Liquid Sky


US | 1982 | Directed by Slava Tsukerman

Logline: A miniature spacecraft lands on a New York penthouse and the alien occupants proceed to kill various drug addicts in their search for heroin, but subsequently discover they prefer human endorphins.

Do aliens have orgasms?

Margaret (Ann Carlisle) is a model and junkie living high in Manhattan. Her roommate and lover, Adrian (Paula E. Shephard), is a drug dealer and club performer. Margaret is pestered by the perpetually sullen Jimmy (also played by Ann Carlisle), her narcissistic and embittered rival, who is a junkie too. She is sexually assaulted by a club patron who has come back to her pad, promising cocaine. The offender is inexplicably killed during the rape, murdered by aliens who have landed their tiny flying saucer on Margaret’s balcony! The aliens, in their intergalactic search for heroin, have discovered human endorphins, released during sexual climax, and now they have a taste for it. Soon Margaret will discover the naked truth and she’ll be possessed of a fierce desire for something beyond the confines of her earthbound existence. 

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Russian ex-pat Tsukerman and his wife Nina V. Kerova arrived in America in 1976. Five years on and they were collaborating with actor Carlisle on a screenplay, and subsequently made Liquid Sky for around five hundred grand. During it’s first year of release it made a profit of over one and half million bucks. Heavily influenced by the burgeoning new romantic scene, and the DIY minimalist approach to filmmaking, embraced by the likes of Jim Jarmusch, whilst surrounded by the debris of the American punk ethic, Liquid Sky is an amalgam of new wave chic, post-disco excess, and a hazy social commentary disguised within arthouse exploitation. A definitive cult treasure beneath all that fabric and foundation. 

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Indeed it is one of those movies where the tone and atmosphere is very difficult to describe in words, one has to experience the jagged melancholy first-hand. An acquired taste is putting it mildly. Liquid Sky makes big demands of its audience, but the rewards will linger, images burnt onto your retina … and that score, as if Art of Noise were still discovering how to make music on the Fairlight CMI. It is simultaneously annoying-as-hell and hauntingly good, fitting the film like elegant hand in long suede glove. 

This can all be explained … I’m a killer. I kill with my cunt. It’s fashionable.

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Yuri Neyman’s vivid cinematography, the neon primary colours, looks fabulous, as does the elaborate date-stamped makeup and costume designs by Marcel Fiévé. These elements are ice cool and crucial, and along with the music, and the lo-fi optical effects (also by Neyman) give Liquid Sky its unique vibe. Also of particular note are the club scenes, the dancing and posing, and especially the piece, “Me and My Rhythm Box”, performed by Adrian. 

Liquid sky, the key to heaven, the milk of paradise …

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Certainly the acting leaves a lot to be desired, but then, it was probably all deliberately directed that way. Carlisle's dual performance is the obvious stand out - occasionally Margaret's peroxide blonde armpit hair is seeking more screen time - but no one is free from the stilted, often unintentionally hilarious dialogue. Don’t worry, throw in another crazy club moment, and another chromatic polarised overkill. Tsukerman, who also co-edited, intercuts most of the scenes, injecting the movie’s narrative with a fractured, urgent edge to what is abstractly a smacked-out interpolation of dissociative science frictional behaviour. 

Liquid Sky is liquid sky is Liquid Sky, a stash of deep beautiful trash. 

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“Cocteau was Cocteau before he ever did drugs.”

“What are you saying?”

“That’s it’s not going to help you.”

I beg to differ. I say get off your precious, lovely tits and soak up Liquid Sky on a big screen in a darkened theatre. Do it. Get involved. YOLO. 

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Liquid Sky - a new digital restoration - screens as part of the 12th Sydney Underground Film Festival, Saturday, September 15th, 11pm, at Factory Theatre, Marrickville. For tickets and more information visit