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Attack the Doc: The "Mole People" Edition

Aug. 9, 2012by: Johnny Moreno
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Welcome to ATTACK THE DOC! A JoBlo.com feature that explores the world of documentaries and picks out the best among the best, among the best. We'll cover everything from subcultures around the world, to economic collapse, to music and trashy hillbillies from every walk of life. So pop a squat, turn off reality and sit back and enjoy a little slice of someone else's.

DARK DAYS


"Even when it's day, it's dark down here."

DARK DAYS is a 2000 documentary directed by Marc Singer.

They're called vagrants. Bums. Homeless. Despciable. But this contigent of homeless folk are commonly referred to as "mole people". They don't panhandle or harrass pedestrians, nor do they sleep on park benches and doorways or in alleys. These mole people dwell underneath the streets of New York City, beneath the high rise corporate buildings and multi-million dollar condos and penthouse estates. The place these folks call "home" even lies underneath the New York subway system. From Penn Station to Harlem, just over a five mile stretch on the abandoned Amtrack railroad, the city's bravest/craziest homeless have constructed what looks like the shanty towns of District 9. The better "houses" are structured with plywood, while others are nailed and roped together with thin pieces of wood with make shift doors. They shower from a broken water pipe running along the concrete ceiling, and when they need supplies, they go "up top" for food or to gather cans for money. With every "house" having the ability to run electricity throughout their shack, what's the point of even going "up top"?


This mole dude was shaving with an electric razor like a boss. A homeless boss.

DARK DAYS follows the daily existence of these mole people and shines a light, where there practically is none, on their home and homelife. For the most part, these people don't just end up here, they truly call their shacks in these abandonded railroad lines their "home" and have no plan of ever leaving. Sure, there are rats by the hundreds and you have to find a way to keep them at bay or kill them. BIG DEAL. In one scene, a man scolds his "houseguest" for leaving a cup on the floor, thinking that would just bring more and more rats into his abode. In another, a man talks about the rats while cooking some food, saying that putting certain ingredients in a meal can bring all the rats nearby and "they tell their relatives" and they bring more. Then he throws in a couple handfuls of rat poison. "They won't scavenge no more. They too full to go looking for food, so they lay there and go to sleep and don't wake up." But it's not only the rats mole people worry about. Other vagrants are known to ransack houses. One guy sets up an elaborate booby trap near the walkway to his house. The elaborate booby trap is one long strip of twine tied to a pole on end and to the handles of a couple pots resting on the ledge. It's the ol' "rope tied to pots" booby trap that, for the most part, seems to work out for this one mole person.


A mole person "up top, going down."

For the most part, the mole people tell their story with director Storkel chiming in every now and then to push someone into revealing more about themselves. And that's one thing the film does really well, which is to provoke the viewer with more thought than you would walking by someone sleeping on a sidewalk. What is that makes these people tick? Why is there no motivation to "go up top" for good? Why don't the mole people do something better for themselves? Is it a self-defeating or self-sabotaging attitude that keeps them down there? For some, it's crack. Ah, good ol' crack, always showing its crackiness into every downfall known to man (est. 1983). For others, this is truly their home, and it isn't until Amtrack police storm the railroad yard with a warning that they'll be forcably evicted if they do not leave within 30 days that the mole people finally realize that the tunnels aren't a permanent residence. The director takes it upon himself to go to the Coalition for the Homeless in order to give the homeless a voice and in the film's finale, shows that with a little bit of care and understanding, that through the dark days, there's still a light at the end of the tunnel. The light is hope.


These two argued about the cleanliness of cooking in the railroad tunnels. The guy on the left ate and taunted the guy on the right about how good it was. The guy on the right said he'd rather starve...while trying not to look at the food.

DARK DAYS isn't the best documentary to watch first thing in the morning, after you've taken a shower in a sterile bathroom, eaten bacon by the handful and pop Netflix on your 42 inch LED TV. It's all about perspective. Will this documenatary make you thankful for what you DO have? Maybe. But it's definitely made me appreciate the shit out of my NON RAT INFESTED APARTMENT.


This was a weird scene. The guy on the right just smiled and looked at the camera and made me uneasy.

Watch DARK DAYS on Amazon here!!!

Extra Tidbit: Director Marc Singer lived with the mole people for months before deciding to turn his experience into a documentary.
Source: JoBlo.com

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1:36AM on 08/09/2012
Love this doc, very powerful stuff.

And no, the director is not The Beastmaster, ahahaha.
Love this doc, very powerful stuff.

And no, the director is not The Beastmaster, ahahaha.
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8:12AM on 08/09/2012
Excellent film, with a really good DJ Shadow soundtrack as I recall.
Not seen it for a good few years but seem to remember the end being kinda upbeat, or at least hopeful.
Excellent film, with a really good DJ Shadow soundtrack as I recall.
Not seen it for a good few years but seem to remember the end being kinda upbeat, or at least hopeful.
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3:47PM on 08/09/2012

Saw it it Netflix Streaming (where else?)

One of my all time favorite docus. Great find. Tragic, but interesting story that is oddly bittersweet in the end. Really makes you wonder what makes a person happy or feel whole.
One of my all time favorite docus. Great find. Tragic, but interesting story that is oddly bittersweet in the end. Really makes you wonder what makes a person happy or feel whole.
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