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Just Melvin
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Here are some various clips of TV personalities and critics discussing Just, Melvin
Television Clip Montage (CNN, Jenny Jones, The View, NBC, NY1, Fox, Inside Edition, Roger Ebert, Oprah Winfrey)
Critic's Comments
Independent Spirit Awards
The View

Roger Ebert photo Ebert & Roeper logo
View a Video clip of Roger Ebert's Review
"Ebert & Roeper And The Movies"
Air Date: April 7, 2001
(transcript from show #1532)
"Just, Melvin"
(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.


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.


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.


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 logo   THUMBS UP! --Roger Ebert

Wrong movies? These aren't
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
Just, Melvin
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.
Melvin Just photo with June 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 stepdaughters.

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.
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 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

iF Magazine poster iF Magazine poster iF Magazine
April 20, 2001
DIRECTOR: James Ronald Whitney
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

Houses of Pain
January 28, 2000

"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, Chicago Sun-Times

Family Movies From Hell
February 2000

"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 Buzz
"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."

Blatimore Sun newspaper logo
Baltimore Sun
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

telegraph logo
Saturday, 13 January 2001

A monster in the family
Michael Carlson talks to a film-maker about his portrayal of a horrifying step-grandfather

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.

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 life differently."

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 of abuse.

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 gets it."

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 the making...

'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.

Premiere Magazine
April 2000
Bound for Glory

Where do 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

vancouver newspaper logo
Vancouver Courier
September 24, 2000

(out of four)
Raw and unsettling, Melvin examines generational sexual abuse
The 19th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival

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
Sundance 2000
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

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

iF Magazine
March 24, 2000

"'Just, Melvin,' the best damned doc since American Movie..."
                                                                                    -- Paul Zimmerman

iF Magazine
March 16, 2000

It's like 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
Just, Melvin

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.
                                                                                    -- B.R.M.

Dallas Morning News

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

The Toronto Star

Molester, rapist, murderer: Just call him granddad
January 30, 2000

"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 Just."
                                                                                    -- Peter Howell

The Toronto Star

It's 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

March 10, 2000
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 family...
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 painful."
...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...
February 11, 2000

"...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

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 & Chris Nashawaty

The Buzz - Making art from pain.
"Sundance documentary filmmaker confronts an abusive past in "Just, Melvin"
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

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 deservedly so."
                                                                                    -- Joal Ryan

independent newspaper london england

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

The Washington Post

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 Unspools
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


Star Power, and the Power of Film
January 23, 2000

"...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 Glory
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

You keep 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
January 2000

"..."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 Advocate
The secrets of Sundance
February 13, 2000

"...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
Mar/Apr 2000

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

Film Threat logo

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

Release Print
April, 2000
Critical Eye

"...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

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, 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

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