Myths of Another World

Dark Days (Marc Singer, 2000)

Almost like an urban myth, an inconceivable and fantastic campfire story, a group of individuals have built a mini-town inside the abandoned railway stations of New York City. Forgotten by the world and left to fend for themselves in a land which seems like it’s in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, these group of individuals have built a community, no, a family unlike any other. Mark Singer, a young Brit who relocated to Manhattan found out from word on the street of an urban tale of ‘tunnel people’ who inhabited the darkest corners of the NY underground train system. Dark Days is an unforgettable and searing encounter with human beings living in conditions none of us could even dream of spending a day in.

Mark Singer’s documentary is black and white, a perfect choice for a film about a community of people literally living like rats, underneath the Earth’s surface, scavenging for garbage and scraps. In its style and technicality, Singer’s documentary could be just like any other, but the subjects and their interaction with the filmmaker are what make it extraordinary. That Dark Days helped bring hundreds of ‘tunnel people’ to the surface in clean, well-kept apartments, and helped them get jobs and an education is something monumental, because essentially, a documentary’s ultimate goal should be to make a change in the world of its subject matter.  More so however, is that Dark Days provides a glimpse of something no American would ever think was real, and after seeing it, would never willingly admit it existed. It is the darkest kind of fairy-tale you could imagine, where human beings built 15 ft shanties from plywood, crawled up onto the Earth’s surface through sewage pipes at midnight to scavenge for raw scraps of meat and some moldy donuts in a trashcan. It’s the stuff of surrealism, of a bizarre world you’d only hear in stories, but it exists, and it’s another facet of the human experience that only a documentary like Dark Days can uncover so effortlessly and with such grace and empathy.

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