Friday Afternoon Movie: Dark Days

And so another week comes to an end. Time to wrap up those last few loose ends in your in-box and head home for crazy a weekend of amphetamine-fueled debauchery. I mean, it’s Mother’s Day this weekend and all… No? Well, maybe just a weekend of yard work and staid outdoor activities like barbecue and bocce. Pro Tip: a few uppers could enhance said activities. Just sayin’. What? Don’t give me that look. You think you’re better than me? I will cut you! God, why is it so hot in here.

Whew, ok, let’s all just take a deep breath and try to discuss today’s FAM while ignoring the sounds of grinding teeth. Today’s film, no doubt soon to be yanked from YouTube, is Dark Days the documentary by British filmmaker Marc Singer from 2000. It follows a group of homeless people who make their homes in the abandoned subway tunnels beneath New York City, specifically The Freedom Tunnel under Riverside Park. His first film, Singer made Dark Days after moving to New York and making friends with number of the people who made up the Freedom Tunnel community.

For my part I found Dark Days by way of journalist Jennifer Toth — another British immigrant, coincidentally — whose book The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City Mr. Singer may have read as well. Published in 1993, it is perhaps the best known book on the subject, and also happens to feature residents of The Freedom Tunnel. It’s an engrossing read and has perhaps done the most to fuel the urban myths of organized, underground tribes of homeless. This is no doubt due to the sensationalistic nature of Toth’s account, much of it relying on unverifiable claims. Her credibility was not helped by what turned out to be a laundry list of geographical inaccuracies relating to almost every location she describes.

Surely then, Singer’s film does a better job of showing the reality of the situation. Despite the hip-hop aspirations that coat every surface — from the preoccupation with graffiti to the DJ Shadow soundtrack — the focus is decidedly on the individuals who make up this small community; shot in stark, grainy black and white that perfectly suits the subject matter. It’s a story simultaneously bleak and heartwarming. Such is the nature of all stories that are true.

4 Responses to “Friday Afternoon Movie: Dark Days”

  1. Vivacious_G Says:

    Spent some time with homeless folk years and years ago, appreciated this post.

  2. ArtistByDay Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I saw this about 5 years ago but had been wanting to see it again recently. I was reminded of it after reading William Gibson’s Virtual Light, and the homeless shanty town subculture constructed on a derelict Bay Bridge. This movie really stuck in my head: equally gritty, eerie, and sad and human. (The deleted scenes on the DVD are also quite interesting.)

  3. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Excellent stuff. Thanks for posting.

  4. Jondle Says:

    I was this film when I was a student. I’d read about it in the Big Issue and the week of release at some cimenas. Marc was going to donate money from that weeks takings of the film to the Big Issue foundation (which is a homeless charity in the UK). Excited I went to the independant cinema in Derby on my own to see it. (none of my friends wanted to see it. Having the previous week seeing Donnie Darko in a near empty indie cinema, which I loved they displiked). So sitting on my own with maybe 4 other paying customers I was blown away by this film. I loved it from the opening scene and the focus on these people make it a very powerful fill. Clearly it shows an underbelly of New York away from the gloss and glammer. I own this on DVD and as filmmaker and lecturer at a college, I try to show this film to students when I teach documentary production. Everyone should see this. Homelessness can happy to anyone and this film shows that despite having very little these people make the most of it and why the live in such a dangerous place in New York. Sadly I haven’t seen anything else Marc has done or if he has done anything. So if anyone knows then please send me a link.
    Good work guys.