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Just, Melvin

Produced, directed, written by James Ronald Whitney. Executive producer, Richard Reichgut. In "Just, Melvin," director James Ronald Whitney chronicles a most painful journey through his family's past to unravel a vicious cycle of incest and its devastating effect on at least three generations. As disturbing and as shocking as the material is, however, helmer's detached approach and the film's complicated structure lend docu a curiously remote tone that makes it less engaging than it should have been. Even so, explosive subject matter should help place pic in festivals and venues that exhibit controversial nonfiction work.

Produced, directed, written by James Ronald Whitney. Executive producer, Richard Reichgut. In “Just, Melvin,” director James Ronald Whitney chronicles a most painful journey through his family’s past to unravel a vicious cycle of incest and its devastating effect on at least three generations. As disturbing and as shocking as the material is, however, helmer’s detached approach and the film’s complicated structure lend docu a curiously remote tone that makes it less engaging than it should have been. Even so, explosive subject matter should help place pic in festivals and venues that exhibit controversial nonfiction work.

The history of abuse in Whitney’s family is so prevalent and so complex that it defies easy comprehension or description. Upon marrying Whitney’s alcoholic grandmother, Fay, Melvin Just began abusing her three daughters, Anne (Whitney’s mother) and her twin siblings, Jan and Jeanette. Molestation of Fay and Melvin’s two biological daughters, Jerri and June, began when they were toddlers.

Then Melvin’s second marriage to Venice brought a new stepfamily within his reach: Pambi, handicapped at birth, was first molested by Melvin at age 5, and Bobbie was still in a stroller when first subject to Melvin’s incestuous behavior. Venice and Melvin’s biological daughter fell prey to her father’s sexual abuse at the age of 2.

But Melvin was not the sole abuser in the family. Venice’s second husband and father of Denise and Bobbie gained custody of the children when Venice was deemed unfit by the court. He began molesting his biological daughters and his stepdaughters. Director Whitney became a victim of abuse by his Uncle Jim at the age of 5.

Film also explores the murder and rape of Josephine Segal, a retired WWII nurse, who discovered Melvin in bed with Denise. Though eventually he was convicted on 12 counts of molestation and served eight years in jail, Melvin was never brought to trial for Segal’s murder, despite strong evidence and eyewitness accounts from his daughters, who not only saw the murder, but were later forced to bury the body in the woods.

Docu unfolds as a series of intimate interviews with many of the victims, each revealing a legacy of drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution and homelessness , attesting to the long-lasting catastrophic impact of their childhood experiences. Among the highlights is Whitney’s lengthy interview with Melvin in a retirement home, in which he denies any wrongdoing.

Scandalous testimony relates how Melvin was paying the girls from 25 cents to one dollar, depending on the depth of penetration, and how he forced them to get “training” by using crayons and hot dogs. However shocking such disclosures are, they’re often presented in a manner that diminishes their emotional effect. Overall, this richly detailed docu suffers from an unnecessarily cluttered structure, which makes it difficult to unravel the family links among its numerous victims.

Just, Melvin

(DOCU)

Production: A James Ronald Whitney/Production 920 production.

Crew: Camera (color), John Taggart; editors, Connie Walsh, Whitney; music, Whitney, Brent Argovitz. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 27, 2000. Running time: 96 MIN.

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