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Revisiting the Downtown Scene Through Alien Eyes in ‘Liquid Sky’

Revisiting the Downtown Scene Through Alien Eyes in ‘Liquid Sky’


Double trouble: In “Liquid Sky,” Anne Carlisle portrays two characters, an extremely caustic model named Margaret and her acerbic male nemesis named Jimmy.


A No Wave Super 8 film writ large, Slava Tsukerman’s “Liquid Sky” was a midnight movie that opened at normal hours 35 years ago and, although highly stylized and very much a product of its era, has remained remarkably resilient. Now, 11 months after its 35-millimeter print was said to have been retired, it returns to the Quad Cinema for a run in a crisp, new 4K digital restoration.

The movie, whose title was a slang term for heroin invented by the filmmakers, is set amid the drug-addled, fashion-crazed, sexually jaded habitués of New York’s downtown demimonde. Adding to the spectacle: An unseen extraterrestrial based in a flying saucer approximately the size of a dinner plate is feeding, with deadly results, on the scene’s narcotic bliss and orgasmic energy — something that only a visiting West German scientist recognizes.

Science-fiction premise aside, “Liquid Sky” is a dark comedy of manners centering on a well-bred, extremely caustic model, Margaret (Anne Carlisle); her equally acerbic male nemesis, Jimmy (also Ms. Carlisle); and her even nastier lover, Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), an irascible dope dealer cum performance artist. Adrian’s sneering onstage persona suggests a bizarre misreading of the downtown luminaries Laurie Anderson and Klaus Nomi, but the movie’s prize scene is a rooftop fashion shoot featuring a trash-talking, mean-sex showdown between Ms. Carlisle’s two characters.

“Liquid Sky” trailer (Quad Cinema) Video by Vladislav Tsukerman

“Liquid Sky” originally opened in New York at the Waverly (now the IFC Center), onetime home of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and its costumed cult members. Reviews were almost universally favorable. “The right audiences are bound to appreciate the originality displayed here, not to mention the color, rage, nonchalance, sly humor and ferocious fashion sense,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times.

On Variety’s top-grossing film chart for over half a year, “Liquid Sky” was perhaps the most successful independent film of its day. It was also the most eccentric example of those Reagan-era movies — “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Splash,” “Moscow on the Hudson,” to name three — in which America is shown through foreign eyes. And it was indeed made by actual foreigners. Mr. Tsukerman, the director and producer; his wife, Nina V. Kerova, who collaborated with him on the script; and the cinematographer, Yuri Neyman, were all recent Russian émigrés.

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