To continue the theme from Saturday’s post of reviewing media today’s post is going to be about the documentary Dark Days which I watched last night. The story behind how the documentary came into existence is itself incredible, the film was made by a man called Marc Singer who as a lifestyle choice decided to spend some time with a community of homeless people living underground in the Freedom Tunnel which is part of the New York subway system. Despite having no previous experience or expertise he decided to make a documentary to help the homeless people financially after a conversation he had with some of them one day, the film’s crew consisted of the homeless people themselves. They rigged up makeshift lighting and learned to use a 16mm camera with black-and-white Kodak film. The documentary was filmed between 1994 and 1997 but was not released until the year 2000 due to financial difficulties, Marc refused to sell the documentary because he wanted full creative control over the final product.
The documentary follows a few of the residents of a small community of around 100 people that lived in the tunnels in makeshift huts they built themselves. Some people had lived down there for over five years in some cases. Their little homes had access to electricity from the mains they had tapped into and some of them even had TV sets. In one scene one of the homeless people is telling the camera how he isn’t homeless to which his fellow homeless friend corrects him and says you’re not helpless but you are homeless and tells him that he needs to deal with that fact. The tunnels are dark apart from the lighting for the camera and are swarming with rats.
What I found remarkable about this documentary is that most of the people featured in the documentary are still sane, they have not completely lost their minds apart from one or two, there is one guy called Ronnie who describes to the camera how his shopping trolley full of junk is a van full of money, he has clearly lost his grip on reality. But as you would have no doubt guessed, to end up living in a train tunnel there is drug abuse involved, with the most common drug mentioned being crack cocaine.
The documentary shows two people named Clarence and Dee smoking crack. One of the people involved in the documentary tells us how he lost his wife and his family after he was in jail for 10 years during which time his daughter got raped. A little further on in the documentary Dee tells us how her two young children died in a house fire, she starts to cry as she talks about her failings as a mother and confesses she misses being a mother terribly, it then cuts to her smoking crack. I wrote last week how some people take drugs to purposely self destruct because their lives have just become so unbearable due to one personal tragedy to the next and I believe Dee is a good example of this, it is very difficult to watch because no matter how low she has fallen in life she clearly still has human emotions and a grief that she cannot escape.
To survive the people from the tunnel go rummaging through rubbish to find things to sell for a little bit of money or to find food to eat out of bins. It is quite sad to see this happening yet at the same time I kind of admired them because they still had the will to survive and carry on in life and they found ways to do so. One homeless man explains how he only has himself to blame for the situation he finds himself as a culmination of his actions, to me the life these people are living is what happens when you go over the edge that is mentioned in The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. It is tragic.
Whilst the documentary was being filmed the people of the tunnel were evicted by Amtrak, the rail operator and tunnel owner. When they are evicted the general consensus among the tunnel community is that they have lost their freedom, despite them living in such terrible conditions they see themselves as free because they are not part of the “system”, this is the sentiment despite the fact they are re-housed into real accommodation. At the end of the documentary one of the former homeless people called Tito, the one person in the documentary whose mind seems to be the most intact, says the following:
“Now it feels like I never went down there, that was the saddest part of my journey through life, they were dark days, real dark. But during the time it didn’t bother me at all but once I sit back and think about it I ask myself damn how could I have done that? Let myself go like that. You don’t realise until you get out of it and then you look back every now and then and you think damn I used to do that? That used to be me? Yeah it used to be me, it definitely used to be me.”
I found that little bit of speech to be sad because it just shows that all anybody ever needs is a little help, a shoulder to lean on when times get rough because when you don’t have that the most terrible things can happen. Things that could be prevented. I feel that’s where we’re at in life, we’re at a point where we let governments and corporations run out of control and cause situations and problems that are so easily preventable. In a way our society is going through its own dark days.
This article is authored by Lee Cooper
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