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Documentary on the Friedmans, a seemingly typical, upper-middle-class Jewish family whose world is instantly transformed when the father and his youngest son are arrested and charged with shocking and horrible crimes.
Near Penn Station, next to the Amtrak tracks, squatters have been living for years. Marc Singer goes underground to live with them, and films this "family." A dozen or so men and one woman talk about their lives: horrors of childhood, jail time, losing children, being coke-heads. They scavenge, they've built themselves sturdy one-room shacks; they have pets, cook, chat, argue, give each other haircuts. A bucket is their toilet. Leaky overhead pipes are a source of water for showers. They live in virtual darkness. During the filming, Amtrak gives a 30-day eviction notice.Written by
Singer was permitted to use a 16mm Bolex on loan from a camera house in New York without up-to-date payments. He was given left-over film stock on a "pay-later" basis from Kodak and other resources. The lab in New York that processed his negatives and prints also granted him this favor. He began editing on a flatbed, before he was granted the use of an avid at practically no charge from a friend of a friend. He also had complete and total creative control over the project and its final cut, also a rarity. See more »
I enjoyed this film on a lot of different levels. The camera work is really beautiful, and the film has a loose narrative structure with an uplifting ending. All of the people in the film are very articulate in their own way, which shatters some of the stereotypes people have about the homeless. The movie definitely takes sides, and is sympathetic towards the homeless, but it also makes it very clear that the people made poor choices in their life which lead to their situation. Even in the midst of all their suffering, I found it surprising that they all have excellent senses of humor. The response to the question of "what item that you find in the trash is the easiest to sell?" is particularly hilarious.
It was also nice to see how many of the people in the tunnel form friendships, depend on each other in tough times, and know all of their neighbors' names, something which most people in the US can't claim. The symbolism of the white man and black woman tearing down their home is kind of over the top, but it did make me feel good. I guess I'm a sucker for cheesy stuff like that. The score by DJ Shadow is also extremely well done and appropriate. I agree that the average homeless person in the United States can afford to be much more lazy than those in other poorer countries, and they definitely have more opportunities to escape from poverty, but that doesn't mean that their situation should be taken lightly or ignored.
To the commenter who was angered at the use of the words "faggot" and "sissy" you can't possibly hold bad language and grammar against the people in the film. Have you ever listened to a conversation among children in the supposedly wholesome Midwest, or even in supposedly tolerant cities like San Francisco? I can assure you that the term "faggot" is still tossed around quite a bit. Homophobic attitudes and language are certainly reprehensible coming from educated, middle class children, but coming from an individual surrounded by poverty, chewed up and spit out by the criminal justice system, and breast fed on American popular culture, I don't find it to be much of an offense.
My only complaint would be that the film sugar coats everything a bit by ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of homeless life and not interviewing the less appealing inhabitants. However, the overall impact of the film is powerful, and ultimately it is a film that everyone should see because it's entertaining and informative on many, many levels. Out of the hundreds of documentaries I have seen, this is definitely one of the top ten, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I will remember it my entire life.
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