Monday, 21 December 2015

On Location

A little while back, I did some film location research, and it led me down rather a strange alley.  While looking up a West London location shown in ‘Alfie’, I decided to see if this was close to the infamous Rillington Place.  I thought that this might give some context to the West London area pre-gentrification.  As it turned out, the two streets were not as geographically close as I had thought they might be.  However, the act of looking up Rillington Place led me down this other path.

The events that occurred in Rillington Place in the 1950s were famously made into a film – ’10 Rillington Place’ (1971) starring Richard Attenborough.  I have seen this film once, many years ago, and it disturbed me so much that I never want to watch it again.  Attenborough was such a skilled actor that his portrayal of serial killer Reginald Christie was superbly horrible.  The murder of the innocents – especially the hanging of an innocent man – gave me a restless sleep that night. I can picture the film clearly, despite having seen it possibly two decades ago now.  Typing the phrase “10 Rillington Place” into Google first brought up the interesting fact that the street itself was used as a location in the film.  This was just before its demolition – but after its renaming as Ruston Close.  In order to find out how close it was to the ‘Alfie’ location, I had to seek out the most recent name.  This is when I found out that there are many people out there that have made big efforts to find the now hidden location of the murders. Arguments take place in online forums as to where exactly the house stood.  Some are determined that there is a bit of old wall remaining and that they have stood in the back yard of the house.  Others argue (plausibly) that the street alignment was changed on rebuilding, making a drain cover the location. The dedication that people have given to their search is quite astonishing and quite frankly bizarre.

Attenborough as Christie by @aitchteee
A film such as ’10 Rillington Place’, which aims to depict a real-life event, should not be taken as a historical document. Films are required to have some drama.  Scripting or character description may rely on hearsay or potentially exaggerated newspaper reports.  But taken alongside my internet findings its very existence throws an interesting light on some attitudes to the phenomenon of a serial killer.  It shows that there is a distinct section of people who want to know every detail of a horrific event, who find pleasure in seeking out relics and in seeing the location.  They do not condone the murders, but they attach a significance to them.  The modern age has tended to give celebrity to some who really do not deserve it.  There is perhaps some merit in the film in the demonstration of the tragedy of a miscarriage of justice that ends in capital punishment.  But there is certainly no enjoyment to be had. It simply tells the story that many people obviously want to see.  This is a genre of film that tells people of the future about 20th century society and its foibles simply by existing.

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