Mad, Bad and Dangerous?
One year – five murders – many conspiracy theories – and a single trademark name, Jack the Ripper. Now this documentary hosted by Sir Christopher Frayling, tries its best to answer one simple question – not who Jack the Ripper was – but rather, why do we need to know who he was.
To help Sir Christopher illustrate his quest, their are a number of sources that he delves from. For example, (1) Movie footage. (2) A pre-recorded Jack the Ripper walk led by a noted Ripperologist. (3) Numerous interviews from police experts, physiologists, sociologists, and historians alike. And (4) Publications and inserts from both tabloid sources and literary works.
OK, so now that you know what he used, this is what he discovered:
A City Divided: In 1888, Whitechapel was a lower class London suburb which was populated by immigrants, prostitutes, criminals, and the working-man. Unlike the more prosperous and highly developed west side of London, Whitechapel was neglected by conservative London, and perceived as a melting pot for ‘unfortunates’, whom were good for nothing more than laborers or domestic hands.
However, journalist and their ilk, used the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings as a platform to highlight the degradation that the people who lived in this lo-cal had to endure. Moreover, they attacked people of note such as Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren, as well as dignitaries, politicians, and those people in 'frugal standing'.
The Public Conspiracy: Most of the more popular Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories picture’s Jack as being a well bread doctor, an immigrant, or a sexual predator. Why is that though? Well, these were the types of people that delved into Whitechapel at the time, and were perceived as being something that should be feared.
- A doctor – because this was a profession that boasted higher-class gentlemen exerting their power over women and other poor unfortunate people.
- An immigrant – because Whitechapel was infused with Jews, Irish, and Russians individuals, all bringing with them strange customs that seemed alien to the common Londoner.
- And sexual predators – because Whitechapel had many brothels, pubs, and theatres, places where both the working and higher classes exchanged money for pleasures of the flesh.
When did Jack the Ripper evolve from a news story to a media enterprise ? Jack’s name was in print just prior to the third murder, giving the newspapers and social activists a name to illustrate both the hypocritical and pompous attitudes of Victorian England. However, during that same period, it was hypothesized that this was detrimental to the polices overall investigation in this case, due to the public back lash that this new found 'media' brought along with it.
Moreover, this has been the case ever since – because once the murders stopped, and the tabloids seemed to loose interest in these killings, authors, movie folk, and scholars, took over, all of them developing and many innovate theories on Jack’s grizzly deeds, based on Victorian attitudes.
Anything else? At the end of the day, five women – possibly more – where killed in Whitechapel on that Autumn of 1888. Also, one mad-man escaped free into legend. So you have to wonder why there is merely a couple of gravestones to mark these women’s demise, whilst Jack has been turned in Jack Inc. – and a public recognition that is only surpassed by a select few celebrities, and people of noted worthiness.
The mystery continues.
Now to put it mildly, I found that 'Shadow of the Ripper' is one of the best documentaries I have ever watched about Jack the Ripper killings. You see, in a rather benign and formal way, it chronicles the social surroundings that this murderer lived in, whilst teaching us – the viewer – why we may want to know who Jack the Ripper was in the first place.
In some way, this program reminds me of a University lecture – just one I am interested in – and manages to scrape together top notch historians, physiologists, and criminologist, to explain in a non-pompous way, what it must have been like to have been brought up during those Victorian days.
Moreover, I have to mention that the most conversant in all of this is the head honcho himself – Sir Christopher Frayling – who just effortlessly explains all the little nuances of Victorian England, as clear and as poetic as your more run of the mill narrator does. Also, I found that the documentary was pieced together as a fractured – yet concise – narrative, allowing it to tell a story, whilst revealing related facts in a meaningful and unobtrusive way.
However, if there was a down side to 'Shadow of the Ripper', I would have to say that it was just a tad too short for my liking, because I would honestly have preferred to have heard a bit more from the specialists about what they felt about Jack and that time.
Still, whilst saying that, in the small time-frame that it had – 47 minutes – it did explain in great detail about this subject matter, with most of the superficial elements trimmed down to a minimum.
All in all ‘Shadow of the Ripper’ is a must see documentary for anyone who is interested in either Jack the Ripper, Victorian London, or a more conversant way of perceiving things. Think of it more as a 'Why do we want to know it?' rather than a 'Who Done It?' - which is a more in-depth way of seeing things, wouldn't you agree Sir Chris?
Class documentary, and well worth the watch.
THE RATING: A