Liquid Sky and You, We, I
'Liquid Sky' is a sci-fi art movie whose impact on world culture and history is beyond your wildest imagination!
The following article was originally published on The Free Advice Man's website here.
"Liquid Sky." Before 1982/83 this was New York City code-slang for a most dangerous, harmful, addictive narcotic: Heroin.
But by 1983, at least in New York City, and soon enough, thereafter in London, Berlin, and Tokyo, among the subcultural New Wave, Electro-Pop, and Progressive Punk, Avant-Garde Music and Arts Scene "Liquid Sky" became known as the title of one of thee most culturally influential Avant-Garde Independent Sci-Fi Art movies. With its fashion and make-up style, which became the basis for the Electroclash Subculture, and its Quirky Weird alternative exploration of Human Sexuality and Political Nonconformity, its socio-psychological impact significantly defined much of the rest of the 1980s High-end Avant-Garde Culture, Art, Intellectual Life and... yes... Politics too.
Remember; The early 1980s was a time when America still had fresh memories of The Vietnam War years (1955 to 1975), America had just celebrated its Bicentennial Year (200th Anniversary) in 1976, Jimmy Carter was denied a second term as a result of events in Iran, and Ronald Reagan was talking about "The Evil Soviet Empire" and joked "we begin bombing in five minutes"… scaring the heck out of many of us! So: The early 1980s in New York City was a very special time for alternative Culture, Music, and Arts; With it came the first mass produced digital electronic devices, computers, and the new technology and the new sounds helped generate a whole new sense of Futurism (MTV, HBO, Sony Walkman, Commodore 64, Delorean DMC 12, etc.), and a desire for Total Freedom, for a Clean Start-Over, a New Era of Possibilities! The 1980s began with the subconscious effect of the magical number "8", which mostly sub-consciously conveyed the Infinity Symbol for most; and for those of us at the forefront of the New Wave of Futuristic Wonderment; the Leminiscate (symbol of Infinity: ∞) gave the decade Special Meaning! It was in that sense quite natural that something as surreal and quirky as Liquid Sky would arise out of the minds of some very bright-minded, hyper-creative people.
Liquid Sky is a Sci-Fi Art Film that seems to be about a simple story of substance abuse, sexual abuse, sexual desire, sex, more substance abuse, more sex, death by micro-aliens seeking endorphins from people who have achieved orgasm, more substance abuse, more sex, more deaths. And it is full of Bisexuality, Lesbian intimacy, and Heterosexual acts and desires. But none of that has anything to do with what the movie is really about! Because the movie is not really about anything at all. It's just a movie meant to evoke certain subjective emotional responses to situations which are realistic, but which become surrealistic. The main characters are Margaret, Jimmy, and Adrian.
Liquid Sky’s Success
Liquid Sky was first publicly shown at The Montreal Film Festival of 1982; where Slava Tsukerman, the film's Producer, Director, and Screenplay Co-Writer, managed to win its coveted First Jury Award. It was made on a budget of less than $500,000 and became the most successful independent film in 1983, taking in around $1.7 Million within its first few months. It was the collaborative result of Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle, and Slava's wife, Nina V. Kerova. Slava had emigrated to the USA in 1976, after a successful career as a documentary and TV Film Producer in both the Soviet Union (USSR) and Israel. He and his wife initially met Anne Carlisle, who plays the two central characters of the movie, Margaret and Jimmy, when she auditioned for another movie planned by Slava and failed to get the part. That film was never made, but the three became close friends. Much of the movie was shot inside a penthouse on 28th and Broadway, and the rest of the movie was shot elsewhere throughout Manhattan (New York City), including at The Pyramid Club at 101 Avenue A in the Lower East Side on the margins of what was called "Alphabet City" by the locals. As someone who frequented The Pyramid Club at that time, I was there on a night when the film was being shot inside the club. And I was at the New York City opening of the film at The Waverly Twin Movie Theatre in Greenwich Village (i.e. West Village). The Waverly Twin was eventually closed, refurbished, and opened as The IFC Centre. [More on The historic Waverly Twin Theatre here.]
The initial idea for the film struck both Anne and Slava when Slava commented on Anne Carlisle's New Wave Club night assembled outfit and cosmetic face painting, saying that she looked a lot like an Alien Vixen, and that her New Wave Clubbing Lifestyle was something he could imagine would be enjoyed by some Intelligent Exotic Alien.
A Unique Work
I found the movie to be at once disturbing and captivating, seductive and repulsive, at times numbing, at times thought-provoking! It was not quite like any movie I had ever seen before, but it clearly had a mix of elements, intentionally or unintentionally, of famous and not-so-famous Art movies, Psychological Thrillers and Low-budget Sci-Fi flicks combined. Hints of Nicolas Roeg's 1976 Sci-Fi movie The Man Who Fell To Earth (starring David Bowie), Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 classic Surrealistic Fantasy Film The Holy Mountain, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1982 West-German Cyberpunk Thriller Kamikaze 1989, Robert Wise's 1951 B/W Sci-Fi Classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, Yakov Protazanov's 1924 Early Soviet Era Sci-Fi Silent Movie Classic Aelita, and Fritz Lang's 1927 German Expressionist Epic Sci-Fi Drama Film Metropolis. In my mind there can be no doubt that Slava had studied all of those aforementioned greats, and that his movie came on the coat-tails of both Steven Spielberg's 1977 super-hit Sci-Fi film Close Encounters of The Third Kind (starring one of my favorite actors, Richard Dreyfuss) and George Lucas's 1977 mega-hit Sci-Fi movie Star Wars. And no doubt Liquid Sky did influence both John Sayle's 1984 Sci-Fi Film Brother From Another Planet and Wolfgang Petersen's Enemy Mine.
The Camera work and almost all of the Special Effects was done by acclaimed Cinematographer Yuri Neyman ASC, whose innovative visual work was key to the film's success in terms of its unique artistic and technical production aspects.
In fact, various major New York City newspapers and magazines published reviews by prominent film critics who praised the movie. Here are just a few: "New York has never been photographed better in a movie." "Rarely, if ever has Manhattan been viewed so intensely," "A spectacular work of moving art," "The most beautiful science-fiction movie ever made."
Set, Costume, and General Production Designer Marina Levikova, working with Make-up Artist Marcel Fieve, and others, combined a melange of various styles of sets and costumes, mixing contemporary Western European, New York Night-club Fashion, and hints of Exotic Far Eastern (Tokyo and Hong Kong) quasi-haute couture, with the result that gave the movie its own authentic wild, freaky, sharper image stylistic appearance.
In contrast to all the weird quirky-ness, wildness, of almost everyone and everything in Liquid Sky; the Flying Saucer, designed by Gennady Osmerkin, was the epitome of simplicity and perfectivity! I consider the flying saucer worthy of being reproduced as a die-cast metal memorabilia and toy, fully equipped with its own lighting. Even when I first saw it, I hoped to be able to own my own one.
Margaret and Adrian
I have to admit that what attracted me most about Liquid Sky was a specific scene: when Margaret (played by Anne Carlisle) gets really intimate with Adrian (played by Paula E. Sheppard). The scene would have risked getting the movie an X Rating if Slava had not decided to release the movie as Unrated. Without a Rating, the movie would only be shown to adults, but would avoid being labelled pornographic. After all; Liquid Sky, though having a strong Erotic Art element to it, is by no means a porno. Nevertheless: I, myself, would have wanted to be ravaged by both Adrian and Margaret; as I am sure would many others who consider this movie to be Especially Memorable!
One of the things that also makes Liquid Sky so unique is how Anne Carlisle managed to play both main characters, the androgynous male character of Jimmy 'the Junkie' (drug addict) and Margaret the Exotic Erotic Bisexual fashion model whose childhood innocence was obviously lost as a result of Big City Life after moving from the Connecticut country-side! Anne's sophisticated emotional performance, in both characters, is truly worthy of an Oscar! My initial impression was that Jimmy and Margaret were twins. This effect was achieved by Yuri Neyman, ASC’s use of long forgotten special effects techniques of the 1920s-30s which included operation of the special camera "Debri–Parvo L" designed in 1925.
Liquid Sky and the New York Cultural Scene
The movie arrived on the New York City cultural scene at a time when everything Quirky-Weird, Neo-Avant-Garde, and Ultra-New-Wave was really beginning to bloom and boom-blossom. From David Bowie, whose early 1970s music theme character "Ziggy Stardust" is truly one of the earliest expression of mass-pop androgyny, to Grace Jones, with her Super-Sharp Beautiful Black Androgynous image and voice, from ABC to R.E.M., suave Jamiroquai (Jay Kay in particular) to sweet Deee-Lite! Of course; there are tons to mention: New Order, Talking Heads, Aztec Camera, etc.
Liquid Sky's music and sound-track is also very unique, and was mostly "composed" and produced by Slava Tsukerman, Clive Smith and Brenda Hutchinson played on the keyboard of the Fairlight CMI. Almost all of it was totally original, but also included interpretations of Baroque composer Marin Marais's Sonnerie de Ste-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris, Carl Orff's Trionfo di Afrodite, and Anthony Philip Heinrich's Laurel Waltz. Combined they formed a series of ominous-sounding dissonant arrangements and nightmarish trances.
And that is it! The Androgynous Era of MTV's birth! It was Liquid Sky that eventually also gave birth to New New Wave Music and Culture, known as Electroclash, in the early 2000s, beginning in Brooklyn, and spreading to Berlin, London, Paris and Tokyo!
The thing about the 1980s New Wave Subculture was that it was very much about Universalism and Futurism. The 80s were the last decade of The Cold War, and the beginning of The AIDS Epidemic which has had a very negative impact on Liberal Social values, including Tolerance of Tolerant Others, and has helped give rise to irrational reactionary extremism in politics and society. And with the dramatic transformation of our societies as a result of excessive fear of otherness; Fascisms have gained traction. It can be said that with the False Victory of The West against The Soviet Union inadvertently a dangerously unstable unipolar World arose; in which the USA under George H.W. Bush began to tamper with the delicate balance of power in The Middle East, and the horrific attacks of 9/11/2001 could happen, the aftermath of which has given rise to Ultra-Nationalism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Plutocratic Fascism, which are once more threatening all Humanity! The age in which Liquid Sky was made, post-Vietnam War era, was one of relative calm and positive expectations for the Fantastic Future to come! Today many actually fear the Future; worried about what other terrible things might come next.
One might argue that Futurism has become overwhelmingly associated with the Negative Surrealism of Dystopianism. And yet there is a struggle going on between those who oppose Globalization out of Fear and those who Fear Regression and seek to Modify Globalization into one that restores Universalist Ideals, Principles, and Values!
Will the World become 1984 + The Matrix + GATTACA + Melancholia OR will it become what it should have already; had the New Wave Subculture of the 1980s not been shoved aside by those who have profit from conflict?
Most of the best Sci-Fi movies made today are done by people who studied Stanley Kubrick's Classic Sci-Fi epic movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Liquid Sky! But only Liquid Sky was able to break free from the traditional sexual archetypes into a totally new realm of the senses, because in emotionally exploring sexual androgyny it actually restores one's desire for and appreciation of sentimentality in otherwise sexually exploratory relationships. At least that is what Anne Carlisle achieved with her performance.
The Clash between The Liberators and The Enslavers of Humanity is very real!
It is interesting to note that Mikhail Gorbachev actually watched Liquid Sky during the time of the Russian Putsch that removed him from power in 1991!
Everything was becoming Electronic Supersonic.
And, just to help keep things in perspective, here are just a few legendary New York City Artists who watched Liquid Sky: Jean-Michel Basquiat. Keith Haring. Andy Warhol. Kenny Scharf. Marcia Resnick. Quentin Crisp. Woody Allen. Sinead O'Connor. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Isaac Asimov. Ray Bradbury. All are people I have met and known in person. Many have since departed. One wonders what subconscious impact the movie may have had on their lives, thoughts, and creations.
A sequel is planned, in which Anne returns as Margaret; and one can only wonder if it can somehow tie into the World of Today in such a way as to help Herald The World of Tomorrow that was initially envisioned by the Generation of Artists and Intellectuals that had positive hopes for the Future.
Before writing this article I consulted with Anne Carlisle, who I've communicated with several times in recent years, mostly to fact-check and confirm and reconfirm things.
Liquid Sky as a Catalyst
And now the World itself is Hyper-Evolving, for even as many seek to rush away from The Futuristic World of The Present, others embrace the New Emotional and Sociological Dynamism of Non-Violent Unity-through-Diversity and Tolerance of Tolerant Others and refuse to succumb to the depressing mindset and worldview of the Dystopian Negativists and Regressive Reactionaries.
Liquid Sky was a Catalyst. Few understand its true significance, but Future Historians will surely credit it as being an emotionally powerful exploration of the Mystery of Emotional Sensualism and part of an effort to Liberate Humanity from senseless dissonances. Will the World become The Day After Tomorrow + Mad Max + Waterworld + The Hunger Games, etc., or will the World become a place where we all truly have our Rights Respected and where Robots, Computers, and other Technologies truly serve us all, liberating us from the horrors of Modern-day Slavery, New Poverty, and A Final Era of Horrific Wars over Mismanaged Resources?
Most movies are superficial in their overall impact, but Liquid Sky was and will always be Emotionally Catalytic in a way that is somehow Subjectively unique for each person! It's a movie that defies easy answers to complex personal questions about our relationship to the World around us, and towards our own selves. Of course, some of you will read all this and think: "Come on man! It's just a totally wacky Art Movie, and you're ascribing all kinds of incredible nonsense to it for which there is no real basis! It's just a freakin movie man!" To which I can only say this: "You are right! For you that is the truth! But for others it is not. No one can force you to think differently!"
Liquid Sky... the movie that can really affect you in weirdly different and unique ways, but only if you really want it to.
Note: The movie is best watched sober.
Some of the photos that appear here are Copyright protected and owned by Yuri Neyman, Slava Tsukerman, and Anne Carlisle and may not be copied or distributed.