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Posts Tagged ‘1980s avant garde’

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The first time I heard about the film Liquid Sky, it was through the American television show Siskel and Ebert. If you don’t know, Siskel and Ebert were two film critics who reviewed movies. Originally titled Sneak Previews, it was broadcast on PBS stations until it switched to commercial syndication, and the title change. Siskel and Ebert  created a new genre of television through their discussions and occasional polite arguments. It’s no big deal now, thanks to podcasts, blogs, social media, etc. It’s the internet, after all. A place where everyone and their mothers has an opinion about everything.

Anyway, back in the early ’80s, when everyone was watching The A-Team, I was more interested in watching Sneak Previews. Sneak Previews helped introduce me to art house, cult, and foreign films. So one day they reviewed this little ditty titled Liquid Sky. A few years later after entering high school, I saw the movie on VHS. Within the group of misfit friends I hung out with, Liquid Sky became our coming of age film.

When a local video store decided to go out of business during the early ’90s, it was celluloid paydirt for me. Every week I would go in, purchasing cult classics such as Andy Warhol’s Bad, Eraserhead, and yes, Liquid Sky. In fact, there was one time during my brief “Rave” phase. My parents weren’t home. After one of those Rave parties, a few of us, still tripping on some psychedelic, went back to my place to watch Liquid Sky.

In recent years, Liquid Sky has been making the promotional rounds again. Every time Liquid Sky had a theatrical showing, I had schedule conflicts. A few months ago, I opened an email saying Liquid Sky was going to have a screening right in Queens, New York. I thought to myself “Hey – that’s where I live!” Within the email it mentioned a showing at a public library in the Jamaica, Queens area. Huh. That was slightly off putting. Didn’t think the Jamaica area wasn’t the best place to show Liquid Sky. Still, I went with it.

Arriving late to the showing, my instincts were right. Most of the audience were broke locals who were happy to see a free movie. Unfortunately, the film’s plot of aliens feeding off sexual orgasms from downtown New Wave junkie club goers went right over their heads. There was a few others, similar to me. Fans of Liquid Sky who had seen the film numerous times, who decided to commute to the screening. We were either in the same age bracket or older. A group of us started reminiscing about how the East Village and Williamsburg used to be before all the super hyper-gentrification. Who would’ve thought we would’ve been so nostalgic for all those dive places years later.

During the screening, the film kept on freezing. On top of that, the film they showed was fricken’ edited! C’mon now. While this was going on, some audience members started heckling. For a brief moment I felt as if I was transported to a Times Square movie theater before the Giuliani clean up. Stranger still, there was a part of me that had missed public heckling. Like the time I saw Judge Dredd in 1995 in some East Village movie theater. Judge Dredd was so bad, the entire audience started loudly mocking the film. I digress.

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Anne Carlisle and Slava Tsukerman during a Q&A over at the Queens Library in Jamaica, Queens, NY. Summer 2018.

After the screening, the film’s star, actress and writer Anne Carlisle along with director Slava Tsukerman showed up to do Q&A. They graciously answered questions from the audience. Even when some burn-out kept on rambling. As much as I tried to retain my cool, I eventually geeked out. After all, this was a film that was a part of my formative years. It was through the Q&A that the audience learned what had become of Paula E. Sheppard. Better known as the brutal lesbian drug dealer Adrian in Liquid Sky. Sheppard dropped out of acting soon after Liquid Sky was completed. She’s now a yoga teacher on the west coast, wanting nothing to do with the film.

Another local, an older sweet woman made the observation that the characters in Liquid Sky weren’t exactly “nice” people. That comment took me back slightly. She was right though. Many people in the underground subcultures weren’t exactly “nice.” Yet I grew up within some of those counter-cultures. Sort of made me reflect.

I’m also reminded of a time back in high school. My friend was struggling with her sexuality. She eventually came out as a lesbian. Last time I spoke to her, she volunteered describing herself as pansexual. She had really identified with the film during her teen years. So Liquid Sky also reminds me of when someone is first exploring gender, androgyny and sexuality. Particularly when Anne Carlisle plays both male and female characters. Even if her portrayal of a guy comes across like an early ’80s version of David Bowie.

Liquid Sky has plenty of illicit drug references as well. During the Q&A, both Carlisle and Tsukerman reminded the audience that Liquid Sky was originally slang for heroin. Here’s a bit of a spoiler, so if you’ve never seen the film, you might want to skip this part. The premises of the film is based on aliens who come down to earth. The aliens feed off endorphins given off the brain during sexual climax. Once a human reaches orgasm, the aliens attack. The only sign of their attack is a crystal bolt left in the victim’s head. Margaret, the bisexual promiscuous cocaine addict realizes that she can kill people by having sex with other people. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a German scientist attempts to track down these aliens. While the German scientist tries to track down Margaret, Margaret uses sex as a way to seek revenge upon others, such as her rapist. Why Margaret has survived is because Margaret never reaches orgasm. The film ends with the scientist being killed, and Margaret doing heroin so she can go up with the aliens. Heroin has similar endorphins as a sexual orgasm.

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Anne Carlisle and Slava Tsukerman during a Q&A over at the Queens Library in Jamaica, Queens, NY. Summer 2018.

Both Carlisle and Tsukerman dropped hints that they’re attempting to create a sequel to Liquid Sky. Liquid Sky just had a blu-ray release. So if you’ve never seen the film, you can purchase a copy here.

Capping off this blog post is a sketch I did loosely based on Liquid Sky. When the aliens come take Margaret from the roof top. While doing some online research, I discovered that Anne Carlisle also practiced psychotherapy in Miami during the 2007, thanks to her IMDb bio. Given that she co-wrote the Liquid Sky screenplay, this doesn’t surprise me.

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Mercury in retrograde’s about to hit this month, starting from July 14th and ends Aug. 8th,2012. For those who believe in astrology, it works a bit like this;  it’s both a time of reflection, and ‘Murphy’s Law’ in full effect. In other words, communication lines get crossed, so what can go wrong will.

Sometimes, right before merc in retrograde hits, you just might get a preview. Plans interrupted arguments and fights relating to misunderstandings, sometimes outright catastrophe. Yet it’s not all negative. As I’ve said before, during this time it could be used to reflect. Don’t be surprised that out of the blue, you’ll come into contact with someone from the past who you haven’t spoken to in years. Also, some of those unsolved conflicts that have knocked on your door have a chance to be resolved.

Enough of this mini-lesson. What this crash course about mercury in retrograde leads to is a chance to you show some of my relics. Not only does it bring back my personal teenage memories, they’re also pop culture artifacts. These buttons exhibits a part of NYC that is now long gone.

Back when I was growing up during the 80s, many teenagers flocked to the NYC area of Greenwich Village. West side, east side, 8th Street, Broadway, it really didn’t matter. It’s still the case now, but the popular shopping sites are significantly different. Back in the 80s, the trendier retail places gave away free buttons with every purchase.  Hell, sometimes you didn’t even need to buy anything. Just go to the counter, stick your hand in the small hard plastic transparent box, and grab a handful of these badges. Afterwards, you would display your coolness by pinning these items onto your over-sized vintage overcoat, or on your army schoolbag. You would arrange these pins right along with your pop and post new wave band buttons. This was exactly what I did back in my freshman year of high school. This didn’t last long, as I progressed the next year into a full-fledged Siouxsie clone. My badges went from store promotion to the bands like The Cure, Specimen, etc.

Before I bore you with details, here’s a photo.

1980 promotional buttons from NYC retail stores, Greenwich Village area. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

The stores listed before are no longer around. I’ll give you a brief breakdown about some of these places.

Flip was a clothing store located on west. 8th street. They specialized in selling new wave, punk, goth and glam rock threads. In fact, one of my first ever punk tees was purchased right here at this location.

Postermat was more of a novelty place. They sold all types of buttons, posters, tees, gag items. A bit like that Spencer’s chain store you see in the local mall nowadays. The buttons and pins were sold in the front of the store. They were stored behind glass counters as if they were precious goods. Two tiny black round controls when pressed, slowly spunk around the shelves inside. An army and navy store has taken its place.

Canal Jeans Co. survived for years, but eventually they shut their doors as well. This business was so successful at one point, they had two locations. The location on Canal Street is now one of the cheapest art supply stores known as Pearl Paint. The bigger store, located in the Soho area of Broadway sold both new, vintage, upscale and bargain merchandise. They shut down, very briefly re-opened for a hot minute on Broadway and Astor, and then closed for good in the early 2000s.

Canal Jeans Co. buttons had their iconic checkerboard background, in a variety of colors. Check the photo below:

Promotional buttons from Canal Jeans Co. Photo by Michele WItchipoo.

Zoot was a vintage clothing store. Zoot wasn’t around that long, but it’s competition, Andy’s Chee-Pees, hung around for a while. Zoot was located on Broadway, Andy’s on West 8th street.

Unique hawked its wares all throughout the ‘80s, going out of business in the early ‘90s. Also known as Unique Boutique, the large space had a variety of different departments. You had graffiti artists spray painting on clothing, vintage duds, and when it was extremely fashionable, a huge selection of bright neon attire.

As for some other shops that’s been around for a while. Enz have opened and closed, and opened again. They’ve moved around to different locations so Enz doesn’t count. Ditto for Andy’s Chee-Pees. Even Patricia Fields moved from its prototype home on 8th street to the now trendy Bowery area. Probably the only store left from that era is Trash and Vaudeville. Still at the same location since the 1970s, and still going strong today.

Keep in mind, I didn’t even touch upon all the numerous record stores open around this time. I’ll touch upon that in another post.

Other types of businesses got into the badge marketing act. Check out this photo here. There’s MTV when they were known as a video music channel.  WLIR was a Long Island based radio station that specialized (at the time) in New Wave, a tiny bit of Post-Punk, and imported UK Pop music. Then there’s the original Hard Rock Cafe. The first location in NYC was on West 57th, before they moved to the current location at Times Square. All three are still around today.

MTV, WLIR FM, and Hard Rock Cafe. 1980s promotional buttons. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

It’s a different time now. There’s the revitalized Brooklyn to contend with now. Trends have changed. Yet the ‘80s memories still stand.

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Lately I’ve been listening to Marc Almond. Been a fan of his since I was a kid, thanks to Soft Cell’s biggest hit “Tainted Love.” But Soft Cell was way more than a band who did Northern Soul covers. In fact, after the  “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret”/”Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing” period, Soft Cell produced two more darker, brilliant releases: “The Art of Falling Apart” and “Last Night In Sodom.” Alas, all good things must come to an end. In 1984 Soft Cell disbanded until 2001. In 2002, a reunion album came in the form of “Cruelty Without Beauty.”

What stands out with Marc Almond is his ability to have one foot in the mainstream, and the other foot in the more avant garde/underground music circles. Marc makes it look effortless as he switches from one genre to another, depending on the project he’s working on. Perhaps another reason why I’m still a fan of Marc is that musically he’s constantly evolving. Instead of resting on nostalgic laurels, as with the case of some ’80s bands, Almond embraced different styles such as French chanson and Russian folk music. With this Marc Almond has proved to be a versatile artist again and again. In my eyes he’s an extremely underrated musician, especially here in the United States.

Right before Soft Cell broke up, Marc had two side projects. One was the very short-lived The Immaculate Consumptive. The members consisted of Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave and J.G. Thirlwell, better known as Foetus. The Immaculate Consumptive only lasted about three live shows. To my knowledge, no studio recording exist. Afterwards, Marc Almond formed his own off-shoot called Marc and The Mambas. Marc and The Mambas put out two studio albums. In 1982 was “Untitled” and in 1983 “Torment and Toreros.” This to me, is my favorite Marc Almond period. The other personal favorites besides the Mamba records is from his later solo years. There’s 1988’s “Stars We Are” and 1985’s “Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters.”

I remember buying “Untitled” used on vinyl years ago. It was brought on a lark, particularly since I had just gotten my first steady job. Later on, when I first got into Psychic TV, I was happy to find Marc Almond listed in the credits from the “Dreams Less Sweet” album. Also brought on vinyl was Marc’s second collaboration with Foetus called Flesh Volcano. Come to think of it, much of my teenage vinyl, ranging from PTV to Coil had Marc Almond doing guest vocals.

And so finally I get to the subject of the album cover art itself. After all, Marc’s portrait on “Untitled” helped persuade me to purchase this record many moons ago. That distinction goes to an amazing artist named Val Denham. If you don’t know who Val Denham is, well, you should. She’s a fantastic transgender artist and musician. She’s not only done work for Almond, but for Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and compilations put out by the Some Bizarre music label. Here’s the link to her work, and bio: http://www.valdenham.com/

Lastly, influenced by Marc and The Mambas and Val Denham, here’s my quickie artwork of Marc Almond. Here I used basic pen and ink, created tonight. Well, it is just a quick sketch. Enjoy.

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