Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something Dan Watched: Liquid Sky

"Your Vice is a Horror Movie Marathon and Only I Have the Netflix Queue" has finished its third consecutive year and, as per usual, fatigue has set in. I blogged 60 horror movies last month, regardless of whether or not I actually had anything to say about them. You start to get a little tired of writing after a while.

Last year, I let the blog fall into inactivity for several months afterward, and I would not like to see that repeated. What, then, to do? A Piece of the Action, while still an interesting idea for an ongoing column, turned out to be too time-consuming to keep doing. (And, frankly, I'm not happy with how either previous post turned out). If it ever returns, it will be in a much truncated fashion. I had ideas for two other articles, one a series and the other a one-time deal, but both involve horror movies and I'm a little burned out on that topic.

So the idea is this: I'm just going to make an effort to write little capsule reviews about movies I've recently seen, when I feel I might have a few thoughts about them. I call it Something Dan Watched, and I plan to do one weekly-ish, depending on if and when I watch something remarkable.

"Remarkable" as in something worth remarking on, not necessarily something I thought was good. And, boy, did I watch a remarkable film this week. Loyal readers (hahahahaha I crack myself up) will have noticed by now that I have a certain affection for movies that blur the line between "bad" and "good"; problematic, deeply flawed movies that are also weirdly interesting in unexpected ways. For me, this often turns out to be horror movies like I Know Who Killed Me, which are grossly deficient in terms in terms of script/plot/acting/coherency/etc, but have an off-kilter aesthetic worth or uniqueness about them. What's "bad" about the films is intertwined with what makes them "good" or interesting, and not just in a "so bad it's good" way.

1983's Liquid Sky is a bad movie in the sense that it is awkward, often poorly written and acted, narratively inept, and chintzy in its style... but it's also an interesting and provocative as a work of art. It's primary focus is on Margaret, a young woman and aspiring actress/model who likes to go to the New Wave clubs dressed in outrageous, androgynous outfits obviously influenced by David Bowie. She hangs out in a sleazy, drug addled world of low-rent performance artists and fashionistas, and much of her time (and the time of her colleagues) is spent trying to get high/trying to find the next score. She's dating another woman but considers herself bisexual (or maybe pansexual), and the movie is loosely structured as a series of her sexual encounters.

I should mention at this point that a tiny flying saucer has landed above her apartment, controlled by unseen, heroin-addicted aliens that discover they also enjoy the chemicals released in the human brain during orgasm. Oh, and people just sort of keep showing up and raping Margaret, and at the moment of orgasm the aliens shoot crystal blades into the rapists' brains, killing them and extracting the orgasm chemicals. Visually, this is all conveyed in what I assume are alien POV shots that at first appear as a proto version of Predator heat vision, then turn into colorful abstractions akin to the finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Realizing that plot is maybe not well conveyed via the medium of acid trip, the filmmakers make room for a subplot about a German scientist who watches all this from across the street through a telescope and helpfully explains the story to a woman who is trying to seduce him.

So it's got a certain charming batshit quotient to it that we all love in our cult movies, but let me adjust your expectations before you run out to find a copy. I'm fairly certain most people would, reasonably, not have any appreciation for Liquid Sky. It's an awkwardly made low budget film, complete with tin-eared dialog, flat line readings, lots of bungled shots where actors are clumsily placed in the frame, and shots that go on forever not because the filmmakers were attempting something complex but because they didn't have time for multiple setups.

That said, I have to confess feeling admiration, or feeling something, for the film's ambitions, and for certain elements of its style. It may be all those negative things I said, but it's also bold, trippy, funny, bizarre, unique. At its best, it feels like somebody stitched together pieces of a talky, pretentious art movie with a near unwatchable, microbudget sci-fi/horror movie (I know that doesn't sound like a compliment). This schizophrenia extends itself thematically as well; the film seems to have a lot to say and wants to say all of it, even if those things don't have much to do with each other. It's a film that is in turns about sexuality, drug addiction, a celebration of drug consciousness, a critique of the New Wave/art scene it depicts, a forum for performance art, a commentary on the objectification of women in art and the media, and much more.

If there's a central theme to it all, it's about the way that poor Margaret, because of the way she looks and dresses, is treated by everyone she meets as their own personal sex toy. No one respects her or what she says; whether by force or by coercion, everyone feels entitled to fuck her. Two of the film's most memorable sequences deal with this: one in which a crowd of gawkers and hanger-ons at a fashion try to egg her into having sex on camera, their voices being digitally lowered in a nightmarish way; another where Margaret gives a monologue while applying glow-in-the-dark paints to her face.

Still, the most noteworthy element of the whole film may be Anne Carlisle's performance, who co-wrote the film in addition to starring in it. She's not only Margaret, but in a bizarre dual performance also plays Jimmy, an antagonistic drug addict who is, yes, a man. Carlisle's performances aren't technically polished, but they are at times transfixing (which is why she fits so well in this film). Physically, she resembles a mix of Bowie and Tilda Swinton, with all the androgyny that implies. She's somehow both sexually alluring (in an unconventional way) as Margaret, and oddly convincing and poised when playing a man. This sexual tension climaxes, as it only could in a movie this singular, with Margaret blowing Jimmy. I could be wrong, but I suspect an actress performing oral sex on a male version of herself is a cinematic first, and in this case a perfect summation of Liquid Sky's themes of sexuality and gender .

1 comment:

Shenan said...

You should do a series on movies, as you described, that are I-Know-Who-Killed-Me-esque and call it "Selections from the Avant-Retard"