In some ways, it seems like Liquid Sky has always been with us, pulsing quietly underneath the last three decades as heroin-chic, androgyny, LGBT cachet, addiction metaphors, electronic music, and plastic fashion have bobbed up in the cultural tide. But that’s only if you’ve seen it, and it has proven fairly scarce in theatrical revivals and on video. Viewed again in 2014, Slava Tsukerman’s 1982 cult hit feels ever more like a movie that saw the future, even as it remains bound to the past from which it came.
The logline might go something like this: Aliens come to earth looking to cop and stumble across an ample supply of endorphins in the brains of orgasmic downtown scenesters and scumbags. Unfortunately for slumming, young, bisexual fashion model Margaret (fine-boned, bottle-blond Anne Carlisle), their tiny saucer lands near her apartment, and the extraction process is fatal, so anyone in her vicinity who comes also goes.
But plot is not exactly why one pays to see Liquid Sky. It’s more like the art-chick kitsch of Margaret’s girlfriend (Paula E. Sheppard), a militant lesbian drug dealer/performance artist whose weird headband/earflaps hat is a fashion mystery for the ages and whose declamatory showcase “Me and My Rhythm Box” is sure to titillate art students everywhere. Or the film’s throbbing, needling synth score. Or Carlisle, who not only lends some pathos to her character’s Connecticut girl-gone-awry in then-still-gritty lower Manhattan, but who also dons male drag to portray Jimmy, a sneering drug moocher with an unkind word for everyone. Oh, and at one point Carlisle as Margaret has sex with herself as Jimmy.
About that: Many things date Liquid Sky, most of them entertaining, but nothing dates it more than its grindhouse-y take on rape. Almost every sexual act in the film is, at some level, nonconsensual, and Margaret bears the brunt. She develops the tiniest bit of perspective on her princess/doormat life, and a wee nub of agency from her de facto power to kill with her crotch, but the film’s female-empowerment arc reaches a fairly feeble apogee. Liquid Sky deserves rediscovery by a new generation, but it also bears taking with a grain.