Liquid Sky: Perversely Captivating Sci-Fi Fantasy from Slava Tsukerman

A low-budget fantasy, Liquid Sky is a perversely beautiful sci-fi movie.

Unseen aliens, in search of heroin, land in their flying saucer on the roof of the Downtown apartment of Margaret (Anna Carlile), a decadent fashion model. The greedy aliens are after a euphoria-inducing chemical, produced by the brain during orgasm.

Besieged by seducers and rapists of both sexes, Margaret produces a lot of chemicals. There’s a twist, however: when Margaret’s pursuers make love to her, they dematerialize in an explosion of iridescent orange-green-blue light. Realizing her power, Margaret becomes a sexual avenger (killing off her lovers and tormentors) before ascending to heaven in the saucer.

Margaret and her self-destructive friends live for their ritualistic fantasies of turning themselves into works of art. Much of their energy is focused on their clothes, a mixture of Kabuki, punk, and rags. They project the image of punk narcissists living life fully at the risk of death. Androgynous-looking Anna Carlisle, with the spiked hair and transparent blondness of David Bowie, plays two roles: Margaret, as well as a sulky male model, which enables her to make love to herself.

Capturing the manner and humor of a comic strip about punk culture, Liquid Sky was produced, directed and co-written by Slava Tsukerman, a Soviet emigre who arrived in New York in 1976. Like the aliens, the filmmakers were explorers of exotic pleasures denied them in their country. Celebrating every antisocial attitude imaginable, it’s the kind of movie that could never have been produced in the Soviet Union.

Tsukerman satirizes the New York demi-monde of spaced-out models, junkies, and performance artists. With style to burn, he and photographer Yuri Neyman give the film a slick, colorful look, showing a New York in which the Empire State Building glows against turquoise and lavender skies.

If you want to know more about this issue, please read Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film (NYU Press, 2001).