Image: Vinegar Syndrome

Named after the chemical reaction that degrades improperly stored film prints, cult film distributor Vinegar Syndrome specializes in saving some of the wildest films ever committed to celluloid from the very condition for which it’s named. Its newest preservation effort is an especially exciting one: A 4k restoration of the 1982 gender-bending New Wave sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky. The restoration is being accompanied by Liquid Sky’s first-ever authorized Blu-ray release, a momentous occasion for a film that’s long been relegated to the “grey market” of fifth-generation VHS dubs and bootleg DVDs.

We talked to Liquid Sky director Slava Tsukerman about the restoration of the film, which was color corrected by DP Yuri Neyman. Tsukerman says he didn’t participate in the restoration, since “these processes are technical and made by specialists. There is no place for director’s involvement in these processes.” But that he does know that translating Liquid Sky from film to digital was a technical challenge, since its palette was achieved under “unusual conditions. To give just one example: almost half of the film was shot using neon light. I don’t know another film like that.” He’s pleased with the result, though, saying that previous, low-quality copies of the film “[lost] not only the artistic visual message of the film, it also [made] subtle details of the acting invisible.” He adds that even seeing stills from the film on his computer monitor was “like a revelation. I could see details [I had] almost forgotten.”

And indeed, stills of the restoration provided to The A.V. Club by Vinegar Syndrome show a dazzlingly colorful, intensely detailed visual experience to rival Synapse’s recent 4k restoration of Suspiria:

Photo: Vinegar Syndrome
Photo: Vinegar Syndrome

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Photo: Vinegar Syndrome
Photo: Vinegar Syndrome

The androgynous, statuesque Anne Carlisle (seen above) stars in a dual role as Margaret, a lesbian model with a killer pompadour hairdo who discovers that she has the power to make people disappear with her orgasms (yup), and as Jimmy, her creepy male-model nemesis. Paula E. Sheppard co-stars as Margaret’s drug-dealer girlfriend, along with Otto von Wernherr as a UFO researcher trying to find the extraterrestrial connection to a recent string of disappearances in Margaret’s social circle. (Think Dr. Scott from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but in a Manhattan high rise.) A stylish, sometimes harrowing sci-fi satire of the drug-enhanced highs and violent, sexually abusive lows of the downtown New York club scene in the early ‘80s, Liquid Sky was an independent hit upon its initial release, but has unfortunately fallen into obscurity thanks to its unavailability on home video.

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Nevertheless, it’s endured as a sought-after cult phenomenon, which Tsukerman thinks is due to the “multitude of meanings” that can be gleaned from the film. Although he’s hesitant to analyze the reasons for the film’s success, he says:

He adds that the film was designed to trigger a multitude of associations: Not only Cinderella and ‘50s sci-fi, but Steven Spielberg and his “idea of Good coming from the outer space,” which was popular at the time; the Faust legend (“Margaret is the name of Faust’s love object,” he points out); “the deadly connection between drugs and sex, which later occurred as the epidemic of AIDS,” and “Pirate Jenny” from The Threepenny Opera, about a woman who wishes for pirates to “come in a ship and kill all her abusers.” He adds that the film was a protest against sexual abuse and harassment, which has “finally [become] the leading topic of the day” 35 years later.

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Liquid Sky will be officially available for purchase this coming Friday, November 24, as part of Vinegar Syndrome’s annual Black Friday sale. Special features include new interviews with Tsukerman and Carlisle, a 50-minute making-of documentary, a director’s introduction and alternate opening sequence, outtakes, trailers, and rehearsal footage. You can see the cover art for the film below.

Image: Vinegar Syndrome
Image: Vinegar Syndrome

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