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One Movie Punch

Mar 29, 2018

Today’s movie is “Dark Days” (2000), the documentary directed by Marc Singer that follows the lives of homeless people permanently living in Freedom Tunnel, ranging between Penn Station and Harlem in New York City. The footage was captured throughout the mid-1990s, but the film wasn’t cut for release until 2000. The film follows the discovery of the community, excerpts of their everyday existence, and an attempt by Amtrak to evict the individuals.

Pejoratively referred to as mole people, the dwellers of Freedom Tunnel came from the massive homeless population roaming New York’s streets in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember reading the first issue of the “Venom: Lethal Protector” mini-series in 1993, chalking up the references as urban legends and comic book plots. And worse, shock authors over the years had written articles and books talking about entire underground civilizations, further discrediting the idea that people were living underground.

Marc Singer’s introduction into Freedom Tunnel came over a number of years, befriending homeless individuals and eventually learning to live in Freedom Tunnel. The filming was completed with the help of the residents themselves, show both the resilience and the squalor of their situation, which is still relatively safer than living exposed on the street. Singer uses black and white film with hastily rigged spots to create a gritty feel to the entire documentary, punctuated by an incredible score by DJ Shadow, which is how I first heard about this film.

Eventually, in working with the Coalition for the Homeless, the city and Amtrak found federal housing for the residents as part of an eviction agreement. After getting to know the trials and tribulations of the community, seeing them get adequate housing was a relief, and the effect on their lives is almost immediate. I only wish that every homeless person can be helped in the same way, not just the ones receiving the most media attention. The solutions are there; our society simply does not have the will.

“Dark Days” (2000) is a depressing, intense documentary about humans struggling at the edges of civilization, learning to live in terrible conditions and struggling with drug addiction, malnutrition, and a lack of sanitation. Singer’s deep dive into the community creates the trust needed to find the stories within the community. And like good documentaries, Singer’s participant observation helped their community instead of merely profiting from their situation. I recommend this film for anyone who enjoys documentaries, and particularly those who want to learn what it is like to be homeless, and most importantly, want to do something about it.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (CERTIFIED)

Metacritic: 75

One Movie Punch: 8.6/10

“Dark Days” (2000) is not rated and is streaming on Amazon Prime.