Against the background of the East End of London England, Nicola Collins explores the fascinating complexity of the lives of her father and his friends: infamous criminals that shaped their war torn environment into a violent underworld. The End is a story never before been told of a group of men with a common bond. All born in the East End of London into poverty striving for a better life and all found that life in crime. Unashamed and unapologetic these men live their lives defined by a code of honor. The End reveals the bloody history and the confessions of the cockney gangster. Written by
Crime pays. And it really began paying out in the run-up to the millennium, as numerous old lags started getting their pensions topped up from the proceeds of true-crime merchandising. After decades of seeing their dark power half-inched by punks and football hooligans, former East End gentlemen were reclaiming their 'Sixties appeal as shotgun-toting clothes horses and pop culture icons - lending their mugs to photo shoots, magazine columns and bestselling autobiographies. And, of course, movies: for better or worse, the Britcrime genre was also reactivated in the 1990s, a mixed legacy the UK film industry still hasn't shaken off.
For those who wanted to hear the chaps too, Tricky's Durban Poison label released its 'Product of the Environment' CD, in which ex-Kray associates and rivals such as Charlie Richardson, 'Mad' Frankie Fraser and Tony Lambrianou reminisced over techno soundtracks. "Certain stories can be a bit gruesome" Product's producer told the press in 1999. "I cut out a lot of what they said." Edited for mass consumption, 'Product' soon nestled comfortably on the racks alongside Gangsta rappers, reassuring buyers with the information that a percentage of its profits would go to "providing musical equipment and boxing facilities for deprived kids".
The End (a 'Duckin and Divin Production') is simply another reworking of 'Product', a deliberately distressed and scratchy documentary of talking heads, sporting the same sinister techno score and added subtitles for non-Cockneys. It's directed and produced by the twin Collins sisters Nicola and Teena, former actors and catwalk models who starred in Snatch - and are themselves a Product of the Environment in question, as their father is convicted armed robber Les Falco. The End, therefore, is an attempt to ask their old man, alongside other aging East End crims, "What did you do in the (turf) war, dad?"
Whatever your position on the subject matter, The End will confirm all your prejudices. If you think these people are a misunderstood bunch of geezers who only hurt their own and live by an internal code of ethics, this will confirm it. If you reckon they're rabid animals who deserve locking up for a long time, this won't change your opinion one iota. And if you're a sociologist who believes that lives are entirely shaped by economic forces, you're really going to dig this. (It even begins with a quote from Aristotle: "Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.")
So if you're looking to box tick clichés, bring lots of paper. Bring reams. Every stereotypical statement you can possibly imagine is trotted out by these charming, twinkle-eyed sociopaths, from the one about how post-War poverty turned them to crime - "9 out of 10 EastEnders started out doing a bit of villainy" apparently (discounting the vast majority of law-abiders who didn't) - to the one about how "the Krays done a lot for under-privileged kids and charities" and that old favourite, "Reg Kray taught me empathy, to always think of the other person's point of view before you react".
Hang on. What? Reggie Kray taught bare knuckle boxer-cum-armed robber Roy "Pretty Boy" Shaw about empathy? Maybe there are some surprises to be had here. The uninitiated might also be interested to learn these guys detest the 'G' word. "Gangsterism is a fallacy, put about by newspapers and films to glamourise it" scoffs 'negotiator' Mickey Gonella, correctly. Everyone prefers terms like "rascals" as if pouring acid over somebody's head to melt their brain, an incident vividly described here, were something you might find in The Beano. Yoiks, the Little Rascals have nailed Biffo the Bear's ears to the table again!
Gonella's disparagement of 'glamourised' crime is tellingly at odds with The End itself, which employs a heavily stylized approach, affording a supposedly gritty glamour to the proceedings. Imagine if the film stock were untreated. The distancing process would be lost. And this would immediately become unpleasantly banal - merely footage of people who hurt or threaten other people for money.
But in fact like other forms of porn, this is mostly just another come-on. The gents might talk a lot, but listen closely - they actually say next to nothing about committing the crimes for which they're convicted (though proudly talk about the bullies, nonces or grasses they've bashed up - painting themselves as virtual Arthurian knights). And nobody dares admit to the worst thing they've done. Instead, we mainly hear about things they've witnessed; a deadening, numbing litany after awhile, though snatches of dialogue occasionally pull you up short: "I pulled back his ear and tried to bite his throat completely out."
In the second, philosophical half, a few chaps describe turning to the ultimate Godfather. "Everything you've ever done, He'll forgive you" swears fight promoter Alan Mortlock. "It's like the Old Bill tearing up your criminal past." It doesn't mean he's gone soft though: "I'm Born Again - not born yesterday!" The old guard also mourn the 'death' of their beloved East End which, they say, has lost its atmosphere and all those "funny characters and geezers" of yesteryear. Nobody admits there's probably just as many 'funny characters' there today. It's just, unlike everybody featured here, they might not be white.
Mostly, it's business as usual: non-existent levels of self-awareness allied to breathtaking amounts of self-justification. "I'm not the bad guy" muses 'international debt collector' Mickey Goldtooth. "They're the bad guy for not paying the money, right?" Although Falco admits: "I thought of myself as a sort of a Robin Hood - everyone else thought I was a robbin' bastard." And Shaw, formerly imprisoned for years, confesses: "I've wasted all my life. It's a mug's game."
Yet the saddest and profoundest statement flashes by so quickly you could very easily miss it: "We don't take life serious. We just take life."
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