On holidays, Movie Night can be a surprise, and tonight is no exception. Santa gave us a huge present, and some relief for me too, since I hadn’t been able to find a guest available for the night after Christmas, until John Roecker guerrilla-released his dark romance, They’re All Out Without You, on Vimeo. The 30 minute feature, based on characters from Green Day’s punk rock opera album, American Idiot, delves into sex, death, love and angst, showcases the director’s narrative skills, knowledge of film and his actors’ talents.
Last night, after I plied him with turkey and mashed potatoes at our house’s annual Hexmess dinner, John–who has done Movie Night before with his webseries Svengali and documentary series Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gay Porn Stars–happily agreed to be our guest, which means we’ll save a discussion of the classic American Christmas film Die Hard, for another year.
(Full disclosure: I’ve known John since the mid-1990s when he opened, You’ve Got Bad Taste, with Exene Cervenka, so I definitely called in a friend-favor for tonight. I am seriously glad and grateful he’s good at filmmaking, and that he had a new project drop at just the time we had a slot open and needed a guest! I am also kinda awestruck by his skill and creative output–along with filmmaking, he paints, crafts, shoots photos, and lives his life as an ongoing, genuine art project.)
When Green Day set out to record their album American Idiot, John and his camera accompanied them into the studio, and created the documentary Heart Like a Hand Grenade, which is slated to be released in two years to coincide with the Grammy Award winning album’s ten-year anniversary. Embedded in the original documentary was a subplot involving two characters from the album’s song cycle, Jesus of Suburbia and Whatsername. After working with his editor Dean Gonzales to keep the film a reasonable length, John stashed the love story footage and went onto other film projects, as well as painting and photography. While cleaning up after a flood in his basement, John found an old 1940s lunchbox, opened it up and eureka! John and Dean worked together to to assemble the lost TAOWY footage to reflect the story and image that John and Green Day lead singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong had originally intended several years before when discussing the album and film.
They’re All Out Without You showcases Roecker’s narrative directorial skills, tapping into emotion and building a story fraught with love and longing without succumbing to pathos. Roecker is, in many ways, a modern cinematic Oscar Wilde–that aspect of Wilde which probed human nature, romantic longing and the pain of being manifest in the flesh, expressing itself at times with passion or cynicism and wit, or with frank earthiness, always appreciating humanity’s foibles while loving and celebrating the spirit.
While the band gave John approval to use their songs, Warner Bro. hasn’t, so it remains to be seen what the outcome of John releasing this film will be. He is not profiting from it, but there is still a (good) chance that Warner’s may not look kindly on the unlicensed use of the music. It’s risk that Roecker’s aware of, but he took the chance after a life-altering experience:
Earlier this year, I lost forty-five percent of the vision in my right eye, and they can’t repair it. At the hospital I said to myself, “You know fuck it, I’m gonna release it if they sue me, they sue me.” Green Day is okay with it. And I would rather have five people see my work who like it, and how it was meant to be, than a million see it cut to pieces. I don’t want to have any problems with Warner Bros. And record labels have their own problems to deal with. They might not even care. But it’s nerve wracking, and it’s a big decision.
Risk-taking is a huge part of genius, and Roecker takes his risks by putting his creativity out for anyone and everyone to see. Sometimes it’s poop jokes or frank, raw sexuality. Other times he lays bare emotions in wistful, poignant pieces. With TAOWY, Roecker takes major risks in terms of filmmaking style and in releasing the work. Roecker is truly a bold artist, and I am honored to be able to once again present his work to Firedoglake.