Panic over HIV epidemic revisited in 1980s San Francisco

3.00

As many gay and lesbian couples prepare to wed this weekend, Test is a timely reminder of just how far things have come

The early Eighties was rife with misinformation and superstition about the HIV epidemic which did much to undermine the burgeoning gay rights movement of the time.

This was a time when the disease was commonly referred to as the ‘gay cancer’ while some even believed it could be spread through contact on public transport or by sharing food.

In 1985, the first blood test for HIV was developed - undoubtedly a step forward, but one which brought its own challenges, not only in terms of how one would react to the result, but also in terms of the trust people needed to put in healthcare professionals at a time when some even advocated quarantining gay men.

Test, directed by Chris Mason Johnson, evokes the vibe of gay life in San Francisco during the Eighties, from the parties and the promiscuity to the everyday homophobia and fears over HIV.

The film centres on Frankie (Scott Marlowe), an understudy in a dance group hoping for his big break. His more timid nature is in contrast to that of his friend and fellow dancer Todd (Matthew Risch), whose reckless nature leads him to tally with prostitution and drug use.

We follow Frankie as he experiences the panic over the HIV epidemic of the time, with newspaper headlines and snatched moments of conversation (“Can you get it from sweating?”) all adding to the paranoia.

A public information advert indicating symptoms to look out for has Frankie worrying over innocent freckles, wondering if they may be a sign of the illness. He eventually decides to have a blood test, and we watch as Frankie waits an agonising two weeks for the results to come back.

The film works best as a period piece, recreating the era with a cool Eighties soundtrack and snippets of TV broadcasts that evoke the time, although clunky Walkmans and brick-sized telephone receivers with those oh-so-annoying tangled cords do scream of the film’s overzealous set designer.

The acting can be a bit hammy, with the exception of Matthew Risch, but my biggest gripe is that the film lingers too long on moody dance routines interspersed throughout the story, while the scenes set in the doctors’ surgery, on the streets or at parties are far more interesting.

A scene from the film 'Test' A long, moody dance scene in 'Test'

However, the film pinpoints an important historical moment, and gives some sense of how bad even San Francisco could be for the gay community, less than 30 years ago.

And as we prepare to congratulate the many gay and lesbian couples due to get married this weekend, it’s timely to remember just how far we have come.

Test was shown as part of the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival and will be on general release in the UK from July 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'