An astutely crafted drama set in the free-spirited San Francisco of 1985, TEST lovingly portrays this exciting and harrowing era as young Frankie (dancer Scott Marlowe in a breakout acting debut) confronts the challenges of being an understudy in a modern dance company where he’s taunted to “dance like a man!” Frankie embarks on a budding relationship with hunky Todd (Matthew Risch), a veteran dancer in the same company and the bad boy to Frankie’s naiveté.
As Frankie and Todd’s friendship deepens, they navigate a world of risk — it’s the early years of the epidemic — but also a world of hope, humor, visual beauty and musical relief. The captivating dance sequences were especially choreographed for the film by acclaimed U.S. choreographer Sidra Bell. The film’s vibrant soundtrack includes work by 80s icons Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat), Klaus Nomi, Romeo Void, Laurie Anderson, Martha & the Muffins, Cocteau Twins and Sylvester.
Scott Marlowe as Frankie in T E S T.
Frankie is the newest, skinniest and most mocked member of an up-and-coming modern dance company in San Francisco. The year is 1985. As six muscular male dancers tumble their way through athletic choreography, Frankie stands on the sidelines, mirroring the movement and looking a little weak. The choreographer stops the music and yells at Frankie to “dance like a man!” On the sidelines, Todd watches. Todd is an established dancer in the same company and the bad boy to Frankie’s innocent. They’re friends - opposites attract.
For Frankie, the city offers no relief from the bullying at work: a newspaper headline asks “Should Gays Be Quarantined?” while fresh graffiti screams “AIDS Faggot Die!” Frankie turns away and, with his bright yellow Walkman clipped to his belt, retreats into a music-filled trance.
When one of the male dancers is injured Frankie must perform in his place. It’s the classic test of skill and character, and Todd helps Frankie prepare. Outside of work, as Frankie and Todd’s friendship deepens, they each face a different kind of test: the newly-named disease is spreading fast and no one seems to know anything about it, except who it targets. Together the friends navigate a world full of risk that is also, now and then, full of hope.
The mainstream ballet and modern dance world is built around an aesthetic of male-female romantic tension, much like Hollywood. If a male dancer appears less than manly it threatens that aesthetic, and sissies are shunned. For young gay men like Frankie in TEST, this is a confusing and painful dynamic that overlaps with homophobia even if it’s not the same thing.
But for Frankie the picture is much bleaker than trouble at work. The darkest subtext of the early AIDS crisis conveyed a clear message: gay men deserve to be sick and deserve to die. Sissies weren’t just shunned, they were disposable.
Against this backdrop of effeminaphobia at work and violent homophobic scapegoating outside of it, Frankie struggles to understand what’s happening around him and maybe to him. Even though he knows better, it all feels like a punishment. And when peers like roommate Tyler step back into the closet and pull the door closed, it’s hard to know what to do.
Most of the depictions of the early AIDS crisis have focused on out gay men who are older (30 and up) than my protagonists Frankie and Todd are. These older, out men quickly formed support groups in the face of the epidemic, and some of their stories have been told. I felt the time was right for a different story: of very young, isolated, frightened men who were part of a closeted dance culture, and who suffered those early years in silence.
T E S T raised a portion of
its post-production budget via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
Projects remain archived after they've completed funding. To see T E S T
on Kickstarter, click here.
The Kickstarter video for T E S T.
Anne Parker Johnson
Carolyn & Huston Marlowe
Diane Scribner Clevenger
Gene & Jan McCullough
Glenn K. Graham
Jay S. Wiley
Jayson A. Johnson
Jennifer Grissette Laemmerhirt
Jose Maria Francos
Mary Ellen Cetra
Michael Kennedy & Ron Spalding
Nancy Ellen Jones
Peter L. Stein
Vernon L. Scott