directed by Slava Tsukerman
starring Anne Carlisle
A UFO appears over the New York City skyline with a German scientist in hot pursuit. Sounds like the beginning of any number of instantly forgettable sci-fi films, but in this case it is the opening of Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky, one of the most original and influential films of the 1980s. The visual style has been aped by films, photography, and music videos since the film landed in film festivals in 1982, interestingly the same year as the visual style Rosetta Stone, Blade Runner. Although it didn’t create it, the New Romantic style pulses through the film like the droning synth monotone of the soundtrack helping to raise the movie above its grindhouse roots.
Anne Carlisle co-wrote the film and stars as Margaret and Jimmy, Margaret’s vile and flamboyant antagonist. Most of the film’s action takes place in Margaret’s rooftop midtown apartment she share’s with her heroin dealing roommate, Adrian (Paula Sheppard). Everyone who enters the apartment is there for Adrian’s heroin or Margaret’s body or, in some cases, both. Even the formless aliens in the tiny flying saucer on the building’s roof are there initially to feed off of Adrian’s heroin stash, but they soon discover a much better food source, the chemical reaction produced in people’s brains during orgasm, with the nasty side effect of killing the person. Margaret initially has no idea why everyone who has sex with her dies, but she soon embraces the idea and begins to use it against her enemies including her rival Jimmy and a junkie rapist. Sex has a weapon has rarely been this literal. The two real takeaways from Liquid Sky is the film’s style and Anne Carlisle’s acting. Much has been made over the years of her gender bending dual role, but what really struck me during this recent re-watch is her portrayal of Margaret who is frequently victimized, but is not a victim. Carlisle imbues Margaret with vulnerability beneath her outrageous affectations and an odd sense of dignity despite the horrors she’s subjected to in her 24 hour ordeal of abuse, murder, fashion shows, and alien invasion.
Liquid Sky at its roots is just an old fashioned cold war era cheapjack sci-fi movie blitzed up with sex and drugs. The familiarity with the tropes Tsukerman build his tiny, bizarre world on makes for easy access for the viewer and the ambiguity of motive for the alien, and for that matter the human characters, combined with the simple narrative allows the viewer to hang many possible interpretations onto the film. Is it a cautionary cold war parable? A rape revenge movie? A study in gender roles? An AIDS allegory? It can be all those things and more.
After decades of languishing in bootleg limbo, the film has been beautifully restored and given its first proper home video release since the film’s VHS release. The Blu-Ray/DVD release from Vinegar Syndrome was certainly worth the wait. The film was thoroughly restored in 4k and probably has never looked better. They made everything pop and without altering the gritty film aesthetic. Vinegar Syndrome continues its reputation as the Criterion Collection for sleaze with this disc. Not only the gorgeous restoration of the movie but there are amazing extras including an audio commentary with Slava Tsukerman and Anne Carlisle. The commentary track is really insightful, but could really have used a moderator as there are long, uncomfortable, silences and Tsukerman’s Russian accent can be little difficult to follow at times. Other fun includes interviews with Slava Tsukerman and Anne Carlisle, a 50 minute documentary Liquid Sky Revisited (2017), trailers, behind the scenes footage, outtakes, stills, and more. It is a shame it has taken this long for a proper release of Liquid Sky on home video, but Vinegar Syndrome’s release was well worth the wait.