Monday, August 11, 2008

Dark Days (2000) NR - 3½ Stars

I really got into this movie and even watched the "special feature" part of the disc where I almost NEVER do that. The characters grow on you or maybe it's our fascination as a race in whole, of watching other people struggle. The "looky-lou" syndrome, if you will. Marc Singer bought himself a 16mm camera and went down into the tunnels of Penn Station to capture the living conditions and the people who sustain themselves there, some for over 25 years. He decided to live down in the tunnel with the people, and the rats, in order to observe their daily routines. It's not pretty, shot in B&W for lack of budget, but it touches on the souls of the people who've hit rock bottom. Each character has their own story of how they got there. Dee, for example, was the mother of two small boys who burned in a fire. While in the tunnel she also pissed someone off who burned down her home. Great soundtrack by DJ Shadow.

What I did learn from the documentary was that people have been "squatters" in the Mud Flats of the Hudson River - Penn Station since the late 1800's, early 1900's. The tunnel was built on top of a landfill and stretches from 72nd to 123rd Streets. In 1991, when Amtrak was laying new track, they found 150 people leaving in the tunnel. The documentary helped in negotiating the people from their make shift homes, into section 8 housing with jobs and the opportunity to change their lives.

The only part of the movie that was unclear to me was how did they get their refrigerators, large pieces of plywood, T.V.'s and other large items, down to their living quarters. They tapped into the electricity and could run refrigerators, televisions, hot plates, shavers, many of the conveniences of home. Not everyone has a drug problem, some just ran away from their home lives and found that living in the tunnels was the easiest way to insure no one stole their personal items, and their safety from the non compassionate world who shunned them.

The film won many awards including:

2000 - Dark Days - Independent Spirit Award - Best Documentary.
2000 - Dark Days - L.A. Film Critics Association - Best Documentary.
2000 - Dark Days - Sundance Film Festival - Freedom of Expression Award.
2000 - Dark Days - Sundance Film Festival - Audience Award for Documentary Film.
2000 - Dark Days - Sundance Film Festival - Cinematography Award in Documentary Competition.

Picture Farms
Director: Marc Singer
Producer: Marc Singer
I viewed 7/08


Anonymous said...

never have heard of this movie..but did see story on 20/20 or primetime...I am going to check this movie out!

elgringo said...

This is a fascinating film. Even more fascinating is the story behind the film. I'm glad you mentioned that. How he shot is just as interesting as what he shot.

The movie was so good that DJ Shadow (who never gives permission for films to use his music) actually remixed tracks just for Singer.

Great review.