Sunday, October 16, 2011
LIQUID SKY - Anthology Film Archives 10/10/11
I made my first trip to Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue) for a special screening that I thought I would have to miss because of class. What better way to spend Columbus Day than getting your mind blown? After taking in Chaplin's GOLD RUSH earlier that day, I ventured downtown to Anthology. It's an unusual venue, with a small cramped sitting area near the box office, and you venture up several flights of stairs to get into the screening room.
I remember when I first saw LIQUID SKY. It was in high school when I was trekking to Video Vault in Alexandria, VA twice weekly and renting as many movies as I could. The now out of print DVD was an accidental discovery and it didn't really click with me on initial viewing. Perhaps I was so spoiled by a diet of Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman movies that I wasn't prepared for the new wave weirdness of Slava Tsukerman's universe. I actually hadn't seen it since that viewing in 1999 so when I saw it would be playing Anthology with director Tsukerman in attendance, it was high time for a revisit.
Co-writer Anne Carlisle stars in a dual role as Margaret, a bisexual model with a drug habit living in a penthouse with underground musician and drug dealer Adrian (ALICE SWEET ALICE star Paula E. Sheppard), and Jimmy, an androgynous drug addict male model who is established as both Margaret's alter ego and her nemesis. An alien spacecraft lands on her roof, and the inhabitants look to feed on the adrenaline rush found in heroin. But they soon discover a more powerful energy is found during the moment of orgasm in the human brain. Soon Margaret's lovers end up dead, all with a crystal shard jutting out of their heads, raising questions for her about her sexuality, her identity, and her life.
An unusual mind fuck of a movie (watch the first five minutes above for a brief taste), LIQUID SKY is like nothing you've ever seen before. Mixing science fiction, performance art, sexploitation, and drug trips into one singular cinematic experience, this film worked splendidly projected on the big screen, far better than seeing it on home video. Cinematography is always surprising, especially when the special effects take center stage during the alien "brain invasion" sequences; the musical score is otherworldly and bizarre, perfectly complimenting the on-screen shenanigans; and the performances are appropriately campy and off the wall. Those who remember Paula Sheppard from ALICE will love seeing her in her only other starring role, and she's just as deliciously bitchy.
One thing is for sure, Anne Carlisle should have been a star. She stuck around New York and acted in other low-budget features like Larry Cohen's PERFECT STRANGERS and appeared briefly in Susan Seidelman's DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, but never really took off in anything else. The guys sitting behind me raved about Carlisle; one of them claimed to be good friends with her, and that she was actually responsible for most of the movie. The other tried baiting Tsukerman in the Q&A, asking if he could ever re-make the movie without an Anne Carlisle. He didn't fall for it, saying he'd have to cast big names.
The Tsukerman Q&A was kind of hit or miss. The native Russian didn't understand some of the questions, so when I was called on for mine, I kept it simple: "Talk about Paula Sheppard." He said she was cast based on her work in ALICE, SWEET ALICE and she was a pleasure to work with, but the reason why she quit acting after the film was because she was with SAG and received a letter from them (as did other cast members) reprimanding and fining her for appearing in LIQUID SKY. According to Tsukerman "she took it very personally" and left the business. He did add that when the film had its L.A. premiere, all the Hollywood producers wanted to know who she was and how they could get a hold of her for their next films. Tsukerman did not reveal how the film's unique special effects were created, nor go into much detail about his musical influences for the superb electronic score (likely because it wasn't entirely created by him). He did talk about the possibility of remaking it in 3-D, which the audience audibly poo-pooed, and the process of casting, which basically involved Carlisle and co-star Bob Brady recruiting people they knew from the underground/punk/new wave scene of downtown NYC in the early 80s. Tsukerman wasn't the only member of the cast and crew in attendance; his wife Nina Kerova (who appears as the designer in the final fashion shoot and acted as co-writer and associate producer), make-up artist Marcel Fieve, and actress Susan Doukas (Jimmy's mother who tries to seduce the German scientist investigating the aliens) were in the audience, too. In an unusual moment, I also noticed John Cameron Mitchell (HEDWIG himself) purchase a ticket at the box office and sit with a group of friends.
For a review of the film when it was released in Chicago by Siskel & Ebert, skip to 4:55 in the video below. It's interesting to note how they dislike it considering how influential this film was on other films both enjoyed immensely in later years.
And Paula Sheppard fans (she has a sizable cult, so I know there are more than a few out there) should indulge in this final taste of LIQUID SKY, when her character Adrian "performs" the show-stopper "Me and My Rhythmbox". As she says later in the film, "They love me in Germany, baby." After seeing this, doesn't that make sense? It's very Dieter-esque. LOL