“This is the view from my living room.” Breathless, and with New York’s skyline unfolding behind him, Mark Reay shows us his home – a concrete rooftop in Alphabet City where he sleeps under a tarpaulin.
For five years the model, photographer and actor stayed here undiscovered. His days filled with New York streets and pretty girls, fashion week and fashion magazines; yet always ending as they begin, with a sleeping bag and the fear of being caught. Throughout the conflicting elements of his day – the fissures of his fractured American dream – he maintains an appearance that is entirely réussi, an undeniable elegance that makes his story so compelling.
‘Homme Less’ shatters the fragile allusion of a glamorous fashion industry, of life in New York, and of the mistaken comfort that there is always time to settle down, to grow up, and to slip into your twilight years with financial security.
The documentary in essence explores not homelessness, but that irresistible pull to New York, a city built on fantasy and semi-attainable dreams, that offers a lifestyle, fragmented and incomplete, yet one that is still often more desirable than stability, security, and in Reay’s case, a home.
Throughout are jarring comparisons with the more familiar face of homelessness, of despondency and despair. The homeless are considered to be lost souls, to have made bad choices; Reay admits to both, alongside a love of travel and adventure, and a refusal to live an unfulfilling life that has resolved his situation more romantic than most.
The film flits between Reay’s daily existence, a beautiful lie built on appearance and assumption, and to stark honesty in the twilight hours once he returns to his rooftop home, questioning the future of his la vie boheme in the quiet moments between glamorous parties and sleeping rough.
Thomas Wirthensohn, who directed and filmed the documentary, views Reay’s story as a metaphor for the vanishing middle class; yet there are other, more prominent themes throughout, ones of exploitation, judgment, and also privilege. If Mark had not been a handsome, well spoken, white male, would this lifestyle have been achievable, or even available to him?
A beautiful tale of a life in the shadows and the cost of following your dreams, a sinister thread of the importance of appearance woven throughout.