Thursday, April 22, 2010

Me And My Rhythm Box

Liquid Sky(1982) Directed By Slava Tsukerman

“Jimmy: And this chicken is the Miss America of the 80s?
Adrian: No, Jimmy. You are.

[singing] Adrian: Here he is, Miss America...

Designer: No. I think Margaret is Miss America.
Photographer: I think it's Jimmy.

Jack: You just say that because you're gay
Designer's Assistant: Oh, he's not gay all the time!

Photographer: I seriously think Jimmy is the new Miss America. He has all the mannerisms of a sex symbol. Jack: That's what we should call this! Make it a series. "The two Miss Americas."
Photographer: Great idea! And we could end it with the two of them fucking!

Margaret: He can't fuck.

Jimmy: I can too fuck. I just can't fuck you.

The time is the 80’s. Everyone is either A. on cocaine, B. a rapist, or C. a model. Those who are class B and C. are also class A. Everyone is dressed like extras from “Flash Gordon” with more fish-net, and all the music comes out of a Casio. Two androgynous bi-sexual models named Jimmy and Margaret compete in the New York fashion underground for who is cattiest bitch and the most stylish ass. Both characters are played surprisingly well by the same actress, to heighten both the androgyny of “the scene” at the time, and the repetition. Margaret is the main character, described by her male incarnation Jimmy as uptight WASP cunt from Connecticut.”, bookending the film, but being largely absent from its mushy middle. Amidst the usual backstabbing, shit talking, runway stomping, and sexual assaults (virtually the only kind of intercourse the film displays) visitors from beyond the stars have also taken an interest in the sordid little events.

These aliens live in a tiny, largely invisible UFO, positioned on top of our heroines apartment where they can observe the events inside through a heavily pixilated color blur that resembles Chris Marker’s invented film style “The Zone” from “Sans Soliel” or the heat vision the Rasta-lizard of “Predator” views the world through. This psychedelic point of view is repeated throughout the film, as the aliens are the most constant though silent narrators. Their interest in the Manhattan fashionista junky set comes from the same reason that so many are/were attracted to such places; the sex and the drugs. Human orgasm produces more chemical reactions in the brain than at any other time in life. The brain becomes the body’s dealer, and the body explodes, shivers, and shrivels back to down to size, patiently awaiting or screaming for it’s next fix. For tiny aliens the only drug in the universe better than our cum-chemical’s, are these fluids when they come from the opiate riddled brain of a junky. The later Dolph Lundgren action vehicle “I Come In Peace” would use a similar plot of alien’s hustling our brain stuff’s for interstellar kicks. “The ancient Egyptians weren’t afraid of euphoria”, says a drug addled screen-writer in one of the films many inter-connected sub-plots.

Thus aliens begin turning up at the fringes of “punk sub-culture” where the junk-cum getting is good and no one cares if people go missing. “New Wave” models are the next evolutionary step forward (for one they have more money drugs). So the junkies wait around to score, and the aliens wait for the junkies to score with each other. Unfortunately there is no way for the aliens to extract these chemicals without killing those they take from, which to Margaret who is often being raped by whoever is spilling their seed, it’s as if God himself has suddenly taken an interest in her life. Not enough of an interest to stop her from being raped, but enough to make the bodies of the bad men (and women) disappear after they have done their business. It doesn’t take long before she realizes that sex with her leads to death. Margaret: "I kill with my cunt.. This new sexual power gives her both confidence (to get revenge on those who abused her), and a renewed sense of alienation (what little sexual release and connection she did have is now impossible).

“Campy” is something of an understatement for describing “Liquid Sky”, a film drenched head to day-glo toe in nihilist attitude, decadent fashion, disturbing sex, and surreal black humor. But also this campiness and seeming lack of “content” and seriousness make enough room for the moments of sincere cultural insight and emotional pathos to stand out in ways that would seem truly alien in a John Waters or Dusan Makavejev flick (two filmmakers “Liquid Sky” is indebted to). Discussing fashion in one of the few polite conversations in the movie, with her willing lover and professor.

Owen: “All your costumes are just participation in some kind of phony theater. I'm only telling you this for your own good. It's a freak show.
Margaret: “Oh, are you trying to say that your blue jeans weren't theater?
Owen: “It's not the same thing.”
Margaret: “So your professor wore a three-piece suit and blamed you for your jeans. And your jeans were "too much." And he didn't understand that his suit was also a costume. You thought your jeans stood for love, freedom and sexual equality; we at least know that we're in costume.”

The ending of the film once Jimmy and Margaret’s feud has come to a literal and figurative “head” (couldn’t resist the pun…I’m a bad person) is also surprisingly and even unnecessarily sad and vulnerable than would be required of something this “tasteless”. Imagine if at the end of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” Brad and Janet had a serious talk about their changing sexuality, or their stifling childhoods or something. And now imagine that scene being successful. There is an excellent transcription of this scene from the quotes on IMDB, and though I usually like to preserve such scenes for my readers, the hard-to-find status of “Liquid Sky” (and the fact that even as someone interested in this kind of thing I put off watching this movie for almost 5 years), I’ll go ahead and include it.

Margaret’s lament:

Margaret: “You wanted to know where I'm from? I'm from Connecticut, Mayflower stock. I was taught that my prince would come, and he would be a lawyer, and I would have his children. And on the weekends we would barbecue. And all the other princes and their princesses would come, and they would say, "Delicious, delicious." Oh, how boring."
[She turns off the light and begins applying fluorescent makeup]

"So I was taught that I should come to New York, become an independent woman. And my prince would come, and he would be an agent, and he would get me a role, and I would make my living waiting on tables. I would wait - till thirty, till forty, till fifty. And I was taught that to be an actress, one should be fashionable, and to be fashionable is to be androgynous. And I am androgynous no less than David Bowie himself. And they call me beautiful, and I kill with my cunt. Isn't it fashionable? Come on, who's next? I'll take lessons.""How to get into show business: be nice to your professor. Be nice to your agent. Be nice to your audience, be nice. How to be a woman: want them when I want you. How to be free and equal: fuck women instead of men, and you'll discover a whole kingdom of freedom. Men won't step on you anymore, women will. So come on, who's next? Who wants to teach me? Come on, teach me. Are you afraid? You're right, because they're all dead. All my teachers.”

The film does not represent a time and a place, but creates a feeling one that perhaps can only be understood after Margaret’s speech. What would it be like to come to New York in the 80’s from the suburbs? What would it be like to suddenly be surrounded by a never ending race for sensual pleasure and aesthetic perfection, where the tongues are either in your mouth or barbed, forked, and spitting venom at anything resembling “sentimental”, or “soft”? What would it be like to thrive in this environment? Would it feel like being food for alien creatures, or would it feel it like feeding them. In a world built around the sexual image, would sex feel liberating, or just like another way to be used.

“Liquid Sky” is an absurd pageant (I haven’t even mentioned the spoken word poet lesbian drug dealer who plays the glorious no wave hit that never was Me And My Rhythm Box” or the German scientist across the street), but one not based completely in irony. It’s cynicism is hard one from experience. Margaret’s inevitable “falling in love” with the UFO, feels like a tragic romance, not a schlocky b-movie. The movie contains both styles in the end, and finds a parasitic way of letting one feed the other to make both aspects stronger. Who is top and who is bottom in this scenario is up to debate.

Margaret: “Whether or not I like someone doesn't depend on what kind of genitals they have.”

“Liquid Sky” is more of an “attitude” than a film, and I know how cheesy that sounds, but divorced from this attitude the performances fall flat. Devoid of the music the scenes would fall flat. Devoid of the humor the dialog would fall flat, and devoid of the dialog the film would fall flat. If any one part of this film were to be altered the rest would fall into chaos like a game of Jenga.

As it is they all balance each other out in “cult classic” bliss, which may indeed be more style than substance. Of course Adriane might say something like “substance is for ugly people who lack style”, and who would am I to argue. After all I am a young man from California and in Margaret’s own words; Margaret: “You just wanna get laid. You'll say anything to get laid. Just like everyone else from California. What do you have, a cock for a brain, baby? Don't fuck with me, you asshole. Why don't you go fuck your father if he loves you so much?

Adrian sings "Me And My Rhythm Box":


neillgrant said...

might have to check this one out

Joe Sylvers said...

You'd like it. It's something we would have watched over "special" dinner.