Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness — movie review — early!
Posted on October 23, 2008 by Kris Nelson
We actually caught this a couple of years ago at a screening with filmmaker Melody Gilbert (she’s so sweet and not at all offput by my sometimes close-talker posture), but I’m “screening” the DVD for the SF DocFest, where the movie will be playing this Friday and Sunday. —Kris
The disclaimer at the beginning of Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness states “Warning: the following contains activities of a dangerous and legally questionable nature… you could be fined, arrested, hurt, killed, or all of the above.” As urban explorers ourselves, Chris and I have climbed up rickety broken stairs without treads (steps), traversed rusty rooftops, felt the adrenaline pump all the way down long dark damp hallways which drugged homeless thugs could clock us over the head at any minute. We mostly do this in pitch black without flashlights, too, more frightened of the cops than any other hazards. We’ve also been shooed away by “concerned” people longing to make a citizen’s arrest, or to just holler at some silly kids I guess. We are not nearly as hardcore as some of the urban explorers Melody Gilbert trekked with; some trudge through waist-deep sewage or organize week-long tours for others to join in. Even though everyone is vastly different (backgrounds, careers, personalities), they all share a similar thirst for adventure and research.
To be an urban explorer, you must be part thrillseeker, part historian, part anthropologist, part documentarian. Some are camera buffs, some cartography buffs, all are bit by the curiosity bug. Nevermind the excitement of almost plummeting to your death in an abandoned silo or tripping a silent pressure-sensitive alarm, there’s excitement in stepping into a realm that time and people have forgotten… a building that used to be a central hub of everyone’s lives, but now (barely) standing.
To make Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness, filmmaker Melody Gilbert (Whole, A Life without Pain) bravely followed urban explorers to try to capture that sensibility, and she does so gracefully. In Florida she filmed a few guys rappelling down an abandoned test pit for the world’s largest rocket engine while another group experienced a confrontation with a squatter in styrofoam-ish “Xanadu” a once hopeful “house of the future”, she went “draining” in Minnesota tunnels (pictured above), climbed down into catacombs of France with locals so complacent they find playing with skeletons banal (pictured right), and creeped into lunatic asylums and castle hospitals in Scotland. Weaving in gorgeous still photos taken by the people she interviewed, exciting locations, mellow tunes, smooth editing, the gifted documentarian always manages to tackle difficult subjects and present them without a trace of prejudice. Gilbert makes documentaries that aren’t like documentaries!
NOTE: I want to add that urban explorers may explore the same buildings as graffiti artists and vandals, but they are not graffiti artist nor vandals. Explorers usually guard quality ethics, as they are out for fun and not to harm nor destroy. In fact, they are highly interested in preservation and posterity and society.
Pretty barebones; just an additional slideshow with the photographs that were featured in the film, but some of those captures are breathtaking. Not to mention that many people will never see areas like that in person, so now’s your chance to live vicariously!
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