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Chris Mason Johnson has very specific ideas about how to present the 1980s to an audience in 2014. First of all, none of the usual fashion trends. Then, as now, what you see on the street is a mix of old and new, as well as unfashionable. It’s one of the refreshing things about TEST, his film about the AIDS crisis in San Francisco set in 1985, the year the first test for the disease became available. A former dancer himself, Johnson created Frankie, a character on the verge of making it in a modern dance troupe, which gives the filmmaker the chance to examine the little known prejudice it the dance world of “effiminaphobia”, brought to light when Scott is told he needs to start dancing like a man. It’s not his only challenge, as he also faces his loss of innocence on the personal front, as well as the newly available AIDS test, which has the potential to change everything.
When we spoke on June 2, 2014, Johnson was thoughtful and engaging, emphasizing that the one thing he wanted to avoid with TEST was yet another the “deathbed” story. As a survivor of that era himself, he thought it was time to deal with his survivor’s guilt and focus on those who came through without being infected, but who were certainly affected by AIDS. As he put it, it’s another thread in the tapestry. Full of humanity, TEST brings home how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go in grappling with a society that prefers to pigeonhole people.
TEST is a film about dancing, waiting, and projecting the right image. Set in the San Francisco of 1985, it follows Frankie, an understudy in a modern dance troupe who gets his chance to go onstage. It’s a professional turning point that comes as he discovers what another member of the troupe does to supplement his income, the paradox of his preferred method of trapping the mice in his apartment, and the consequences of not dancing like a man. It’s also a turning point in the culture, a time when condoms the term safer sex made its debut along with the first effective AIDS test, creating a whole new set of concerns about privacy and certain knowledge. The film stars Scott Marlowe, Matthew Risch, Krisoffer Cusik, Katherine Wells, Kevin Clark, and Damon Sperber. Johnson directed from his own script. His previous work includes THE NEW TWENTY.
Click on the link to listen to the interview (18:10)
Click here to go to TEST’s official web site.