Thursday, November 18, 2010

Liquid Sky

1983 ****

It’s about time people started rendering unto Liquid Sky. Its long lipstick trace is smudged through much of indie cinema. -- Carlos James Chamberlin,, 2004

This movie came up in the comment discussion on one of Cat's reviews, and I realized I had to screen it (and Netflix don't got it, suckaaaaahs!).

You have to love the plot. An invisible, shapeless alien in a flying saucer the size of a serving tray comes to New York City in search of heroin. It lands on the roof of nihilistic drug dealer Adrian and her roommate Margaret, a bisexual, coke-loving fashion model who is the real star of the show. The alien visitor proceeds to suck the emotional energy of users as they shoot up in the apartment below. It does this all without leaving the saucer, just sending out its consciousness or...something. Basically it's a bunch of "alien-cam" shots that get the idea across.

Thanks to Margaret's frequent sexual activity, the alien soon discovers a more potent high: the chemicals produced in the brains of humans as they're experiencing orgasm. Unfortunately, the removal of that energy leaves a fatal crystal spike in the source's head. After Margaret makes an out-loud appeal to Indian, the spirit she believes lives in the nearby Empire State Building, the evesdropping alien disappears the bodies for her. (This effect is a riot, being achieved with some rapid stop-motion and mockups of the bodies made from aluminum foil.)

I admit I'm torquing the horror movie qualifications a little bit (hey, there's a body count!), but I really wanted to watch and review this hilarious, ridiculous, awesome movie. It's more like a love letter/expose of the Punk and New Wave scene in New York in the early 80s, and culturally that will always fascinate me more than movies about Watergate or Woodstock. Because I can look at that movie and in my best Dennis Hopper voice say "I was there, man!"

Which is bullshit. I didn't live in New York until 1987; Liquid Sky came out the same year I started high school, going to that first day without my Trapper Keeper because I wasn't sure it was "okay." Under any kind of scrutiny the late 80s reveal themselves to be largely aesthetically disasterous, lamely trying to build on the epic coolness that had recently emerged only to be swamped.

So fine, I wasn't there, man. But I feel I can make such claims because NYC was one of few nuclei of cool from which many of my favorite things in high school could be said to emerge. The sights we see in Liquid Sky are riding the wave of genius punk sensibility from the late 70s, but by '83 are in full morph into the weird, technological forms we love. The broad bell-bottom analog curves of the 70's had given way to neon grids and skinny ties, and it was great. Even if we weren't there, this was our cultural inheritence.

The quote at the top comes from the Wikipedia page, and I opened with it because the early indie elements of this movie are charming. There's a lot of dialogue, a fair amount of philosophical argument, a dash of performance art, a indulgent, sometimes jarring techno soundtrack that also plays subliminally through some of the character scenes, and a delightful number of different reads on the line "Where's the cocaine?"

Okay, that last one isn't really an indie film thing.

I was also quite smitten with the goofy but well-meaning Margaret in all her fucked-uppery. Anne Carlisle, who plays her, also plays the role of Margaret's nemesis, Jimmy.

Jimmy is the ultimate worm, a fashion model junkie with venom in his veins. If done right, I'm a total sucker for movie characters that are glorified heroin addicts. Fortunately I know better in real life.

Liquid Sky will make you feel homesick for a time and place you were probably never really at, except that you were, just miles away listening to music on headphones in the dark. It's well-paced, glamorous, stupid and brilliant. It was well worth another look.


Julie said...

Trapper Keeper. Heh.

Great review.

JPX said...

"going to that first day without my Trapper Keeper because I wasn't sure it was "okay." Love it! I'm so glad that I'm at an age where I don't care about being judged for my nerdy whims. Heck, my office is full of stuff that would earn me wedgies back in the day. Trapper Keepers sucked back then, the carboard holes didn't last long and thus they didn't trap much. today they're wisely made of plastic.

It's a trap!

Great review of a movie I've never seen. I'm not sure that you've sold me on it but 80s techno is always a good thing.

Octopunk said...

That is true but it's avant garde instrumental techno made for the movie, no Kraftwerk or anyone else I recognized.

But I recommend it anyway. It's [one of]the movie[s] of our generation [after a long list of John Hughes and Arnold Schwarzeneggar flicks]!

Catfreeek said...

I bought this dvd for Tony a ways back and actually gave it to Handsome Stan at the last Horrorthon Christmas drink fest. Stan had recalled the film in a strange incident from his past so I felt it belonged with him. Excellent review, excellent choice.