Dark Days

Feb 7, 2001 at 12:00 am

Hell is underground — and so is home.

Shiny steel Amtrak trains cruise at night into New York City’s well-lit Penn Station. A train roars, its horn blaring a warning as Greg lowers himself through a trash-strewn hole in the ground to return home to a world where even the days are dark.

“Ain’t nobody in they right mind gonna go down there,” Greg says talking about the fear those who live and sleep in the world of light above — as he once did — feel when they happen by the holes that open into his underworld. Their fear has become his security.

In the darkness of the tunnels, a row of shacks hammered together from boards and sheets of plywood make up Greg’s neighborhood. These are the homes of the more fortunate homeless. Here they sleep and wake on mattresses or sofa beds, brush their teeth, shower, shave and prepare to go to work.

“Each muthafuckin’ cart contains somethin’,” Ronnie says, pointing at his train of shopping carts filled with bottles and junk. “What’s dat somethin’? Money.” The underground’s capitalists scavenge the waste of the consumerists topside. Tommy brags that his $60-to-$70-a-day hustle makes him “crackhead rich.” He takes weekends off.

Marc Singer’s camera hustles and chills along with them all, documenting their lives in black-and-white as high-contrast as the days above to the nights below. Melissa Niedich crosscuts their dramas like a feature film. DJ Shadow’s hip-hop rhythms occasionally creep up from behind, driving a sound track of their moods, giving voice to feelings of loss, regret and guilt.

“I’m being punished for every goddamn thing I did wrong,” Julio laments. The tunnels prove to be not so much a hell as a purgatory. Singer ultimately shows that more than cans and bottles can be redeemed, that there is light at the end of a tunnel’s Dark Days.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].