Tuesday, March 21st, 2023

Dancing around volcano rims (again)


Written and Directed by Chris Mason Johnson

Premiered June 7, 2013, at the Seattle International Film Festival
90 min.


Review by Stephen O. Murray

September 19, 2017.

Frankie [Scott Marlowe], the protagonist of Test, (written and directed by former-dancer Chris Mason Johnson, 2013), is not grappling with sexual identity (coming out), though he is not out to his parents.

The movie is set in 1985, and the “test” of the title is the just-then-available test for HIV antibodies. There were considerable concerns about confidentiality among those who feared they would test positive and no effective treatment (for another eleven years). In addition to thinking about learning his HIV-antibody status, Frankie is tested by taking the lead in a dance being performed at the Cowell Theater (at Fort Mason on the northern edge of San Francisco), a part for which he has been the understudy.

As with Five Dances, much more of the movie shows rehearsals and performances (plus some dancing at The Stud to “new wave”/early techno music of the day) than scenes of non-dancing life. Since the dancing is very good (with real dancers rather than actors as in, for instance Black Swan), this is a plus IMO. The choreography by Sidra Bell was influenced by paintings of Egon Schiele (who frequently painted himself in twisted positions). Johnson played the choreographer within the movie, demanding that Frankie “dance like a man.”

The main relationship that develops is one between the very light-skinned and hairless-chested Frankie and a more confident, darker-skinned, and much hairier dancer named Todd [Matthew Risch]. They become cruising buddies of sorts (mostly talking to each other rather than picking up or being picked up) and more.

The film was shot in San Francisco. Frankie’s apartment has a view of the Sutro Tower, and he walks up to Buena Vista Park and Roosevelt Park, as well as performing at Fort Mason and dancing non-professionaly at SOMA clubs. That is, locals will recognize where the scenes take place, but there are not the icons of the bridges, Coit Tower, or the Transamerica pyramid on display. (And no car chases!) Taxis, busses, streetcars figure in, along with walking with the then-new Walkman.

The movie also recalls the bad old days of phone cords tangling. I have my doubts about the stubble look, though.

Both movies have impressive dancing. Test has more substance.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

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