Color, 1982, 91 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MTI (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
A film that seems like it couldn't have possibly been made here on Planet Earth, Liquid Sky is a midnight movie taken to radical, sensibility-shattering extremes that make Eraserhead look like a romantic comedy. The omnisexual drug culture of early '80s Greenwich Village is transformed when a UFO arrives and converts one of the locals, Margaret (Carlisle), whose cohorts include a German performance artist (the scowling Sheppard from Alice, Sweet Alice) and Margaret's gay brother, Jimmy (also Carlisle). Margaret's bisexual encounters produce a chemical which feeds the aliens, but these clandestine activities can only go on for so long without being noticed, even in this subculture.
The sole American film by Russian avant garde specialist Slava Tsukerman (who also co-wrote the jarring synth score), Liquid Sky garnered positive reviews upon its release and became a natural for the midnight movie crowd. Seen today, it feels almost quaint in its skewed sensibilities, pretty DayGlo colors, and pre-AIDS occupations with the interactions of human bodies. The sci-fi element is largely downplayed, with the tiny alien saucers scarcely presented more credibly than in Plan 9 from Outer Space, and most of the dialogue simply boggles the mind. Carlisle and Sheppard easily swipe the film from their costars, with the former's androgynous beauty serving both of her roles very effectively. Interestingly, the film received a lot of mainstream critical attention when it opened in specialty theaters, effectively exposing many young viewers to experimental footage for the first time on television.
For a fringe title, this oddity has been fairly popular on home video starting with its VHS release from Media (a mom and pop essential throughout the decade). A DVD was released from MTI in 2000, which looked a few notches better than the tape but, unaccountably, the first half hour is noticeably paler than the rest of the film and exposes some substandard compression. The mono sound is just fine, with the often piercing soundtrack thankfully free of distortion even in its highest registers. The disc also includes three trailers (of varying lengths and all very odd), several minutes of salvaged rehearsal footage recorded on Betacam (the Sheppard bits are the best), and a tremendously expanded alternate version of the opening title sequence, with many chunks of footage removed from the final film.
It was a very long hiatus from that point for this film with the DVD fetching insane amounts of money for many years. Fortunately Vinegar Syndrome stepped up to bat in 2017 with a dual-format release including a limited edition dayglo ink slipcase version for Black Friday. As you might expect, the transfer looks spectacular with almost unbearably intense colors and much more detail and richer blacks than even the repertory prints display. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds clean and crisp with the nutso music score faring best, and English SDH subtitles are also available.
An optional intro with Tsukerman (1m23s) is also included with the playback options, and more substantial is the audio commentary with Tsukerman and Carlisle that covers the ingenious use of New York locations, the origin of the title, the challenges of Carlisle's dual performances and her most difficult co-star, and the intentional ambiguity of the ending; there's a ton of long dead space after the 37-minute mark, so prepare to you your fast-forward button generously. An isolated soundtrack is also included, which is especially handy if you don't have the original soundtrack LP. Separate video interviews follow with Tsuerkman (15m46s) and Carlisle (9m46s) covering their backgrounds in Russia and Connecticut, their various artistic endeavors, and their own roles in the writing process (a duty they shared on this film), which required a limit on the amount of improvisation due to the limited space and camera focal length. An extensive making-of documentary, "Liquid Sky Revisited" (52m56s), brings both of them back (along with writer-producer Nina V. Kerova, production and costume designer Marina Levikova-Neyman, director of photography Yuri Neyman, makeup and hair designer Marcel Fiévé and actors Susan Dougkas/Brady, David Ilku, Neke Carson, and Jeff Most) for a more extensively illustrated look at how their paths crossed with the making of this film, with some fashion props pulled out storage and lots of vintage photos and amateur film clips shown off along the way. (Oddly, there's way more nudity in here than in the main feature!) Even more Tsukerman and Carlisle can be found with musician Clive Smith in a a Q&A from a 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers screening (37m19s), which has somewhat bumpy sound quality but is worth checking out for the soundtrack insights. A batch of outtakes (13m5s) provides more eye-searing colorful mayhem, while the alternate extended opening (9m59s) and rehearsal footage (11m56s) from the DVD are ported over here. Finally the disc (which also comes with a liner notes booklet by Samm Deighan) rounds out with a batch of trailers (a 31s TV spot, a 1m43s "critics are raving" promo, and 1m45s and 3m standard trailers) and a batch of lively production photographs (2m9s). Your mind will never be quite the same afterwards.