Archive for From Hell

I don’t know who Jack the Ripper was –

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , on September 15, 2014 by dcairns

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– despite the recent news stories announcing that his DNA has been identified.

Read a little closer and that story sounds extremely unlikely. A “shawl” (in reality a piece of material 8ft by 2ft, seemingly designed as a table runner) has been claimed, via a runs-in-the-family bit of lore, to have been taken from a murder scene, some guy buys it, he decides he thinks he knows who the Ripper was, he tests for that guy’s DNA using a direct matrilineal descendent, and to his joy, one imagines, his tame DNA expert makes a positive match. Turns out the shawl has bloodstains traceable to a victim (or at any rate her matrilineal descendent) and sperm cells traceable to the suspect (or his m.d.)

The trouble with all this, apart from its stupefying convenience, is that we have a complete record of the victim’s possessions, and the shawl wasn’t there. Also, the story of how the shawl came to be in the keeping of the policeman’s family is highly improbable. And we have a list of the policemen’s postings in London, and he wasn’t at the crime scene. What good is finding DNA from both suspect and victim on an object that has no relationship to their story?

Of course The Daily Mail loves this story because they can print that JTR was “a Polish lunatic.” In fact, Aaron Kosminski, the named suspect, isn’t the least plausible figure put forward for the role — I mean, he wasn’t royalty, or gay, or an eminent surgeon, or a famous painter, or any of the other things that might attract a writer to claiming his for the killer but in fact make him highly unlikely to be the guy. Kosminski was locked up for being hopelessly mad a couple of years after the killings, so there’s nothing that REALLY explains why the murders stopped, but he lived in the area, as the killer undoubtedly did, and he was apparently schizophrenic, as some serial killers of this kind apparently have been. As a Jew, he does seem a less likely fit for leaving antisemitic graffiti near one of his crime scenes, but anything’s possible.

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Of course, the really interesting thing about JACK THE RIPPER is that he was never caught and cannot be positively identified. But the scholarly books laying out the often-distorted facts of the case probably don’t sell as well as the ludicrous theory books, and so the script Fiona & I wrote, JACK AND THE DAUGHTERS OF JOY, might present difficulties since we don’t say precisely who the killer is. It seems people are attracted to the unsolved case most when somebody offers a solution. It’s weird to me when I see the 1976 JACK THE RIPPER by Jess Franco or the 1959 one from Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker, in which the Ripper is safely apprehended by the authorities (in the 50s version, not so much apprehended as flattened by a nearly anachronistic elevator) which not only didn’t happen, but is practically the one thing everybody knows didn’t happen. (Also, note the hilariously prominent modern window frame in my top image.)

Historically, the movies are all ridiculous. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s comic From Hell is compelling, despite being based on a ludicrous conspiracy theory, but the movie made from it dispensed with historical accuracy immediately — the casting wrecked it before you even saw it. The worst aspect is detective Johnny Depp taking opium and having psychic visions (because that’s what opium does), none of which tell him who the killer is and so all of which are a complete waste of screen time.

The real case is so horrible that no movie intended as mere entertainment can get into the reality, and even a trace of it, whether the movie be A STUDY IN TERROR or DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE can sour the fun. The actual events, with homeless alcoholics as victims, grotesque mutilation of corpses, no picturesque gaslit fog, and a lot of confused and misguided bumbling by the authorities, is not really the stuff of an enjoyable detective or horror story. It’s several degrees darker than SE7EN.

Of course, Fiona and I cracked all those problems, but we would say that, wouldn’t we?

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Kane Caught in Love Nest with “Dinosaur”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2013 by dcairns

league1Panels from Nemo: Heart of Ice, the latest installment of the adventures of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Ignore the terrible movie with which Sean Connery ended his career, the comic is quite good.

In The League’s universe, all the characters from sensational fiction inhabit the same world and interact, thus there’s a superhero team (though Moore denies they’re that) composed of Captain Nemo, Allan Quartermain, Mina Murray, the Invisible Man and Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde. The movie throws in Dorian Gray too, which was enough to get them sued by none other than Larry Cohen, who had written a screenplay called CAST OF CHARACTERS which brought Gray together with several of the above characters. Moore, who hates the film business (can’t blame him after FROM HELL) was not pleased at being dragged into a movie lawsuit.

The creators somehow evade copyright law and drag in all sorts of famous fictional figures — the newspaper magnate here is clearly Charles Foster Kane, and his Everglades retreat is decorated with a pic of a nude woman on a sled, referencing both versions of the origin of “Rosebud” (an innocent snow vehicle, or William Randolph Hearst’s nickname for Marion Davies’ genitals), the Maltese Falcon, and a stuffed pterodactyl head mounted on the wall.

The latter strikes me as a singularly witty trope. It refers chiefly to the supposed flying lizards in the scene discussed here, which are in fact cel-animated flamingos, we think, and not off-cuts from KING KONG or SON OF KONG as is all too often claimed. Since the Moore comic is set in 1925, the dino also fits neatly with the first movie of THE LOST WORLD released that year, and one remembers that in the Conan Doyle novel, Professor Challenger and his team bring back from the remote South American plateau an egg, which hatches and provokes consternation.

I always felt this was the inspiration for Max Klinger’s print.

However, in the movie of THE LOST WORLD, Willis O’Brien animates a brontosaurus rampaging through London — how the team brought THAT home is as unexplained as Kong’s trip to New York eight years later. So the Moore reference doesn’t make absolute cross-textual sense, but it ties together a number of disparate things in a pleasing if irrational way. Which is just the kind of thing I like.

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Moore & O’Neill’s series is enjoyable for this kind of attention to background detail — every image has some in-joke or reference, which is why one likes to have the Annotations to hand when perusing.

Nemo: Heart of Ice

The Lost World [1925] [DVD]

Citizen Kane [Blu-ray] [1941]