experience.
In fact, it is so intense I found myself wondering during the
HBO documentary, which tells the story of a man so depraved that
he forced himself sexually on his own children when some were
as young as 3 years old, whether this should even be on Sunday
night prime-time television.
After much thought, I say not only should it be on, but HBO should also be commended for airing it right after "The Sopranos" tomorrow night, giving it the best chance for an audience of several million viewers. As shocking as it is, this is exactly the kind of truth-telling in an adult-only time period that television needs to do if we are to become a wiser and more compassionate culture.
The kind of incest and stepchild molestation this film explores is exactly the kind of ugly secret too many of us are all too happy to ignore in the name of propriety, while innocent victims not only have their childhood violated but also their ability to enjoy their adult lives destroyed. This is the kind of documentary that is behind HBO winning all those Emmy, Oscar and Peabody awards.
"Just, Melvin" is a stunning work of autobiography by first-time filmmaker James Ronald Whitney, who as a child was himself sexually molested by a relative.
"I was 5 when one of my uncles molested me," Whitney says in the film. "It was down in the basement where my mom made apple jelly."
You might say child molestation is a family tradition within Whitney's family; Melvin Just, the monster to whom the title refers, is Whitney's grandfather. At the heart of the film is Whitney's journey back through all the horrors committed by his grandfather and all the suffering it caused his mother and aunts and uncles.
Whitney promises viewers early on that he is going to confront his grandfather with all the evil the old man has done. As Whitney says in the film, by the time he's through, his grandfather will "either be in jail or he'll be dead."
I can tell you that Whitney keeps his promise, but I won't risk spoiling the viewing experience by telling you how.
By way of warning, you should know the film includes graphic descriptions of Just raping a 5-year-old daughter who was born with severe deformities of her lower body. You will also hear one of the daughters talk about the physical scars she still bears on her vagina from one of Just's more depraved forms of assault on her when she was a child.
Just when the testimony of past abuse and current psychological suffering seems too awful to bear, the film cuts to Whitney at the piano playing a soundtrack that he composed for the movie. The rhythm of the cuts from the nightmare inflicted by the evil old man to the affirmation of Whitney's music drives the film to its dramatic mountaintop of confrontation between generations.
On a personal level, the film is clearly an effort by Whitney to break the culture of abuse that still grips his family. On a macro level, it is an effort to show the ravages of such abuse upon succeeding generations.
"I know my family is not exactly normal," Whitney says.
He's right about that. But with one out of every seven children in the United States having been sexually molested, according to figures provided by Childhelp USA, Whitney's family is sadly more "normal" than it should be.
-- David Zurawik,
Sun Television Critic
FILM REVIEWS - Family Matters
Tuesday, January 25, 2000
"The hardest film to watch at Sundance this year, far outweighing the
horrors of "American Psycho," is a quiet little documentary entitled "Just, Melvin." Fist-time
filmmaker James Ronald Whitney has turned the camera upon his own family in order to tell the searing
tale of a child molester-his own grandfather. He documents in vivid and horrifying detail the pattern
of abuse carried out by Melvin Just... Despite its brutal subject matter, "Just, Melvin" has
moments of fun and humor. There are campy clips of Whitney in 80's garb dancing on "Star Search" and
winning game shows-his own way of distracting himself from his problems. And there are scenes of the
aunts cracking jokes around a picnic table and turning cartwheels on the lawn, demonstrating that,
however dysfunctional, life does go on... And the examination is extraordinary."
-- Andréa C. Basora
Saturday, 13 January 2001
A monster in the family
Michael Carlson talks to a film-maker about his portrayal of a horrifying
JAMES RONALD WHITNEY says he originally thought of filming his family's story
because it reminded him of opera. But if his remarkable documentary, Just,
Melvin, resembles opera, it is opera as written by Jerry Springer. This is a
tale of incest, child abuse and an unproved murder, carried out over several
generations, and all generating from Whitney's step-grandfather, Melvin Just.
Portrait of a monster: Melvin Just, Whitney's abusive
step-grandfather and the subject of his documentary Just, Melvin
Although it is depressingly hard to keep score, Melvin molested 10 children
and step-children. He also allegedly raped and murdered a district nurse
checking on the children's safety. He engendered a litany of broken lives and
continuing abuse of children. Whitney was molested when he was only five by
his favourite uncle, and at the age of nine lost his virginity to a cousin.
"I'm no different from the rest of my family," says Whitney. "I just approach
Yet, for all its shocks, Just, Melvin is not a work of morbid depression or a
confessional freak show. It is, rather, a challenging film that reveals the
real cost of abuse but, also, the deep strength of familial love. It is
disarmingly funny, too. As Whitney, who works by day as vice-president of a
Wall Street investment firm, says, with a hint of irony, "It's a very light
movie, a light little flick."
The film was conceived in 1997, when his mother, Ann, called to tell him that
his grandmother, in hospital and weighing less than five stone, was drinking
herself to death. Ann was organising an impromptu family reunion around her
mother's hospital bed.
While contemplating his family's dysfunction, his mother's numerous suicide
attempts, and his own mixed feelings of love and hate for his grandmother,
Whitney fixed on the idea of making a movie. Drawing on the contacts of
friends, clients in the film business, and his own financial resources,
Whitney had a production team assembled later that same day.
"I get bored very quickly," he says. "So I was convinced from the start to
make the film for me, not for an audience."
Just, Melvin consists largely of interviews and family gatherings, filmed by
Whitney, who remains mostly behind the camera. Starting with his mother's
testimony, who calmly chops vegetables while detailing her step-father's
abuse, the stories grow progressively more horrific, particularly as we
observe the effects the abuse has had on the people who turn their lives
inside out for the camera.
Had Whitney decided to make it in a more usual documentary style, Melvin Just
would dominate the screen, which would have been far from audience-friendly.
What we see instead is the way the family is still dominated by Just's legacy
In talk shows the viewer is a voyeur, encouraged to feel safety by the
sympathetic platitudes of a host drawing compassion from cue cards. Whitney's
approach drops the barrier between family and audience.
"I didn't find the camera distancing me at all," he says. "I was just having
conversations with my family. It's not like the camera made me a
father-figure or confessor. It was always a case of 'us' or 'we', and most of
the time I didn't even know the camera was there."
No one appears conscious of being filmed. Sisters argue about whether one was
actually turned on by having sex with the other; Whitney's Uncle Jim says
there's nothing wrong with asking his half-sister to live with him as man and
wife; someone explains why none of the neighbours confronted Melvin when the
nurse disappeared ("he was a terrific mechanic"). Family gatherings sparkle
with moments of touchingly protective comedy. "We haven't lost our sense of
humour," Whitney says. "It may seem strange, but it's okay if not everyone
Rather than being numbed, the audience learns to share Whitney's affection
for his relatives - people who are homeless, or who live on society's
fringes, in trailers or wrecked cars. "They've all tried suicide," he says,
"but none has succeeded."
Yet regardless of their circumstances, Whitney is committed to his family
members. "I'd go out tonight with any of them rather than with you," he told
the audience at the Sheffield Documentary Festival late last year.
Whitney is too irrepressible to stay out of the action entirely. He intercuts
the film with scenes from his own early life: as a Chippendale dancer; a
performer on camp variety shows; a quiz-show contestant. It's as if his
maniacally outgoing performances were the very minimum it took to propel him
from the context of his family. When he wed his English dance partner, the
ceremony included dance routines by the bride and groom...
The force of his personality makes his on-screen confrontation with Just a
powerful and dramatic moment in the film. Just, who had been convicted of
child molestation in 1978, and served eight years in a California prison, had
in 1994 also been called as a suspect in the late Sixties murder of the
district nurse. He was under investigation when his step-grandson interviewed
him. What could motivate a serial abuser to face his accuser on camera?
"He asked me, 'what do I get out of it?'," Whitney explains, "and I said, 'a
burger and fries'." Sure enough, Melvin, in a wheelchair, belly protruding
from his tee-shirt, gobbles his burger as he denies, with grunts of "un unh",
abusing his children, committing incest, and killing the nurse (even though
some of his daughters claimed to have witnessed the crime). Only once does
Just drop his guard, and his burger. "If you keep at this f-ing subject, I'm
going to molest you right quick."
"My mother said watching me confront him with everything he's done was the
best therapy she's ever had," Whitney says.
It makes Just's ultimate scene even more amazing. As he lies dying in
hospital, he is visited by some of his daughters. Pambi, born crippled, was
abused and prostituted by her father, yet she breaks down in his arms, still
seeking love and protection. The power of a child's faith and need, despite
the depth of its abuse, is stunning.
Just died in 1999, after Whitney's film was shot but before it was screened,
and before he could be prosecuted for the nurse's murder.
Following its warm reception at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival last
year, Just, Melvin was bought by the American HBO cable network, and given
screenings to make it eligible for an Oscar.
Whitney's family attended the film's American premiere in Seattle. "None of
them had seen it before, and the audience was busy watching them as they
watched the movie. But they loved it, and the question-and-answer session
with the audience was the most positive thing that's ever happened to them."
Whitney's next film deals with his father, who married Melvin Just's sister,
then married a prostitute, before marrying Whitney's mother, who is Just's
step-daughter. When Whitney was nine, his father then ran off with his
mother's best friend and became a Hell's Angel. He now lives in the mountains
in northern California with a harem of much younger women. Another opera in
'Just, Melvin' will be shown in the Sheffield Documentary Festival UK Tour at
DCA, Dundee, Jan 17 and 18; NFT, London, Jan 27; Phoenix Arts, Leicester Jan
30; Cornerhouse, Manchester, Feb 6; and Brighton Cinematheque, Feb 8.
Bound for Glory
indie-film legends and rising stars alike go to grab the world's attention? To Park City, Utah, where
the Sundance Film Festival makes, breaks, and shakes up careers. Here in this special portfolio
and behind-the-scenes report, are the movies you'll be talking about this year and the performers who
earned their stripes...
'Just, Melvin' In this searing documentary, James Ronald Whitney
trains a klieg light on his family's darkest corners. For years, his step grandfather, accused murderer
Melvin Just, sexually abused Whitney's mother, Ann (pictured here with Ron), her sisters and
half-sisters, and children from his second marriage. Now many of these women are trapped in cycles of
alcoholism and homelessness. "Melvin Just will be blamed forever," says Ann, who escaped at age 15 to
become a nanny but was suicidal for years. "I didn't realize that it had to do with the residue of
abuse," Ron says, "and the guilt, knowing that her sisters were still being molested." ...As her
reward, she got to see her son confront Just on camera..."That was the best therapy," she says. "I
couldn't have done it, because I know how to load a gun now."
-- John Horn and Sean M. Smith
Photographed by Jake Chessum
September 24, 2000
(out of four)
Raw and unsettling, Melvin examines generational sexual abuse
The 19th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival
JUST, MELVIN (U.S.A.)
YOU HAVEN'T SEEN DYSFUNCTIONAL until you've seen Just, Melvin, James Ronald Whitney's
seriously disturbing documentary, which chronicles three generations of sexual abuse in his family.
The problems began when Whitney's grandmother, who already had several kids, married Melvin Just, a
monstrous figure who abused Whitney's mother, uncle, and four aunts - two of whom were Melvin's own
biological children - before getting a divorce, marrying another woman, and abusing her three
daughters too. Melvin isn't the only culprit here; Whitney himself was molested at a young age, but
by his uncle, who incidentally remains unapologetic about the fact that he asked one of his sisters
to move in with him as his common-law wife. And Melvin apparently didn't keep his crimes within the
family. One aunt recalls helping him bury the body of a social worker he allegedly raped and
murdered. Just, Melvin is painful to watch, all the more so because Whitney presents this
material in a format that is both highly melodramatic and unnervingly cheesy. (When one aunt recalls
how Melvin told her to "twist" while he molested her, Whitney puts 'Twist and Shout' on the
soundtrack and plays it loud.) But it's clear that everyone - well, nearly everyone - in Whitney's
family wanted a chance to tell their story...
-- Peter T. Chattaway
E n t e r t a i n m e
n t W e e k l y O n l i n e
January 24, 2000
"The first movie I saw was about crib death. Next came a documentary
about a man who had sexually molested pretty much everybody in his
family... Heck, there may have been a couple of suicides in there,
too. I can't remember. It's all so hectic... I always wonder what
the nice, clean people of Utah think when they swing by the supermarket
and overhear a couple of goateed swells chatting in the aisles.
"I really liked the crib-death movie." "Yeah, but the pedophilia
flick was better..." The films that I've mentioned have absolutely
blown me away: "Everything Put Together" (about a young couple coping
with the death of their newborn). "Just, Melvin" (about a
family coping with sexual abuse)... Sundance 2000 has lived
up to its annual reputation for fearlessness."
-- Jeff Gordinier
March 9, 2000
South by Southwest
For filmmakers who focus on the real world, Austin's South by Southwest
film festival is the place to be. And while shorts, music videos and full-length features are well
represented in the schedule of nearly 200 films, documentaries and regional talent will steal a
Texas-size share of the spotlight this year.
...Visceral urban horrors are given a chillingly
clinical treatment in "Just, Melvin," an incest case study; and "Rats," a multidimensional view
of vermin in Washington, D.C.
-- Edith Sorensen
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL - Just,
January 23, 2000
"Filmmaker James Ronald Whitney's documentary "Just,
Melvin," explores the horrific legacy of his grandfather, Melvin Just, a surefire candidate for the
title of World's Most Despicable Human... "Just, Melvin" is a painful, intimate look at a
heinous crime that plagues our country... and thus an affecting and important film. And most
beautifully, despite the horrific lives which the victims have endured, hope for happiness and
fulfillment triumphs. This is a sure contender for the Best Documentary Award."
-- Joseph Clay
March 24, 2000
THE FINAL ROUND UP
"'Just, Melvin,' the best damned doc since American
-- Paul Zimmerman
March 16, 2000
BEST DOC RUNNER UP JUST, MELVIN DEVASTATES AUDIENCE
getting slapped in the face by the hand of god. So said an obviously shell-shocked viewer after sitting
through JUST, MELVIN. When it had premiered at Sundance I'd heard it was an exhausting
experience. It's that and more. Much more.
...With a probing camera and vocal re-enactments,
Whitney, an ex-gymnist, dancer and game show quiz kid, is clearly obsessed by his aging demon of a
grandfather and dramatically keeps his interviews off camera for over half of the film...Abuse and
molestation is a tough subject to watch, and Whitney has the guts to show all his families' ghosts
while interjecting moments of relief giving grim humor.
By the time he finally confronts a
wheelchair-bound Just and cross cuts his accusations with clips of Whitney's dancing appearances on
TV's STAR SEARCH in the '80s, it's clear we're witnessing not just a great doc but the debut of a bold new stylist. It's the most effective back and forth editing since Coppola cut from the baptism ritual to systematic executions for the climax of THE GODFATHER.
May 18, 2000
I've seen a lot of movies in my day, and I'm sure you have too, but I swear
on the life of my beautiful grey kitty that you have NEVER EVER EVER seen
anything as fucked up as this deeply disturbing, curiously uplifting
documentary. The director is [Melvin] Just's grandson, a former "Star
Search" dancer (true!), hell-bent on revealing the sordid psychodrama of his
family, and bringing Just either to justice (old Melvin was a murderer, too)
or to the grave.
-- Sean Nelson
May 11, 2000
James Ronald Whitney's harrowing documentary about his own Northern
California family's cycle of sexual abuse is so stunningly candid and
matter-of-fact that it'll never be shown on television...the film absolutely
transfixes you with its unstinting, unsentimental interviews...for those
willing to face some ugly aspects of human behavior, it's essential viewing.
RANTS AND RAVES: Men behaving badly star at this year's Sundance.
January 23, 2000
"In the high-buzz documentary Just, Melvin, filmmaker James Ronald
Whitney takes an unblinking look back at his grandfather's pattern of abuse and molestation."
-- Chris Vognar
Molester, rapist, murderer: Just call him granddad
"The premiere Sundance Film Festival screening of Just, Melvin has just
concluded, and its horrific true story of a family ravaged by incest, abuse and murder has overwhelmed
the audience. The sounds of sniffles and soft crying are heard throughout the Yarrow Theatre. Women
and men both dab tissues at their eyes... Just, Melvin is the jaw-dropping saga of a California
family torn by more than 40 years of sexual abuse and vioence at the hands of a monster named Melvin
-- Peter Howell
back to reality at the Sundance Festival - Documenteries and true to life tails the most popular fare
at Utah film fest
January 28, 2000
"The most popular movies at the millenium edition
of Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend, were documentaries or
dramatic features that tell true-to-life stories. Documentaries like... Just, Melvin, the
harrowing saga of a sex predator grandfather who molested two generations of family members."
-- Peter Howell
Documentary Exposes Family Abuse
There have been innumerable films that have
dramatized court cases. There have been few that have actually acted as them. Just, Melvin, a
documentary in competition at SXSW (Convention Center, Mar. 12, 3 p.m.; Convention Center, Mar. 15,
3:15 p.m.; Alamo, Mar. 17, 6:30 p.m.) allows one family to prosecute the man--father, uncle,
grandfather--who repeatedly molested them and ultimately got away with it...Outrage...motivated his
grandson, James Ronald Whitney, to film a documentary chronic calling the abuse inflicted on his
Just, Melvin was screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where
Roger Ebert described it as "not the first documentary about family abuse, but probably the most
...Just, Melvin is currently in competition at the Santa Barbara International
Film Festival, and after SXSW will head to the Cleveland International Film Festival.
-- Erin Steele
This Week In Hollywood
January 21-28, 2000
"If this month's Sundance Film Festival is any indication,
Magnolia and American Beauty represent only the first rumble of a dysfunctional-family avalanche at
U.S. theaters. The line-up for Park City's annual high-altitude powwow (from Jan 20 to 30) dishes up
more abuse, alienation, and all-around-sub-urban rot than Thanksgiving with the cast of Who's Afraid of
Virginia Wolf?... The most devastating offering just might be Just, Melvin, James Ronald
Whitney's brave and buzzed about documentary chronicling a family's years of alleged abuse at the hands
of Melvin Just-Whitney's own grandfather. "He molested my mother at a young age," says the filmmaker,
36, "and many other family members." Despite the chilling subject matter, Whitney promises that
Just, Melvin works as entertainment, not just education. "There are times where I hope the
audience laughs," he says. "They will see me laughing, they'll see my family laughing. We want them to
be able to laugh with us." If there's a reason for the deluge of dysfunction on the indie landscape,
Whitney theorizes: "Most families have skeletons in their closets."
-- Jeff Gordinier
Our critics take the festivals highlights...
"...As is so often the case at Sundance, the most irresistible
drama is likely to be found in documentaries...Just, Melvin
is a confessional family portrait of two generations consumed and
destroyed by incest. The filmmaker, James Ronald Whitney, is at
once victim, reporter, and righteous avenger, doing everything in
his power to expose the evils of his grandfather Melvin Just. Just,
Melvin is undeniably voyeuristic, yet there's a shattering truth
to it. It's a therapy session in hell, and, like the best Sundance
movies, it takes you somewhere you never thought you'd go.
-- Owen Gleiberman
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
February 11, 2000
"...As usual, plenty of
Sundance fare posed a hearty challenge to the squeamish... James Ronald Whitney's bold
documentary Just, Melvin burrowed into his own family's decades of sexual abuse--in graphic
detail. (Amazingly, Whitney promoted the movie while juggling his day job as a Wall Street stockbroker.
"If the phone rings, I have to take the call," he explained. "I manage millions and millions of
dollars, so it's very important that I maintain the connection while I'm here.")
-- Jeff Gordinier &
The Buzz - Making art from
"Sundance documentary filmmaker confronts an abusive past in "Just,
January 27, 2000
"If not for one small detail, director James Ronald
Whitney's "Just, Melvin" might simply be a powerful feature about the continuing circle of
violence that stems from one man's (Melvin Just) repeated sexual assaults on several generations of
children. If not one small detail: Melvin Just is Whitney's grandfather. Whitney, who prefers to go
by his middle name of Ron, came from a very different place than most Hollywood film makers. The
36-year-old former Chippendales dancer turned Wall Street executive made the film to expose his
grandfather's crimes and hopefully bring some sort of peace to the extended family he so terribly
effected... With such a weighty topic, one might expect the film to be a start-to-finish downer. While
the feature is extremely disturbing at points, Whitney had no interest or intention of making a film
without humor. "Education is not what I'm into," he says. "Entertainment is what I'm into... " Vowing
to continue his project until his grandfather was either dead or in prison, Whitney reached his goal
(go see the film to discover which option came through) and in doing so, gave his family something to
hold on to."
-- Jim Bartoo
WE SAW OTHER THAN "AMERICAN PSYCHO":
January 24, 2000
"With painstaking detail,
director James Ronald Whitney does an amazing job telling the story of his abusive grandfather, Melvin
Just... "Just, Melvin" is receiving a tremendous amount of praise around Park City and
-- Joal Ryan
The Independent (London) "Turning to this week's documentaries, so far they have come out way
ahead of the fiction films on offer. The hot ticket are the documentaries... Just, Melvin is a
wrenching documentary by James Ronald Whitney about his grandfather Melvin Just..."
-- Alissa Quart
This Little Movie Went to Market...: Hollywood Dealmaking Is No Longer Antithetical
to the Sundance Film Festival, Where More Than a Smattering of -- Dare We Say -- Commerical Fare
January 30, 2000
"One of the most dynamic categories that Sundance
has to offer is its documentaries... "Just, Melvin," a deeply personal and disturbing
documentary about child abuse, made by the grandson of a serial abuser. Filmmaker James Ronald
Whitney's grandfather, Melvin Just, abused Whitney's mother, her sisters and step-sisters, as well as
the women in his second marriage. Whitney managed to extract very matter-of-fact confessions of the
violence from many of the women."
-- Sharon Waxman
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
Star Power, and the Power of Film
"...Just, Melvin, a brutal exploration of the effects of child sexual abuse on
several generations of one family, a combination murder mystery and social treatise that puts a new
perspective on those people commonly dismissed as white trash..."
-- John Anderson
The Buzz and the
February 3, 2000
"Other major titles cloaked in buzz include... "Just,
Melvin," the harrowing documentary about one family's incest."
-- Chris Garcia
Movies & More: Capsule Reviews
March 17, 2000
waiting for a few people to head for the doors during "Just, Melvin," James Ronald Whitney's
punishingly courageous documentary that derives psychological satisfaction--a very personal, very
punitive closure--by dredging up his grandfather's past of familial destruction--a patently repulsive
history of molestation, battery, abuse, duress and probably murder...The chilling inventory of horror
stories, related in an unvarnished language and merciless detail, fashion a family portrait of
unfathomable toxicity..."Just, Melvin" is an engrossing snapshot of a family battered into
dysfunctional wreckage, courtesy of one man's sins. Sad and sickening, it tenders the kind of ragged,
unsatisfying catharsis that life specializes in.
-- Chris Garcia
Willamette Week "It's 8 am, the opening screening has just
started and the first words I hear are these: "I lost my virginity in the second grade when I fucked my
cousin"-immediately followed by "My father put Ben Gay on his penis and stuck it inside of me." Good
morning, and welcome to Sundance." Specifically, welcome to Just, Melvin, James Ronald
Whitney's uncomfortably personal and graphic portrait of his child-abusing grandfather, Melvin Just.
Whitney interviews his entire family-rarely has an incest documentary possessed such a candid tone...
Doubtlessly this was a cathartic experience for Whitney, and unforgettable... "
-- Dave McCoy
Basking in the Sun(dance)
Docs to watch in Park City
"..."The Park City, Utah, festival is oft considered to be the best place to
premiere an American feature-length documentary. Gaining kudos at Sundance can spell the
difference between obscurity and the bright lights of temporary fame. Past prize winners have gone on
to win Academy Awards and/or been picked up for theatrical distribution... New to the festival...
director/producer James Ronald Whitney tells a very personal tale in Just Melvin, a chronicle of
his family's life with a molesting grandfather..."
-- Nancy Hughes
The secrets of Sundance
"...Just, Melvin...in a mesmerizing, deeply personal way...James Ronald
Whitney has made a remarkable documentary...It's a shockingly honest film that's smart enough to have a
sense of humor as well, intercutting Whitney's Star Search and game show appearances with horrifying
tales of abuse and even murder. The film's unconventional approach has audiences buzzing--it's a
must-see film at the fest..."
--Bruce C. Steele
On Solid Ground: Rachel Rosen on Sundance Documentaries
Amidst the usual frenzy of the Sundance Film Festival this year's
documentary competition felt like an oasis. Featuring less flashy subject matter and filmmaking, the
section had a more dignified air than in recent years. Content dictated form; filmmakers generously
gave voice to subject's without calling attention to themselves. Formal experimentation gave way to
raw emotion, and the combination of weightier topics and skilled construction made for one of the most
substantive selections in recent memory... Throughout the documentary competition, issues of family
dominated. The most devastating portrait of kin was Just, Melvin, James Ronald Whitney's story
of the steady ruination of his family by his grandfather's acts of abuse, incest and violence.
-- Rachel Rosen
March 21, 2000
It appears James Ronald Whitney was a man looking for some closure in his life, from
his family's painful history. One severly disturbing documentary later, the only conclusion he's
probably reached is that the horror will never be over. The wounds are too deep...I'm not one to throw out the word "evil" (except when referring to WWII criminals, Dr. Laura, Martha Stewart, and most of the cabinet of the Reagan administration), but if a consensus applies to anyone, it's Melvin.
...Intelligent and athletic, Whitney supported himself for awhile as a game-show contestant and as a competitor in dance contests, such as Ed McMahon's "Star Search." Tiring of his mother's repeated
suicide attempts, it seems as if James wanted to find a way to help his family deal with the past and move on. He finds there is too much damage, though. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and homelessness plague many of his aunts.
Everyone opens on camera. They all speak in a frank, matter-of-fact tone as they survey the wreckage of their lives...sparking the angriest, most drunken funeral I've ever seen committed to film. Some of the collective demons that hound the sisters are slowly released. A priest attempts to rein in the chaos, to no avail. After literally burying the woman's biggest demon, there's nothing really left to be said.
-- Ron Wells
"...James Ronald Whitney's 'Just, Melvin' is probably the strangest film I saw at Sundance.
It's one of those movies that makes you wonder why it was ever made, even though you can't stop
watching it; it's the personal documentary as family psychotherapy."
-- Thomas Powers
THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE
March 17, 2000
This deeply disturbing journey into the heart of darkness of an American
family is an act of revenge, a filmmaker's vendetta to right an unforgivable
wrong. In other words: This time it's personal. ...Be forwarned: This is a
tough film to watch. For those who can bear it, however, 'Just, Melvin'
raises unsettling questions with a determined skill that is admirable, given
Whitney's close relationship to the subject matter. He never crosses the
line, keeping his objective in perspective without getting overwhelmed by the
horrors he is purging. ...'Just, Melvin' has achieved a sympathetic
notoriety that both compels and repels you."
-- Steve Davis
May 29, 2000
"Just, Melvin" just might be the most disturbing movie you'll ever see.
James Ronald Whitney's...film holds together as a sterling work of human art,
a diary with a mission. What emerges is a portrait of a family in America so
unflinchingly honest that you feel like an intruder, but you can't look away.
This film transcends good and bad, transcends all judgement--as all
survivors must. What better way to spend Memorial Day that watching a film
that you'll never forget?
-- Sean Nelson