VIFF 2015: Homme Less
Homme Less, a fascinating documentary by Thomas Wirthensohn, tells the story of Mark Reay, one of the millions who have been drawn to New York City, or, more accurately: drawn to an idea of New York City as the one place where they can realize their dreams. Reay is a man who lives two very different lives. During the day he lives what many would consider to be an enviable existence, working as a freelance fashion photographer, stalking the busy streets of midtown in casual attire to collect shots of “street fashion”; or, later in the day, fashionably dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and colourful scarf, mingling with high-fashion models as he covers the annual runway shows of Fashion Week for a glossy magazine. When not photographing fashion models he picks up occasional work as an actor (at one point he is shown dressed for a bit part in Men in Black 3). Reay’s other life, though, his nocturnal life, paints an entirely different picture, that of a 52-year-old man who is barely hanging onto his dreams in the Big Apple.
When the film opens we learn that Reay has been living clandestinely on the roof of a four-story walkup somewhere in New York’s East Village. Each night he lets himself into the building and quietly makes his way up the back staircase to the deserted roof. Silhouetted and sparkling, the Chrysler building and the Empire State building can be seen on the horizon, uptown, like a pair of gold rings on the merry-go-round, always tempting, always just out of reach. At the far edge of the roof, after first crossing himself, Reay steps out and around the outer edge of a protective grate of vertical bars, and down into a hidden declivity which is open to the sky and to all weather. Here he pulls out an Ensolite pad, slips into a sleeping bag that had been stuffed out of sight, and then pulls a heavy plastic tarp over his head to sleep. This has been his nightly ritual for almost four years, in all seasons, with only occasional respites: a few nights in the apartment of a friend while that friend is out of town; infrequent visits to his frail and aging mother in his home town in northwest New Jersey.
Reay’s few possessions – clothes, computer, camera equipment, a small album of photographs from the years when he’d worked as a model himself – are stored in several lockers at the YMCA, where he works out, showers, shaves. At one point Reay is shown ironing a shirt on a bench in the locker room at the Y; at another he is shown washing his underwear and a white dress shirt in the bathroom sink, holding them under the hot-air blower to dry.
Mark Reay is a real-life version of the characters played by Jon Voight or by Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, dreamers caught up in the whirlpool that is New York City. I’d say that he’s more Joe Buck than Ratso Rizzo though: despite all of the setbacks and disappointments Reay somehow manages to maintain his humanity and his humor.