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Dark Days (not rated)
Palm Pictures
Official Site


Director: Marc Singer

Producer: Mark Singer

Written by: Marc Singer

Cast: ---

Rating: **** out of 5

Beneath Amtrakís Penn Station lies a dark realm where the rays of sunshine will never illuminate. First-time director Marc Singer takes a poignant look into the darkness and squalor of the subway tunnel stretching north from Penn Station past Harlem and finds humanity hacking it out for survival.

Singer's documentary compassionately films an underground shantytown where the homeless evade the pressures of the world. DARK DAYS follows the narratives of several homeless people in a random, episodic fashion. After introducing too many people in the beginning, many are dropped and never reintroduced. Throughout the film the key people Singer follows are genuine and the audience can even sympathize with an array of panhandlers and druggies.

Showing both sides of the subterranean city, Singerís untrained lens views the luxury and filth of the makeshift shelters. While shaving with his electric razor Henry, one of the residents, tells of the merits of not paying electric bills. Tapping into the railway electricity supply, the residents hook up lights, TVs, and portable stoves. On the flipside, a couple of residentsí stories of ravenous rats stealing their food illustrate the extreme vermin infestation problem.

More personal glimpses into the lives of Dee and Ralph illustrate the desperate situations these people endure. As Dee puffs a crack pipe to soothe away the bad memories, she tells how her children burned in a building. In the same vein, Ralph tells of the brutal rape and dismemberment of his 5-year-old daughter while he was incarcerated.

The juxtaposition of luminous aboveground scenes with shadowy shots below ground gives the documentary context and emphasizes the severely poor living conditions of the subterranean inhabitants. Although Singer had no previous camera or film experience, DARK DAYS won the Best Cinematography Award along with two other accolades at the Sundance Film Festival. Singer enlisted some of the tunnel's homeless, and they became his crew of camera loaders, sound recorders, and electricians. One of the residents even transformed a shopping cart into a dolly.

Musically interwoven throughout the poignant inky shots of the underground city are the instrumental stylings of DJ Shadow, Josh Davis. The hip-hop instrumentation coordinates perfectly and gives this documentary an edgy feel. Singer spent an interminable amount of time spent seeking out DJ Shadow. After one viewing of DARK DAYS, Shadow said, "Iíll do whatever I can to help."

Many times in documentaries subjectivity clouds the narrative, and the true subject of the film becomes tainted with bias. DARK DAYS embodies cinema veritè qualities (where the director does not claim objectivity) and only raises a few questions. To film this documentary, Singer lived with the tunnel residents for more than two years. With Singerís initial goals of liberating the homeless from the desolate underground caverns, it's hard not to question the verisimilitude of the film, especially with its highly optimistic ending.

After Amtrak threatened to evict the homeless from the tunnels, advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless prompted public officials to use a forgotten batch of Section Eight vouchers to obtain subsidized housing for the tunnel residents. Next shown in their new apartments, the once-subterranean residents revel in their newfound liberation from their dark days. While Ralph repeats, "I will never go homeless again," one really wonders if that will be the case. We never find out if the tunnel residents keep their apartments or become homeless again. I guess Singer maintains this "open voice" documentary in true form by leaving a trail of unanswered questions in its wake.

óJennifer Prestigiacomo


HYBRID Ratings Guide:

***** Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

**** Itís worth a full-price ticket.

*** Itís worth a matinee ticket.

** Wait for video rental.

* Check out the video from the library, if you must.

0 While I would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...



Mike Doughty



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