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Dark Days

In: Film and Music

Submitted By camishere
Words 877
Pages 4
Marc Singer's documentary Dark Days follows a group of homeless men and women who live in an abandoned subway tunnel in New York City. They have built one room huts, they even have electricity, pets, beds, and they work hard to scrounge to earn money. They feel lucky to be a step above the homeless on the street who have nothing to call their own. Their participation in the making of this film allows them to eventually move out of the tunnels when forced to by Amtrak officials.

This is not just a film on the lives of the homeless, it is about human condition. How they got there, how they get by, and how they get out. We learn in detail the cause and effects of how this small group of people ended up living in a tunnel together and formed a community. Some have turned to drugs to forget the horrors of losing children and doing jail time. Others are simply unwanted by their familes or society. As dangerous as it looks, they found the safest place to live where they could still live their lives on their own terms; never losing their wit and humor.

Decisions on making this documentary were all made spontaniously. The director Marc Singer does not appear in the film, Singer explained his process by stating, "I'd been living in the tunnel for about three months before the idea came up about making the film and really became good friends with the people" (Singer, 2000). He had never even seen a movie film camera before. Singer ultimately used a 16mm camera with black-and-white Kodak film, at the suggestion of friends, because color is harder to film when you don't know what you are doing. It was a great decision, as the black-and-white lets us imagine what it would be like to live in the dark, dank conditions under the city. I think it would be an amazing experience to live underground while creating a film.

Singer then devoted two years to filming Dark Days, living and working underground, shooting anything and literally everything. The homeless were not only the subject of the film, they were a full working crew in the making of this documentary. They helped with every detail from the make shift lighting to building the dollies to hold the cameras. More importantly, the homeless gave Singer the ideas on what to film and included every detail to their living conditions, such as showering under a leaky pipe, and getting footage of the building piles of garbage and the rats that are always present.

The protagonists narrate their own stories. Some have a little help from friends as they sit around a camp fire or make dinner on a hot plate. The conversation is all spontaneous. One of the most heartbreaking, yet perfectly edited scenes is when a woman named Dee tells the story of losing her children in a fire while she was high on crack. The trains clicking on the tracks loom in the background as she lights her crack pipe to escape this memory. And re-lights it again and again and again.

The director reminded us now and then that this was taking place underground; to demonstrate this "the opening sequence shows us the setting above ground and the slow climb below" (Heumann & Murray, n.d., para. 2). Singer's lighting style always showed the darkness in the tunnel while still using rigged lighting while filming. He also used vignetting effects to show that life is always dark underground, no matter how much artificial light you use. The cimematography is brilliant for a first time director. His creative lighting technique used shadows to show that a man was cooking while the camera focused only on his face and the story he was telling. Having fifty-seven hours of footage to work with, Singer and his do-it-yourself crew continued to work together to finish the film. Homeless philosopher, Ralph, also did a large part of the editing process. It was a learning experience for all involved.

In the documentary of Dark Days Marc Singer proved to us that being homeless does not mean you are a lost cause. These homeless individuals were living in a tunnel because they had made bad decisions and encountered some bad breaks, but they are still human with a sense of humor, a sense of work ethic, and they never gave up hope. Many reviewers agree, Dark Days is a must see. It changes the way you see the homeless. The film makes you actually 'see' the homeless openly and honestly. Dark Days succeeds in doing what documentaries these days try to do, make you think and change your way of thinking. Good or bad, this movie will have an impact on everyone who sees it. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that no matter how bad things seem, there is always a way up and out.

Heumann, J. & Murray, R. (n.d.) Dark Days: a narrative of environmental adaptation Retrieved from: September 8, 2013
Singer, M. (2000). The Making of Dark Days: A True Independent (video recording). Picture Farm productions.

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