Monday Editor’s Pick: Liquid Sky (1982)

by on October 3, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Mon Oct 10 at 8:45* at Anthology Film Archives [Program & Tix]
*Director Slava Tsukerman in person!


We almost forewent a blogroll, because this really says its all:



Anthology Film Archives offers you a chance to meet the maker of this seminal cult classic.


The blog House of Indulgence sums things up nicely:

An intense tingling sensation slowly crept through the icky confines of my body as I basked in the neon glow of this groundbreaking masterwork by Soviet emigrate Slava Tsukerman. The early eighties film managed to turn me into a blithering three-armed baby with only one sock through the sheer power of its brash fucked-up temperament. A flamboyant potpourri of science fiction, portable rhythm boxes, leggy fashion victims, overweening synthesizers, unidentified flying dinner plates, irregular makeup, vaginal homicide, and crypto-feminism, Liquid Sky is the personification of cinematic perfection. A film experience so bizarre, and so original, that it makes all other films seem like rancid badger piss by comparison. […] A subversively-coiffed universe that celebrates outlandishness with a techno-punk panache, this is where I want to spend the rest of my life.


Tsukerman introduces the film in LA:


Time Out (London):

Film-maker Tsukerman’s personal comment on, er, the State of Western Man, magnified through a thoroughly unpleasant bunch of New York junkies, poseurs and twits. Claiming to subvert a host of Hollywood verities, Tsukerman unleashes a parasitic alien being on the New York smack’n’sex demi-monde. Junkies and sex fiends start dropping like flies, and not even the Bruno Ganz-alike scientist can stop the voracious bug. Tsukerman stops short of his original intention of offing the whole cast, allowing for an extraordinary fairy-tale ascension at the end, but his aim of highlighting social malaise gets happily mislaid in a bizarre, often hilarious melee of weird drugs, weird sex and off-the-wall camp SF. Close Encounters for acid casualties.


Gary Morris for Bright Lights Film Journal:

Liquid Sky (1982) is one “cult classic” that deserves the name. Russian emigré filmmaker Slava Tsukerman’s first and last-to-date feature recasts Weimar Germany — with its attendant androgyny, drugs, and general air of apocalypse — as a New York New Wave nightmare. It seems that those scenesters who aren’t shooting up, club-hopping, or gyrating to Fairlight synthesizer music are being obliterated by aliens during orgasm. Who knew? The star of this scintillating show, besides Tsukerman’s haunting music, is the glorious Anne Carlisle in a double role as both haute bisexual deb Margaret and Jimmy, the Bowie-esque “boy” who slaps her(self) around and steals her drugs. Carlisle, who also co-scripted with Tsukerman, has tremendous presence and the most shocking thing about the film is that she didn’t have a bigger career.



Ed Gonzalez for Slant:

Since its unmemorable release in 1982, the Warhol-esque Liquid Sky has developed a rather significant cult following. Anne Carlisle (Desperately Seeking Susan) plays dual roles in the film: Jimmy, a male model with a raging drugging addiction and Margaret, a bisexual girl who could easily pass for Aimee Mann during her ‘Til Tuesday days. Otto von Wernherr (Madonna enemy and early collaborator) plays a German scientist chasing after an alien spacecraft that visits the Earth in order to feed off the opium-producing receptors inside the brains of heroin users. During sexual orgasm, these receptors produce a sensation similar to the feeling produced by the brain during the absorption of heroin. The film’s aliens (visually represented using negative film stock of a blood-shot eye) feed off of this pleasure principle, spontaneously combusting humans as they engage in sexual intercourse. Aliens, drugs, clubs, orgasms and big hair! The film and its synth-laden soundtrack are celebrations of ’80s counter-culture. Some 20 years after its release, the bad behavior and paranoia depicted here seemingly foreshadows the ramifications of said culture’s sexual indiscretions and the country’s own political naivete.


David Denby for New York Magazine:

Liquid Sky, the low-budget triumph of the year, is a science-fiction fantasy with a wonderfully smutty premise. The movie becomes even funnier when you reflect that it was made by a group of Soviet emigres; The filmmakers, like the aliens, are explorers seeking out exotic pleasures denied them in their own arid homeland. Tsukerman, who has been here since 1975, celebrates and satirizes the New York demimonde of spaced-out models, junkies, New Wave performance artists snarling “provocative” lesbian songs into microphones. Margaret and her circle are pure electric theater – lewd, self-destructive, probably doomed. They live for the night, for their dress-up rituals, for the shared fantasy of turning themselves into a work of art. All of their energy seems to go into their clothes, an amazing mixture of Kabuki, Wiemar, and debutante rags. They may not look like much in the daylight, but they give the movie the charge of glamour, the nasty wit of punk narcissists living up to an extreme image at the risk of death.


Superbly photographed by Yurk Neyman, Liquid Sky offers us a New York in which somber insurance towers and the Empire State Building glow against turquoise or lavender skies like the coldly monumental peaks of a comic-book planet. In the ultimate androgynous triumph, Anne Carlisle plays a sullen male model as well as Margaret and thus gets the chance to make love to herself with spectacular results. Liquid Sky has got to be the funniest, craziest, dirties, most perversely beautiful science-fiction movie ever made.



The film’s website features scans of a 1984 article in American Cinematographer:

The intent was to bring every possible aspect of the medium into play – both by blatant visual “overkill,” and with subtler mood effects – to represent realities of that world as well as to convey the sensibilities of an alien perspective.


Janet Maslin for the New York Times:

Tsukerman presents a vision of the city that is genuinely startling. Visually bright and arresting, with a varied and insinuating electronic score, the film is full of eye-catching images. These range from the sight of Margaret clambering to the top of her building in an unbuttoned satin wedding gown, as a kind of space-age King Kong, to her sexual confrontation with Larry, in which the lookalikes taunt each other before an audience of cheering fashion photographers and hair stylists. ”Behind your back everybody laughs at you – they call you Chicken Woman,” Larry hisses. ”You’re the most beautiful boy in the world,” Margaret says in a tone of the utmost contempt. Make what you will of the moment, but it’s not one that’s easily forgotten.


Mr. Tsukerman’s apparent familiarity with Margaret, Larry and their surroundings would seem to belie his Soviet origins. So the U.F.O. imagery comes in handy. There can hardly be a better metaphor for a foreign-born director’s response to New York and the outermost fringes of its New Wave.


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