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Don't avert your eyes
by SFS Staff on Aug 20, 2004
The Surrealists were a bunch of bored, wealthy, uppity, and very creative males (plus a dash of estrogen here and there) who bucked the system with their art. They tried. Their ideals rocked, they broke barriers, revolutionized static art forms, delved into the repressed parts of the human imagination… but a hint of pretentiousness, vicarious living, and flippancy leave a stale stench in their historic wake.
What does this have to do with Dark Days, Marc Singer’s black and white, DJ Shadow-scored documentary? The gritty piece of cinema that shows us two years in the life of a guy who once had a good job and an apartment, and then decided to go down and live in the dark, dank, rat-infested tunnels of NYC with a hundred or so homeless people? Maybe it’s the fact that, without any vicariousness at all, Singer’s film manages to invoke that feeling of eerie truth that so many of the Surrealists were after. Or maybe it’s because almost the entire movie takes place underground, with no hint of sunlight or of life as most "civilians" know it – instead, there’s just the cavernous feel of the tunnels and the total despair of the humans inhabiting them.
And get this: Singer descended into this desolation and filth with no intention of making a film. He didn’t even get a camera until, months after living there and getting to know some people, they threw around the idea that it would be cool to make a movie. So they did.
Singer’s camera acts like a fearless, compassionate eye listening to and looking into the lives of people that society casts off as degenerate, disgusting trash. That woman smoking crack in an alleyway that we rush past, or the guy that reeks, hunching over trash cans, pulling out old food so rank that it forces our eyes away – after watching Dark Days you’ll probably never see them the same way again. You’ll hold your glance, wondering what’s going on, what’s happened in their past, besides their present state.
Singer’s documentary (his first-ever experience behind the camera, which makes the film all the more surreal) is subtly reminiscent of Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire, a less gritty, black and white narrative that touches on the same tender pulse of humanity as Dark Days. They share an absolutely unconditional view of human nature, and both films manage, in the end, to envelope you in a feeling of safety and wide-eyed awe, because both directors transform situations that are typically seen as utterly hopeless and grave into just the opposite. They remind you of the beauty in the world that’s too easy to overlook when you’re rushing past it.
In Dark Days, people living under the trains, under the city, build houses for themselves out of plywood and whatever else they can find. They decorate, they cook spaghetti over an electric stove (yep, electric), they have pets, they form bonds, they have a history. This isn’t a Surrealist fantasy, showing the depths of the human psyche… this is real.
1 hour 38 minutes
plus a cast of people
living underground in
New York City's
by SFS Staff on Aug 20, 2004