Slava Tsurkerman is a Soviet emigre who has lived in New York City since 1976, apparently long enough for him to get the lay of the land. Mr. Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982), which opens today at the Waverly, presents a vision of the city that is genuinely startling. His film, with a heroine who is sometimes a hero and who is apt to show up in a red corset with matching red-and-blond skunk hairdo, can hardly be for everyone. But the right audiences are bound to appreciate the originality displayed here, not to mention the color, rage, nonchalance, sly humor and ferocious fashion sense.
Liquid Sky, which takes its title from a term for heroin, revolves around an actress named Anne Carlisle, who plays two roles. Sometimes she is Larry, a handsome male model with a slicked-back hairdo and faint mustache. Most of the time she is Margaret, who was once a brunette from Connecticut, but is now a mirthless, holloweyed beauty with coloring, or rather a lack of same, resembling Andy Warhol’s.
More often than not, Margaret sports something bizarre in her hair or something brightly colored slashing across her cheekbones; her appearance is constantly changing. So is the world around her, once a Frisbee-size spaceship lands amid the beer bottles and other debris on the roof of her neon-streaked penthouse.
Occasionally, the film adopts the space creature’s point of view. This allows Mr. Tsukerman to introduce high-contrast visuals in red, purple and green, culminating in the explosion of what looks like an electronic meatball. Apparently, this means that the creature is experiencing intense pleasure, which it derives either from heroin or, later, from murdering Margaret’s sex partners. All of this, lurid and weird as it may sound, is related in a virtually matter-of-fact manner.
The plot isn’t the film’s greatest asset, nor are its insights into Margaret, Larry and the brave new world of affectless androgyny that they inhabit. Instead, it’s the overall resourcefulness of Mr. Tsukerman and his talented colleagues that gives Liquid Sky its high style.
Visually bright and arresting, with a varied and insinuating electronic score, the film is full of eye-catching images. These range from the sight of Margaret clambering to the top of her building in an unbuttoned satin wedding gown, as a kind of space-age King Kong, to her sexual confrontation with Larry, in which the lookalikes taunt each other before an audience of cheering fashion photographers and hair stylists. ”Behind your back everybody laughs at you – they call you Chicken Woman,” Larry hisses. ”You’re the most beautiful boy in the world,” Margaret says in a tone of the utmost contempt. Make what you will of the moment, but it’s not one that’s easily forgotten.
There is some humor to Liquid Sky (as when a visiting German astrophysicist, having traveled to New York in search of the U.F.O, wonders, ”How can I study the behavior of this creature if it’s on private property?”). But this isn’t quite a comedy, since its wit is so very dry, and since there is such a lot of viciousness to accompany the droll touches.
Margaret, the ultimate in passivity when it comes to anything other than changing her outfits, is raped, beaten and otherwise abused during the course of the story. But she takes this with relative calm, along with the killing of her various suitors. Things can turn ugly very swiftly in Mr. Tsukerman’s scheme of things. A marital quarrel may involve the husband’s drug habit rather than his failure to do the dishes, and a fight between female roommates escalates almost casually to the point where one is wielding a switchblade.
Mr. Tsukerman’s apparent familiarity with Margaret, Larry and their surroundings would seem to belie his Soviet origins. So the U.F.O. imagery comes in handy. There can hardly be a better metaphor for a foreign-born director’s response to New York and the outermost fringes of its New Wave.
Review courtesy of The New York Times