Dark Days Documentary Review Essay

Dir: Marc Singer
(15 cert, 82 min)

Twenty years ago, Englishman Marc Singer was living in New York City, and became drawn to a community of homeless people living underground, in the Amtrak tunnel near Penn Station. He lived with them on and off for a period of two years, deciding after a few months that a documentary was something which might help those in the community financially. What he assembled was the remarkable Dark Days, which won a clutch of awards – including the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival – on its release in 2000. Now reissued to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the British distributor Dogwoof, it holds up as a haunting document of mid-Nineties urban blight.

It’s as vivid a depiction of homelessness as cinema has ever given us. Shot in grainy 16mm monochrome, with a couple of strong lights Singer asked friends to tote around, it’s distinguished by remarkable intimacy, with none of the arty distance or aesthetic pretension a veteran filmmaker might have imposed. Singer’s subjects feel more like collaborators, an ensemble cast. They open up about terrible things they’ve suffered – in more than one case, the death of a child – which have sunk them into this abyss. Some have weaned themselves off smoking crack. Others intend to, one day.

The soundtrack, provided pro bono by pioneering instrumental hip-hop producer DJ Shadow, helps knit the whole into something forbidding, emotive and captivating.

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Summary:For years, a homeless community took root in a train tunnel beneath New York City, braving dangerous conditions and perpetual night. Dark Days explores this surprisingly domestic subterranean world, unearthing a way of life unimaginable to those above. Through stories simultaneously heartbreaking, hilarious, intimate, and off the cuff,For years, a homeless community took root in a train tunnel beneath New York City, braving dangerous conditions and perpetual night. Dark Days explores this surprisingly domestic subterranean world, unearthing a way of life unimaginable to those above. Through stories simultaneously heartbreaking, hilarious, intimate, and off the cuff, tunnel dwellers reveal their reasons for taking refuge and their struggle to survive underground. Filmed in striking black and white with a crew comprised of the tunnel’s inhabitants and scored by legendary turntablist DJ Shadow (Endtroducing…), Dark Days remains a soulful and enduring document of life on the fringe. [Oscilloscope Pictures]…Expand

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