Paula E. Sheppard
Otto von Wernherr
Elaine C. Grove
1 Hr., 52 Mins.
Outrageous! / Liquid Sky December 4, 2018
The year is 1982. Nightclub-frequenting’s the paragon of pastimes; hedonism’s addictive. In Liquid Sky, the movie in which Margaret is the heroine, ‘80s-era, sybaritic nightlife is captured with color and wit. The celebration, though, is equal parts loving and mocking — thrilled by the highs but conscious of how the highs can become lows before you can even finish sniffing a line.
The movie was directed by Slava Tsukerman, a Russian film director, and was co-written by Carlisle, who triples down by playing Jimmy, an androgynous cocaine addict who's also Margaret’s rival. The film, made for just $500,000, is an opus of outré originality and do-it-yourself moviemaking: something of a meeting in the middle of campy affectedness and Studio 54-style bloat.
Particularly heady, too, are its soundtrack, an aural bazaar of shiny, sinister electronica, and its comedy, which is masterfully boundary-pushing and lurid. (Paula E. Sheppard, who plays Margaret’s drug-dealer girlfriend in the movie, has knife-edged comic timing.) “I kill with my cunt,” Margaret declares at one point.
Sometimes Liquid Sky seems like an empty exercise in style, given its ogling of the Almodóvar-reminiscent neons and era-specific high fashions. But the feature wants to be more than a visual bacchanal, and it, more or less, is more than the sum of its visually charged parts. The aliens, who end up killing or, er, feasting, on anyone whom Margaret sleeps with (they climax, she doesn’t, and the fiends feed on the one-sided endorphin overloads), seem symbolic of the live-fast-die-young culture of the club scene at the time. Now, though they seem eerily representative of the escalating AIDS crisis. The duality of the Margaret and Jimmy characters encapsulates the push-pull that often comes with a queer identity — and how its disparate facets can be at odds with one another in certain social situations.
It is a gallant, arguably stylistically unprecedented little movie, compromised only by its gratuitously protracted running time and its rather prolix storytelling style. Although Liquid Sky proved itself the most financially lucrative independent feature of 1983, it has metamorphosed into something more of a cult oddity that even the hungriest of cinephiles only stumble upon by accident. Fortuitously, it was restored, by Vinegar Syndrome, earlier this year. Here’s to hoping, then, that the renewed interest will be lasting rather than fleeting.
1 Hr., 36 Mins.
ne evening, miniature, amorphous aliens come to New York City. Their spaceship, cobalt-blue and quiet, lands on top of a brassy apartment owned by a pansexual fashion model named Margaret (Anne Carlisle). Good thing the creatures stumble on Margaret’s humble abode of all places: they feast on endorphins — especially the kind your brain produces when you’re orgasming or getting high on heroin — and Margaret happens to have a lot of sex and do a lot of drugs.
n 1977’s Outrageous!, another motile black comedy that’s long been a cult favorite, the camp is there and so are the delirious one-liners. But in contrast to Liquid Sky, which seems to take place on an alternate solar plane, the Canadian Outrageous! is very much an unsophisticated slice of life — a by-turns very funny and poignant story about two unhappy people trying to rend that prefix.
The film, which was written and directed by Richard Benner, stars Craig
Russell, then a fairly popular drag performer, as Robin, a morose hairdresser who aspires to become a successful female impersonator. Shortly into the film, his schizophrenic best friend, a mousy-haired sylph named Liza (Hollis McLaren), is released from the mental hospital at which she’s been staying for the last few years, and moves in with him. The movie involves their trying to see their long-gestating life goals come to fruition. In Outrageous!, Robin will become a drag performer — and will succeed — and Liza will attempt to become a mother, even though she knows the effort is probably misguided.
Like a musical, the naturalist dramas of Outrageous!, which are rendered with a quasi-Cassavetes touch, are broken up by ebullient song-and-dance sequences. But unlike most musicals, those intermittent spectacles are extensions of reality. Specifically, they revolve around unbroken sequences in which Russell, whose Robin seems happiest when on stage, does sublime female impersonations in front of gleeful audiences. Imitations of Bette Midler, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, and others are highlighted — and Russell, ever-charismatic, is thrilling to watch.
What makes Outrageous! particularly affecting is how effectively is juxtaposes Robin’s night-and-day-different personal and performing lives. Behind the scenes, he’s searching and rather dispirited. But when he’s on stage, throwing out expertly facsimilized songs and dances, he’s doughty. The film’s primary — and really only — failure is its depiction of Liza: Benner, fortunately, doesn’t try to make broad statements about mental illness, but his ventures to fashion the character into something of a tragic heroine don’t quite work tonally, either. Concerning, too, is how he deals with the aftermath of an upsetting setback: superficially. But Outrageous! is a great, humanist comedy all the same — something like a stirring, dirt-on-the-ground comedy-drama John Waters never had the time to make.
Liquid Sky: B