“The End” opens with a very “Se7en”-esque aesthetic. Black and white film footage amid skipping titles… you get the feeling, with the menacing music and the dark voice-over, that you’re about to see a documentary about the Devil, or at the very least, Hell itself. Which is partially true, as “The End” recounts the exploits and adventures of a very violent group of gangsters from post-World War II London’s East End.
Nicola Collins’s documentary is both charming and frightening. As each tale unfolds, as each person quite matter-of-fact tells a new story, you can’t help but be knocked sideways by the dichotomy of a bunch of extremely well-spoken, intelligent, charming people having done unbelievably horrible things in their lives (or, at the very least, witnessed such badness). I found myself intrigued by their tales, convinced they were up-and-up good people and yet, at the same time, they’ve all done jail time for one thing or another. In other words, where is the line between good and evil? How can someone embody such honor and intelligence, as so many in this film seem to, and then at the same time be involved with some of the violence they cop to.
And that’s something to point out, because this documentary only deals with the crimes they either witnessed (no names, no ratting on friends or enemies; code of honor) or what the gentlemen in question were caught or arrested doing (meaning, they did and have seen a helluva lot more than we’re remotely privy to by the end of the film).
One of the themes of the piece, however, is not one to shock or glorify the criminal activities of the “gangsters” profiled, but instead to investigate how a particular financially-challenged neighborhood gave birth to so many of that type. Beyond their upbringing, the subjects all share one thing in common: no fear. Despite being stabbed, shot, beaten… nothing stopped any of these guys, and that’s why they’re around to be interviewed. I don’t know if that warrants admiration, but you can’t help but respect them.
The cinematography is of a very stark, newsreel aesthetic, which gives a gritty feel that illustrates and elevates the stories being told. I don’t know if all the scratches, dust and stray hairs in the footage were added later or if it was just a particularly bad batch of short ends the film was shot on, but it works, and that’s all, ultimately, that matters. In fact, I forgot often that I was watching a documentary, because it could almost be considered an experimental long-form short film.
“The End” is a glimpse into a world that, hopefully, you have n knowledge of. I liken it to watching “Shark Week” on TV. All the facts are there, all the majesty and at the same time, all the violence and horror. I love watching “Shark Week,” but I don’t want to swim with the sharks Likewise, I loved watching “The End,” but I wouldn’t f**k with any of these guys.