I remember clearly the impression that Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982) had on me when I first saw it in 1987 (back in those pre-DVD and Internet days, underground cultural artifacts travelled a bit slower…). It was a thrilling experience and it looked like nothing I had ever seen before.
A ‘sci-fi’ firmly entrenched in the New-Wave/Post-Punk scene of early 80s New York, it is a visual fest of early video graphic effects, Warholian bad acting, performance art and lots of bored posing. One way to describe it would be that it looks like a long photo shoot for the now defunct Face magazine in its infancy. As a time-capsule film, it evokes the period when Klaus Nomi became a star, Laurie Anderson was a semi-pop star and dressing up meant looking like an alien. Yet, in retrospect, despite the nihilistic surface of the film, the historic moment in which Liquid Sky belongs looks a lot more fun and innocent than the speedy post-Y2K era.
Made on a budget of half a million dollars, "it would be laughably bad if it weren’t so good" as Jeff Vorndam wrote back in 1999 on AboutFilm.com in connection with a rare screening at the 1999 San Francisco International Film Festival. Starred by the impossibly beautiful Anne Carlisle, who also plays a male character, the absurd story revolves around aliens arriving in a what seems a plastic flying saucer, landing on the rooftop above the flat occupied by a young model called Margeret (Carlisle), who everyone wants to have sex with. As it happens, the aliens (who of course we never get to see) had come to Earth searching for heroine, but it turns out that the chemicals released by the brain during orgasm are even better, so Margeret partners start to disintegrate when they reach climax. This is signified by a crude ‘vintage’ effect whereby they are blipped off the screen, not before we get to see a crystal shard sticking out from the back of their heads.
There isn’t much point in describing the storyline – the narrative is a composed of rather seamless sequences hinged around Margeret’s alien connection. But there is a pivotal moment towards the end of the film when Margaret gives oral sex to the David Bowie look-alike junkie Jimmy (also played by Carlisle), one of the most original filmic allusions to the myth of Narcissus. But the reason that the film stays in the memory, and the one that has turned it into an underground classic, is the sheer visual pleasure it offers, the outrageous costumes, Carlisle’s unforgettable screen presence and Liquid Sky‘s intriguingly catchy and poetic-sounding title.