• Liquid Sky

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 24th, 2017.
    Director: Slava Tsukerman
    Cast: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Elaine C. Grove
    Year: 1984
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    The Movie:

    Slava Tsukerman’s new wave science fiction opus Liquid Sky, made in 1984 against a New York City backdrop, begins with some invisible aliens in a miniscule flying saucer have landed on Earth looking for heroin. They take up residence on the roof of crummy apartment. Below them, lives a fashion model named Margaret (Anne Carlisle), a beautiful androgynous bisexual woman, and her roommate/lover Adrain (Paula E. Sheppard), a heroin dealer. Margaret is constantly feuding with her rival, a male model named Jimmy (Carlisle again), that uses her to feed his hunger for drugs.

    When the aliens figure out that the pheromones created by a human orgasm are even more powerful than heroin, they start feeding on Margaret’s many sex partners. While all of this is going on, a German scientist named Johann (Otto von Wernherr) hopes to capture the aliens for further study as he watches from the apartment of a woman named Sylvia (Susan Doukas) who lives across the street and eats a lot of shrimp.

    “I kill with my cunt.”

    Liquid Sky – the very title a slang term for heroin - might not be the most sensible, plot intensive film ever made but as an audio-video experience, it’s something else. Slava Tsukerman, who co-wrote the film with Carlisle and his wife/co-producer Nina V. Kerova, was born in Russia and brings a uniquely foreign slant to the way that he looks at the film’s New York City location. The picture juxtaposes glamor and grime in fascinating ways, with shots occasionally bathed in neon and bold use of bright, splashy color dominant throughout the picture. It might occasionally dive head first into self-indulgent pretension (Margaret’s bitter speech about the fashion industry turning her into the androgynous creature she’s become is a good example of this) and the characters are rarely likeable but much of the social criticism laid out in the picture is pretty spot on. The way that characters in the film become increasingly narcissistic, even nihilistic, will ring true for anyone who has spent time around art of fashion scenes.

    Carlisle is pretty fantastic here in an interesting dual role. Margert, who Adrian at one point describes as “an uptight WASP cunt from Connecticut,” is clearly broken. She’s been used and abused by men, which turned her towards women, who in turn used and abused her just as the men in her life seem to have. The fashion industry has done her no real favors, placing style over substance in much the same way that the film itself does, and at one point another character tells her “your costumes are just participation in some kind of phony theater” because it’s obvious to him, and to the audience, that she’s still trying to make it, to be fashionable so that she doesn’t have to wait tables. In many ways, and in her own words, she’s still waiting for her prince to come. 1984 Playboy playmate Carlisle (who played the transvestite character in Crocodile Dundee!) handles this with all the sexually ambiguous vitriol you could hope for. She’s equally good as Jimmy, a real snake in the grass who, just like everyone else in the film, is basically out for himself. Paula E. Sheppard, who played the lead in Alice Sweet Alice, is also very good here, her performance of “Me And My Rhythm Box” done inside New York’s long gone Danceteria night club is a sight to see. Otto von Wernherr is quite amusing as the German scientist, bringing an appropriately droll sense of humor to his work.

    Visually speaking, the film is impressive. Not only is the picture awash in all the gaudy new wave/electroclash style fashion you could imagine but Tsukerman makes sure that the film is lit very effectively. He occasionally uses some quirky effects work to show things from the aliens’ point of view (kind of like when we see things from the alien’s point of view in Predator!), making you wonder if the aliens aren’t acting as a surrogate for Tsukerman’s own view into all of this. The over the top synth score is the icing on the cake.


    Vinegar Syndrome presents Liquid Sky on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in the world on a 50GB disc with a transfer taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. Framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen, the picture quality is outstanding. First and foremost, the color reproduction here really pops – this is evident in all the garish pastel make up and neon colors used throughout the movie. At the same time, black levels are nice and strong but never crush out anything. Fine detail and texture are both excellent, while skin tones look nice and natural. There are no problems to note with any compression artifacts nor is there any noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about. The image is remarkably clean, showing now print damage outside of a small white speck now and then, while its natural film grain remains wholly intact.

    The only audio option for this release is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track with subtitles available in English only. The audio quality on this release is rock solid. Clarity is strong, dialogue is clean and clear and the film’s score sounds great, even piercing at times. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are nicely balanced throughout.

    Extras for this disc start off with a brand new audio commentary track featuring director Slava Tsukerman. This is a fairly scene specific talk with Slava talking about the loft where the movie begins and the stories behind how and why the various locations used in the film were secured. As the movie plays out he talks about the performances featured in the film, what the different cast and crew members brought to the picture, the fashions on display in the film, the use of color in the picture, the film’s score, the cinematography and lighting and lots more. The track goes quiet for a long stretch around the forty-five minute mark, with the sounds of what we assume are Tsukerman breathing in the background, but then it comes back to life around the hour and thirteen minute mark where Carlisle chimes in intermittently for the rest of the movie with sporadic input from Tsukerman. There really should have been a moderator on this track, as when they’re talking, it’s interesting but this commentary unfortunately runs out of steam in the last half of the movie.

    Up next we get a new video interview with Slava Tsukerman that runs sixteen minutes. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary but it also offers some background information on his engineering background, his growing up in Russia and how he got into the filmmaking scene with his wife Nina Karova. He talks of the cultural differences between pictures made in Russia and other countries, how he got involved in the scene out of which Liquid Sky was born, his friendship with Anne Carlisle and collaborating on the script with her. Also no hand is a new video interview with Anne Carlisle herself that runs just short of ten minutes in length. She begins by talking about growing up in Connecticut before moving to New York to go to art school and her work as a painter. When this didn’t work out the way she wanted it to, she wound up getting pulled into acting, some of the early projects she was involved with like a Super 8mm movie called Fish, her interactions with Bob Brady, how she met Tsukerman and what it was like working on Liquid Sky with him.

    Up next is Liquid Sky Revisited, a fifty minute making-of documentary made in 2017 that interviews Tsukerman, Carlisle, Nina Karova, production assistant Jeff Most, Neke Carson, director of photography Yuri Neyman and a few others. As this piece plays out we get a look at the props that were used in the film and that still exist now and some of the wardrobe and costume pieces. We learn how Karova collaborated with an acting teacher who was part of the Warhol scene, Bob Brady, who helped cast the picture, what it was like on set collaborating with ‘classmates and friends,’ writing the script, the locations that were used in the shoot, the style employed in the film and lots more. In addition to the newly shot interviews included here there’s also some rehearsal, audition and behind the scenes footage included.

    Diving deeper into the extras we find a thirty-seven minute long Q&A shot at a September 18th, 2017 Alamo Dafthouse Yonkers screening with the participation of Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle and Clive Smith. They begin by talking about how this Russian production came to be shot in New York and then discuss how Tsukerman wound up making films in America, the difficulties involved in making this picture for half a million dollars, the science fiction elements that work their way into the script and the score, casting the film and how Carlisle wound up playing a dual role in the film.

    Vinegar Syndrome also delivers thirteen minutes of never before seen outtakes. There’s no audio accompanying this material so portions of the film’s score play overtop. Most of this is just fairly random bits and pieces but it’s cool to see a bit more with the flying saucer here as well as different scenes of character interaction. Also worth checking out is the behind the scenes rehearsal footage. There’s twelve minutes of material here, taken from Betamax video tapes that were used to document different rehearsals that took place during the shooting of the film. The quality isn’t so hot but it’s interesting to see this material at all.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are a few different theatrical trailers, a ninety second optional introduction from Tsukerman, an isolated soundtrack option, a still gallery, an alternate opening sequence, menus and chapter selection.

    Note that a test disc was sent for review purposes but finished product is slated to come with a booklet containing an essay by Samm Deighan and new artwork designed by Derek Gabryszak.

    The Final Word:

    Liquid Sky remains a wild blend of arthouse filmmaking and exploitation tropes, blending garish eighties visuals with a genuinely strange plot and showcasing some great performances. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray debut for the feature is outstanding, presenting the film in immaculate shape and loaded floor to ceiling with interesting extra features. Highly recommended!

    Note that this limited edition release is limited to 3,000 copies.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!