Dark Days is Marc Singer’s 2000 feature film, documenting the lives of the New York City homeless community living in subway tunnels stretching north from Penn Station. The film won seven awards in the year following its release, including three wins from the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and five further award nominations.
The film is shot in black and white; a stunning stylistic direction unpretentiously arrived at through Singer’s lack of filmmaking experience. The advice he received from a photographer friend at the time was to avoid the difficult task of lighting the underground darkness for colour film, and instead shoot in black and white so that if mistakes were made it would “still look OK”. The rawness of the film’s production works alongside Singer’s personal involvement and affinity with his subjects to launch Dark Days into the stratosphere of cinematic importance.
The film’s title is taken directly from the speech of one of the central characters as he talks about the perpetual darkness underground, a darkness that lurks at the edges of film escaping the reaches of Singer’s floodlight. The electricity source in the tunnels came partly from timer-controlled street lighting that forced the lit hours underground to coincide with the night-time of the surface world. This inversion of day and night in the tunnels exemplifies how even the circadian rhythm of the inhabitants is warped to meet necessity and separates them further from the rest of the world.
Singer spent four months in the tunnels before the idea for the film grew out of an everyday conversation. The film’s subjects and crew were made up entirely of friends he had made during his time underground, so those addressing the camera welcome the chance to speak and the film feels entirely unobtrusive. At times the conversations onscreen are hilarious and at others completely heartbreaking, but whatever the subject matter touches on, the lives of the people on screen remain constantly and utterly absorbing.
The world that Dark Days depicts and the insights of its inhabitants are indescribable. This film is precious and compassionate, astounding in its every moment. Singer respectfully brings the overlooked into the spotlight, as he devotes the screen to images of a dark and secret life.
Dark Days will be re-released in cinemas on 24th January 2014, for further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Dark Days here: