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Call it high-functioning homelessness: Mark Reay, a onetime male model who looks like a silver-fox socialite, takes photos of New York fashionistas during the day and sneaks up to a rooftop each night, huddling in a hidden sleeping bag until morning. Showing how he manages to keep his homelessness secret, director Thomas Wirthensohn (a model himself, who met Reay in the ‘90s and makes his debut here) offers a fascinating look at life in a city where getting by can be a lot more complicated than it seems. His investigation of Reay’s psyche is less deep than one might hope for, but the observational material alone is enough to merit attention on the doc circuit — and probably to scare New Yorkers who live with the knowledge that good gigs can vanish in an instant.
Reay, a handsome 52-year-old with the kind of hair that makes a man not mind the thought of graying, grooms himself in city-park restrooms and at the YMCA, where a few lockers contain his natty wardrobe and assorted possessions. A camera, cell phone and laptop make him a one-man photo crew, allowing him to shoot the backstage action at Fashion Week, edit and upload pix using coffee-shop wi-fi, and maintain as much of a digital presence as anyone else who works outside an office. He has health insurance and a bank account, thanks to his actors’ guild, and friends — most of whom don’t know he’s been sleeping rough for five or six years. In fact, his current camp is on the roof above an unwitting friend’s apartment, requiring him to move stealthily from sidewalk to rooftop lest he bump into the man in the stairwell.
Reay is affable and no little trouble talking to others (having a portfolio makes it easier to chat up beautiful women). But in ways that are hard to peg, he’s not wholly sympathetic. He confides late in the film that he’s “never said ‘I love you’ to anyone other than my family,” and it’s easy to conclude that this unwillingness to commit has something to do with his present state. As he acknowledges, he could surely find some sort of job and get an apartment.
But for the time being, he doesn’t, and it is both fascinating and sad to see how he bounces between glamorous parties and bathroom-sink laundry time. When it comes to sleeping in public with the constant threat of discovery, he explains that “the trick … is to always be tired.”
The film is anything but harried, though, with photography that relishes postcard views and a sax-heavy jazz score (by Kyle Eastwood and Matt McGuire) evoking the allure of this romantic, magnetic and challenging town.
Production companies: Filmhaus, Schatzi Productions
Director-Director of photography: Thomas Wirthensohn
Producers: Wolfgang Ramml, Karol Martesko-Fenster
Editors: Josh Cramer, Thomas Wirthensohn
Music: Kyle Eastwood, Matt McGuire
No rating, 80 minutes
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