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Movie Night: Svengali and Director John Roecker

Warning: The webisodes based on this trailer contain extremely adult themes and images. NSFW. 18 and over only.

John Roecker’s new web show Svengali is a gender-bending parody of television detective shows, riffing on cliches and plunging headfirst into a cesspool of camp. Svengali is described by Roecker as possessing

epic bad taste proportions

This is not an exaggeration.

Writer/director/star Roecker–oh let’s call him an auteur a la John Waters with same sense of epater la bourgeoisie and “hey kids, let’s put on a show” optimism–plays the title character, a disgraced LAPD officer who must solve a grotesque and grisly murder in order to get his badge back.

But the case is fraught with danger, professionally and personally, as he reconnects with Daisy Chain, the hooker with a heart of gold who is at the center of the case, and at center of Det. Svengali’s personal torment. Rancid’s Tim Armstrong guest stars as criminal mastermind the Professor in the first webisode; Jane Weidlin appears in an upcoming episode, with more surprise guests each week.

Svengali is a romp that crystalizes Roecker’s body of work to date which skewers and distorts societal conventions, his aesthetic combining high, low brow and folk arts into a modern pastiche of transgressive and inspiring images and actions based on do-it-yourself sensibility. Svengali is puerile, witty, utterly lacking boundaries, with an underlying core of tenderness and hope, like Roecker himself.

In 1995  Roecker pried open his mind and put it on sale at You’ve Got Bad Taste, a Silver Lake shop trading on kitsch and cultural artifacts, ranging from vintage board games and action figures to John Wayne Gacy’s paintings, then staged a massive punk rock art and photo show at the prestigious Track 26 at Bergamot Station, giving credence and gravitas to Los Angeles punk, a style which had long been ignored and overlooked.

Punk rock is at the foundation of Roecker’s soul, his drive to create. It showed him–like so many of us–that we could be free and outside of conventions, that art could be a way of life and that living through creating dreams into reality is the key.

While running You’ve Got Bad Taste, Roecker was also making Live Freaky Die Freaky, a stop-action animation musical based on the Mason murders starring Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong in the lead role as Charlie “Hanson,” and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong (who also produced the flick through Hellcat Films, a new division of his record label) as the narrator. Travis Barker, Benji and Joel Madden from Good Charlotte, X’s John Doe, Asia Argento, Jane Wiedlin, and Kelly Osbourne all had roles in what is considered one of the most offensive, yet hilarious, movies ever made.  Roecker told the LA Weekly

I wanted to push the envelope, and I wanted to go so far as to actually offend both the liberals and the right. I think I have succeeded.

Roecker also documented the making of Green Day’s American Idiot, creating the feature Heart Like a Hand Grenade an evocative, provocative masterpiece which premiered in 2009. And he directed the 2008 Here!Tv series Everything You Wanted to Know About Gay Porn Stars*but were afraid to ask.

Topics covered in these revealing interviews include the impact of drugs on the industry, the dangers behind unprotected sex, depression, and the stigmas and drawbacks one must cope with when starring in the gay porn industry. Despite these very serious topics, the show manages to show us the lighter sides of these hunky entertainers, some of whom have very interesting and uplifting stories to tell.

John Roecker can and does offend some sensibilities–gay and straight, left and right, punk and square–but he is a force in underground film and art that cannot be denied. He is controversial, informed, outrageous, insightful and inspiring. Roecker is a true artist, his medium is pop culture and the disruption of societal conceits, reveling in punk rock DIY, blending his love of film and high art with low brow culture, Romantic decadence and modern nihilism, then infusing them with a sense of hope and possibility as he manifests his visions.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.