Director/Writer: Chris Mason Johnson
Music: Ceiri Torjussen
Cinematography: Daniel Marks
Chris Mason Johnson
Damon K. Sperber
Title: In Bloom
Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller
Director/Writer: Chris Michael Birkmeier
Cinematography: Dustin Supencheck
In the spirit of celebrating that USA has just legalised same-sex marriage equality, a double bill of two recent indies from American queen cinema cannot be more felicitous, and hopefully we will get more LGBT characters in mainstream productions in the near future from Hollywoodland.
TEST is director/writer Chris Mason Johnson’s second feature, sets in San Francisco, 1985, in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, Frankie (Marlowe) is a young dancer in a dancer company, currently a stand-in for a modern dance project called AFTER DARK. The film surprisingly chooses a rather poised attitude to narrate Frankie’s day-to-day life, minutely records his sexual desire, the terror towards the unknown virus and the indecision regarding a new clinic test which could be a death knell for gay men, like his fellow dancer Todd (Risch) says – we come out to our family with death. Johnson never play up the platitudinous romance which is a common trait in the genre, although from their first scene together, audience can perceive a certain spark between Frankie and Todd, but it is not until near the end, they finally strike up a tentative physical contact, again no sparks fly ecstasy, but in an all-too-casual manner and without any implication for melodramatic commitment issues. It is a telling bond between two gay men who may or may not be each other’s chosen one.
Artistically, the film also feels a shade different from its peers, first of all, the original choreography fashioned by Sidra Bell is nothing if not a ravishing stunt, at the same time the camera generates its own motion by gyrating fluidly around the dancers’ movements. Moreover, Johnson implants Ceiri Torjussen’s constantly muffled score to reflect Frankie’s sensitive mental activities and deploys the obsolete Walkman and the vintage soundtrack as a reminder of the ethos of the epoch. An unpretentious script encapsulates a viable life trajectory of a common figure and occasionally is effervescent with amusement, such as the jest when they try to have sex with a condom for the first time and how it could end sex-activity forever, or when AIDS has been pointedly referred as an agent to instigate the wave of monogamy. Scott Marlowe firmly projects a sensitive persona on Frankie, who resembles a more lifelike character loathing promiscuity but not a total prude too, when temptation turns up, he can also egg it on if he likes it. The film is nominated for John Cassavetes Award in INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS 2015, which is definitely a tremendous spur for Johnson to proceed with his next project, and auspiciously, TEST shares a similar texture and sincerity of Andrew Haigh’s WEEKEND (2011), another genre-defining contemporary LGBT indie.
Now, a second one, IN BLOOM, the debut feature from director/writer Chris Michael Birkmeier, a genre mixture tale in Chicago, recounts the ups-and-downs of a young couple Kurt (Wigent) and Paul (Rittenhouse), the former is a drug-dealer, but his clientèle are mostly hipster youngsters, so it is not a swearing, gun-crazy thriller one might expect for this sort of job; but Paul is a clerk in a supermarket, who scorns this line-of-work, yet as long as it pays for the bills, he can just condone it. A looming danger which quite inferiorly sets the suspenseful tone is a serial killer on the lam, whose victims are uniformly young males, which is haphazardly reminded from news flashes on TV and a random enactment. In the midstream, a stimulation to mislead us Kurt is going to be the next victim, until edging to the coda, a final victim would supposedly thrust a revelation for Kurt about the profundity of love, which frankly speaking, is quite a lame strategy to choose this particular object.
Apparently, the central story is an ever-so-common relationship quandary, Kurt is the variant who is frustrated and scared to find out the sexual attraction has dwindled, which for any mature mind, it is a sign that their relationship eases into another critical phase, when passion turns into the form of a deeper love. But as a young blood, he clearly is not that smart, and incited by external temptation from one of his client Kevin (Fane), he breaks off the relationship, but the new lifestyle is not his messiah, when remorse overcomes, can he mend his mistake?
Compared to TEST, IN BLOOM looks much cheaper in appearance, especially the night time scenes, amateurish and uninspiring, the storyline awkwardly fatigues although the two leads strives to perk up the borderline insufferable narrative to some extent. By any criterion, it is difficult to pick anything singular for praise, on the whole, the film’s sole plausible excuse of its existence is that it enters on a gay couple, otherwise, hopefully years later, when we look back from a time when sexual orientation will no longer be an irrelevant topic, the movie will be remissly regarded as one of the anachronism from a bygone era, that will be the best scenario ever!