Sunday, October 9, 2011

Liquid Sky (1982)

A film that would need would need lithium in order to be considered "Lynchian," Liquid Sky was released in 1982 at the height of the New Wave movement. Liquid Sky serves as a sort of synecdoche of the movement, full of bizarre costumes, confused gender roles, and synth music that infects your brain. It's not exactly "good," but it holds a bizarre appeal: a good box cover quote might be "...mesmerizing..."


In 1980s New York, an adorably tiny spaceship full of invisible aliens lands on a rooftop apartment while the principal characters hang out at a club. Glam model Jimmy (Anne Carlisle) hits up the cartoon-eyed drug dealer Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), and when he's rejected, turns to her roommate/pseudo girlfriend Margaret (Anne Carlisle again). The two (one) young models go back to Margaret's place, where Jimmy puts on a dress and then searches for Adrian's stash, causing Margaret to kick him out. The two make amends when Jimmy reminds Margaret they need to get back to the club for a fashion show. Then why did you go all the way back to your apartment in the first place?! While the duo (uno) travel back for their weird show, Adrian busts out her "Rhythm Box" and does a little freestyle rap about how awesome it is to have a box that makes beats for you. As if that would ever catch on.

Is this your brain on drugs? I seriously don't know.

After a long and bizarre fashion show, Margaret meets a guy who is supposed to supply her with cocaine, but instead they have less than consensual sex in a stair well. The next day, Jimmy, still without drugs, meets Sylvia, his mother, and tries to goad her into giving him money for drugs. It should be noted that I am making these scenes feel more connected than they appear in the film.

Why would your telescope have a sight like this?

We're also introduced to a German scientist who provides a few big speeches to even more minor characters about what these aliens are and what they do: apparently they are drawn to heroin, but find the brain chemicals during orgasm to be even more delicious. Margaret accidentally discovers the aliens while having sex with her old theater professor. And by "discovers" I mean she thinks it's the act of some Native American god and that she has magic sex/death powers. The German scientist tries to set up an observation schedule of Margaret's apartment, but Jimmy's mother Sylvia flusters him via constant attempts to seduce him and repeated attempts to move the conversations towards the deliciousness of shrimp. Everything comes to a head at the big photo shoot at Margaret's apartment that evening, where Jimmy, Adrian and the rest all find out about Margaret's new superpower.

The aliens look at Margaret through those big clunky goggles.

Liquid Sky is tough to evaluate the way most films are, because it's completely nonsensical, with a plot that pulls the characters seemingly at random towards a bizarre but surprisingly strong final act. While it doesn't particularly stand up as a complete project, there's a handful of memorable scenes and images that you can't easily forget. Slava Tsukerman, a Russian immigrant, directs the film with a European flair, with several disorienting simultaneous scenes and borderline impressionistic scenes of alien POV shot drawn in high contrast. Anne Carlisle plays a sort of deadened addict for the majority of the movie, but she does a nice job showing the gradual changes to Margaret brought on by suddenly being in a position of power. She also contributed to writing the film's script. Her biggest work other than this was appearing as a transvestite in a Crocile Dundee movie. Talk about casting against type!

I haven't seen this many body doubles since that Brian Da Palma movie.

Liquid Sky's psychedelic update to the 60s drug movie, along with its look into New York's New Wave movement and its bizarre synth music make it a movie that influenced a generation of independent filmmakers. It's definitely not for everyone, but the combination of matter of fact outrageous camp and hypnotizing visuals was enough that I enjoyed it. And even if you aren't swayed by any of that, it has a few non sequiturs so bizarre they can't help but get a laugh.

Arbitrary Rating:

3 Pac-Man Ghosts out of 4.

Memorable Quotes:

Adrian: Hey yo! How many people want to see, uh... want to see me fuck Margaret and not die?

Sylvia: That's really quite a world you've shown me. German scientists as tall as the Empire State Building and aliens as small as... jumbo shrimp.

Sylvia: The duty is yours, the house is mine, and in my house, shrimps are more important than duty.

Margaret: You wanted to know where I'm from? Connecticut. Mayflower stock. I was taught that my prince would come, and he would be a lawyer. And I would have his children. And on the weekends we'd barbecue, and all the other princes and princesses would come, and they would say 'delicious, delicious.' Oh how boring. So I was taught that I should come to New York, become an independent woman. And my prince would come. He would be an agent, and he would get me a role, and I would make my living waiting on tables, and I would wait, until 30, until 40, until 50... and I was taught that to be an actress, one should be fashionable. And to be fashionable is to be androgynous. And I am androgynous not less than David Bowie himself, and they call me beautiful. And I kill with my cunt. Isn't it fashionable?

1 comment:

  1. I dimly remember liking this--though you make it sound much more disjointed than I remember. (And no, my viewing was not chemically aided!)