Documentaries run the gamut from silly bio-docs about video gamers (i.e. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters) to change-the-way-you-live-or-die guilt trippers (Food Matters, Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, etc.). There is a place and time for each kind on the spectrum of documentaries. Sometimes you want to learn how to make a change in the world, or learn how your behavior impacts the environment, international relations or the political climate. Sometimes you want to gawk at some unusual people who are not fictional characters. Dark Days is one of those docs that falls between the two categories. It won’t make you hate life, and it’s not just a voyeuristic romp through someone’s life. This is one of my favorite documentaries to date, due, in part, to the beautiful score composed by DJ Shadow. This haunting soundtrack paired with the black and white (though mostly black) film brings an eerie feel to the whole picture.
One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days
Dark Days takes you into the humble lives of the marginalized and forgotten citizens of the New York City underground. Not some underground “scene,” but literally under the ground in the abandoned tunnels of NYC’s subway system. The living conditions of these people are unbelievable. They live in complete darkness in small makeshift shacks. Yet some of them have carved out a nice little niche for themselves, complete with meager appliances and the electricity they use to run their naked lightbulbs and small hotplates. Many aspects of this life mirror the social structure that we above-grounders enjoy. There are feuds and relationships, people have pets and set up security systems around their homes. But as you might guess, this kind of living is illegal, and many of these people are driven out of the tunnels by law enforcement.
Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes
I was happy to see that Dark Days made its way back to the Netflix Instant Streaming list. Do yourself a favor and check this one out before Netflix pulls it again. (Actually, I just found it here, on YouTube, but sometimes those get taken down as well).
Koko and Penny back in the day
Yes, this might stray from my typical taste in controversial and artistic documentaries, but I came across this documentary after stumbling through a maze of YouTube videos on Koko the gorilla spurned by this video that wimp.com posted earlier this month. I started to watch the documentary, which is posted in its entirety on YouTube, thinking that I would grow tired of it before long, but I didn’t.
What really kept me engaged throughout a documentary on a gorilla that knows sign language was not the title character at all. It was actually Penny Patterson, Koko’s researcher and caretaker, who caught my interest. Penny plays a major role in this documentary without being the focus. She is treated as
A more recent photo of Koko and Penny
an auxiliary character, someone the documentary may have left out had Koko truly been able to speak to the cameras for herself. But quick snippets about Penny made me interested in her life -or lack thereof. It seemed to me that she has made many personal sacrifices in order to dedicate her life to Koko. It seemed sad to me because I live a life that thrives on human relationships; interestingly enough, Penny does not seem to feel that she is missing out on anything.
Koko: A Talking Gorilla is not a mind-blowing documentary that exposes dark truths, but there are still some underlying messages and unanswered questions that arise after watching it. While these cater more to an animal rights message, there is still a secret human interest piece present. It makes me want to watch more documentaries from the 60’s and 70’s to see if they are all so much different from modern-day docs. It definitely seems more polished and candy-coated than the ones I am privy to. If you have any suggestions of older documentaries that you have enjoyed, I would love to have your input. The only one that comes to mind is Grey Gardens, which I should be writing a review about sometime soon.