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Just, Melvin: Just Evil (2000)

An in-depth look at the director James Ronald Whitney's family history of incest spanning at least three generations and the devastating consequences that include drug abuse and alcoholism.
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4 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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An in-depth look at the director James Ronald Whitney's family history of incest spanning at least three generations and the devastating consequences that include drug abuse and alcoholism.

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January 2000 (USA)  »

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Documentary Fully Realized
29 May 2000 | by (Milwaukee, WI) – See all my reviews

The documentary as a genre, when utilized to it's fullest, is in some ways the most powerful film medium. It has the ability to be unquestionably (and uncomfortably) voyeuristic. You aren't watching a mere creation or representation; you're watching reality. In the case of Just, Melvin, it is a reality magnified through perception, as James Roland Whitney turns the camera on himself and his family, examining the role that the sexually abusive and murderous Grandpa Melvin has had on all of their lives.

In Just, Melvin, you aren't watching a documentary as film anthropology. This isn't an outsider looking in. This is an insider looking in, exposing open and bleeding wounds in a detailed and often grotesque close-up.

In explicit detail, Whitney and his family describe exactly what it is like living with Melvin Just. I use the present tense because even though Melvin may not be physically in the lives of the Just family, they must still confront and deal with the abuse--a suffering that continues to linger in their lives.

Whitney reveals child abuse to be a misnomer. Child abuse is an occurrence with many adult consequences. It is not a fear or remembrance that fades with aging or the coming of daylight, like a childhood nightmare long forgotten. Instead, Melvin appears as a character that must be continually dealt with, something that each of the family members do in their own way, and something Whitney does in a very unsettling on-camera confrontation with the man himself.

Just, Melvin is a hard film to watch. Exposing family problems--especially from the inside--is something often looked upon by our tabloid culture as taboo, if not out-right manipulation. Indeed, many may be tempted to make talk show comparisons given the nature of the film, it's I-have-a-horrible-secret revelations, and the living conditions of many of those involved. Such comparisons, however, make the incidents spoken of in the film--quite freely and with no apparent prodding on the part of Whitney--no less real.

While the camera ventures into the dark closet of the Just family, it does not remain entirely in the shadow of evil. The horrible happenings are fused with the humor and life of the family, at times giving the film an air of the surreal. True--it's hard to laugh, but sometimes it's hard not to.

Ultimately, Just, Melvin is not only an involving human story; it's an exploration of documentary and it's many facets. It's film, it's reality, it's confession, it's catharsis. There's a lot of pain and, oddly enough, humour. It's documentary fully utilized, a process made to watch, a means of telling to achieve not only healing, but awareness and, finally, justice.


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