‘Follow your bliss but be prepared to live your nightmare!’ is the mantra uttered by Mark Reay, a charming 52-year-old fashion photographer-for-hire in Thomas Wirthensohn’s debut documentary, Homme Less. Even though you may find Reay amongst New York’s fashion scenes or on big budget movie sets, Reay actually sleeps on a chilly roof of his friend’s modest apartment, homeless and alone. Through his experience, we see that for some wide-eyed people the ‘American dream’ can become a nightmare.
We are introduced to Reay in a public bathroom. Brandishing a stylish suit and waxing his hair back, Reay looks to be a model of the upwardly mobile American dream, the embodiment of the New York bourgeois lifestyle. The truth however, is less then glamorous. This routine we see of him preparing himself in a dingy bathroom to photograph gorgeous women is how he hides his truth from the world. In actual fact, Reay lives his life between the drab roof he sleeps on, the gym locker room where he keep his belongings, and the fashion shows he inhabits. This isn’t a sob story however. Reay recognises the contradictions in his life but is unable to do anything about it (at least in his eyes). Why would a 52-year-old live a secret life as a homeless man? For Reay the answer is simple; to save on the rent.
Wirthensohn documented Reay life for two of the five (maybe six – Reay remarks) years that he has lived as a homeless man. Cashing in paycheques from freelance magazine work, the occasional background extra work on feature films (he has worked with the likes of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese), and Santa Claus stand in gigs; Reay spends all he earns on living the high life. He mentions the glamorous clothes he wears and spending four hundred dollars on food each month but seemingly appears content about his living standards. What actually becomes apparent is that Reay is a very lonely person; a reject from the modelling world desperate for physical contact with anyone.
Over the reasonable runtime (coming in roughly at just shy of an hour and a half) we see a modern man and all the improbable careers he is pursuing. This is a modern New York love story between a man and his city. Photographing beautiful women on the streets while attempting to reach an emotional connection with these women through the potential opportunities he can offer them. To most, this may appear to be superficial but for Reay it’s his only connection to the world he craves. At times we see Reay at his lowest before a wry smiles creeps across his face. I believe Reay recognises how he has thrown his dignity out the window in favour of protecting the pride he has in the lifestyle he presents to the world. This may sound contradictory, but it makes sense as Wirthensohn shows Reay’s sense of humour and the swagger he carries himself with.
Homme Less has a musical score of improvisational jazz from Kyle Eastwood and Matt McGuire, which mirrors Reay’s own freedom as a down-and-out but resilient New Yorker. He wakes from beneath the tarpaulin and looks out across the city skyline that he feels compelled to be attached to – even if it means urinating into a jug. The jazz music really sets the New York tone and harks back to the city’s heritage.
The city may slowly be transforming, but Mark Reay finds a way to fit in. Whether it’s on the roof or amongst the people on the street, he’ll always be there. Nothing can make him leave. New York just keeps dragging him back, time and time again.
Homme Less is available to download now and on limited release in UK cinemas from February 12. Find out more here.