Directed and produced by Marc Singer
Wide Angle/Palm Pictures
Manhattan’s Penn Station, a cornerstone of the Big Apple’s indispensable transportation systems and human traffic. As we travel in one of the numerous express trains or subways, most of us are oblivious to the black void beyond our windows once inside the car. But beyond the darkness lies a subculture that few dared to acknowledge or even conceive of. Leave it to a dedicated and sincere filmmaker like Marc Singer to voluntarily surrender his apprehensions and venture into life that exists before, during, and after the screeching wheels of a train enter the picture. At times both harrowing, amusing, and all too surreal, Singer and his camera follow the lives of the “mole people” (as they’re so kindly referred to) for nearly two years. Some fall under the spell of drug addiction, specifically crack, while others carry on as though they were living in the confines of the sea of dwelling above ground.
As millions hurriedly tread through the course of their daily routine along the streets of the biggest metropolis in the world, hundreds of others scurry alongside countless rats and other vermin underneath to create their own version of Utopia. Aided by a haunting, selectively placed score courtesy of DJ Shadow, which appears and disappears as the movie progresses, Dark Days is a full-on view of a claustrophobic society. People that aren’t counted in census figures or target market research, merely creating a second-hand fabric of culture, where used electronics, discarded clothing, cardboard, and other items make up their amenities. As we move further, the desperation shows on some faces, while pure comfort wears itself on others. These aren’t characters dressed down by some Hollywood suit, but a faceless bunch that deserves merit for functioning successfully without having to acquiesce to the trappings of civilization above them.
Singer brings an upfront, brutal and at times engaging dialogue with folks named Tito, Dee, Henry, and Ralph, each having lived for years in this terrain, each striving for more. Lighting is kept to a bare minimum, with the focus being on the constant night that envelops their existence. The filmmaking itself doesn’t cater to brilliance, but it is the concept and humanity which singer lends to Dark Days, along with Shadow’s perfectly fitting beats, that makes this documentary a winner. As the movie unwinds, Amtrak intervenes and starts to force these inhabitants out of their “homes.” But fortunately for most, the light at the end of this long subway tunnel shines bright, as homeless programs in the city provide these humans with their first shot at living normal lives on our turf, leaving the film on an optimistic note. But for the most part, it’s still midnight in an imperfect world for some. So the next time you stare out into the dark from your subway car, remember that it might not be just your reflection looking back at you.
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