Does the new Jack the Ripper film, FROM HELL, have what it takes to satisfy the legions of Whitechapel murders conspiracy theorists?
Words: Miles Fielder
o you know what
‘Ripperology‘ is'.’ And. for
that matter. do you know what a ‘Ripperologist' does'.’ The first is a branch of study. the second is a specialist in that area: the Jack the Ripper murders. Ripperology boils down to conspiracy theory. as Jack was never caught and the case of the killing of five East End of London prostitutes in autumn I888 was closed but never solved. But the bizarre. brutal crimes and their enigmatic criminal have made Jack the Ripper the most infamous serial killer in history. No wonder. then. the case engenders so many conspiracy theories. giving rise to Ripperology.
And what theories: butchers. street gangs. artists. psychics and the devil himself have all been implicated in the murders over the years. Do a little research and you'll find hundreds and thousands of books. journals. articles. documentaries. dramatic films and web sites. And being a field of academic study. the debate between Ripperologists is ongoing and endlessly self- generating.
Yet. there is one conspiracy theory that has endured and remains more controversial than the others. Detailed by Stephen Knight in his 1978 book Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution. the theory suggests the Freemasons were behind the murders and that the murders were a cover for the killing of a prostitute who was the lover. secret wife and mother of the child of Prince Edward Albert. son of Queen Victoria. Knight goes on to say the murders themselves were carried out by William Gull. physician to the Queen. and that Victoria knew about and condoned everything.
This theory formed the basis for the 1979 film Murder By Decree. which pitted Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper. It also fuels comic writer Alan Moore‘s exhaustive investigation. the ten years in the making (with Scottish artist liddie Campbell) graphic novel. From Hell. And From Hell (the manner in which the killer signed his letters to the newspapers) has spawned a new Ripper film of the same title.
At first look I’rum Hell seems a film doomed to failure. For a start. Moore‘s book is as thick as a telephone directory. (‘ampbell's pen-and-inked chapters are annotated with the fruits of his writer‘s obsessive research. tracing each element of the crime
24 'I’HE LIST 31 Jaiiﬂw‘. lot) 2002
‘We did a lot of research - I guess we’d be amateur Ripperologists’
The most infamous serial killer in history
— victims. investigators. murderer. Victorian society as
a whole and the city of London itself — to the end of
the line. How to transpose such a weighty tome onto less than two hours of screen time'.’ Secondly. the Hughes brothers undertook the task. Their milieu is 20th century American urban crime. as seen in .Menuee 2 Sur'iefy and Dead Presidents.
‘We could relate to some of the story.‘ says Albert Hughes. 'mainly ghetto life. Though ghettos are pretty different nowadays. So we had to do a lot of research. I guess we‘d be amateur Ripperologists.‘ In their leading man. they made a most unlikely discovery: Johnny Depp is a Ripperologist. ‘He‘d been collecting books for years before he came onto the film.‘ says Allen Hughes. ‘He already had a fascination with it. Discovering this. we cast him.’
Plus. those Hughes boys sure have done their research. ‘I looked at the weather almanac for the time.‘ says Albert. whose homeboy dress sense makes it difficult to imagine him thumbing a dusty old Victorian book. ‘There was no fog during the murders. The only thing there was around was a fine mist during the last two. So we were careful smoking up the film.‘ Impressive. if not anal. Nevertheless. the filmmakers are maintaining a healthy awareness of Ripperologists' reactions. ‘You have to connect dots and composite characters. which is unique to the lilm.’ says Allen. ‘We may be open to some accusations of inaccuracies. but it is a film after all.‘
From Hell is on general release from Fri 8 Feb. See review, page 25.
Lights, camera, action . . .
Fact is stranger, funnier and far more dramatic than fiction. Which film is both funnier and more disturbing than Terry Zwigoff's pre-Ghost World dOCUmentary Crumb? Is the fonhcoming Will Smith blockbuster Ali likely to be more riveting than the Rumble in the Jungle doc When We Were Kings? Aside from Dark Days. the self-made doc about New York City subway dwellers. what other film in recent cinema history has actually changed people‘s lives? And don't get me started on the skateboarding doc Dogtown AndZ Boys. without any doubt the coolest film that will ever be made.
Okay. I'm going on at length here. but amazing/stunning/startling as they so often are. documentaries continue to be overlooked for the most part. Not so at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival. and the south
The Days Of Nick Drake
Yorkshire-based event is going on tOur to prove it. Throughout February Sheffield brings seven of the best docs to the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh's Filmhouse.
The screenings kick oft with Cunnamu/la. a compelling look at small town life in Australia. Cannes Palme d'Or-winning filmmaker Emir Kusturica (Underground) submits a corcert movie ab0ut his own band in Super 8 Stories. There's a full-blown musical biopic in A Skin Too Few: The Days Of Nick Drake. ‘lmagine if the Sex Pistols made boots instead of music'. is how Lech Kowalski pitches his film, The Boot Factory. SOuth Comfort is the remarkable true tale of Robert Eads. cowboy and transsexual. And how do yOLl make brass bands interesting? With Brass UribOL/nd. Finally. the does get heavyweight like no drama can with The Pinochet Case. (See Film index and list'ngs for detailsl