Noise Violation: Four Hours with Boyd Rice

One interviewee in Iconoclast recalls first hearing artist and controversy-stirring Boyd Rice appear as guest villain on Bob Larsen’s Evangelical call-in show: “I don’t know if it’s like a goof or if this guy’s really evil.”

The most genial professed Social Darwinist you could ever meet, Rice has never stopped to explain how much of his persona is a goof. Likewise, Larry Wessel's documentary portrait Iconoclast doesn’t bother to synopsize its subject for the novice before setting off on its four-hour journey.

For the record, Rice has released noise music under the moniker “Non” since 1976. He has been the confidante of Church of Satan head Anton LaVey, Christian weirdo Tiny Tim, and Charles Manson. Rice has researched, written on, and proselytized for his various esoteric obsessions including tiki culture, girl groups, Gnostic mysticism, and the films of Ray Dennis Steckler—all of which he has time to opine on in Iconoclast. He has variously been called a Nazi, fascist, cradle-robbing sexual predator, and misogynist—all by people who are pointedly disinvited to participate in this movie.


Iconoclast: Boyd Rice
Directed by Larry Wessel
August 20 and 21, Anthology Film Archives

Wessel’s project is less investigative than collusive, less interested in provoking its provocateur subject than making him feel at home. This keeps Iconoclast from the first rank, though it creates a spacious area for Rice, born in 1956, to unfurl an intellect that has made an art of extracting occult meanings from the pop culture of his youth.

Iconoclast is organized in three chronological sections, named for Rice’s three primary residencies. Last is his current home, Denver, from where the mellowed middle-aged Rice gives his interviews; the middle is San Francisco where, for a good decade, he was a professional agitator in the liberal bastion. But it’s the first section, titled “Lemon Grove” (after a San Diego County suburb), that’s the most revealing. It shows Rice in the early '70s as a young outcast, thrift-scavenging an identity from readymades: Barnabas Collins on TV's vampire soap opera Dark Shadows, Glam Rock, and Dada pranksterism, all predicting the career of a social dropout who, through alchemy of personality, spun pop dross into a personal El Dorado.

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Ken Gage
Ken Gage

IF Larry had failed to "synopsize" Boyd Rice nice and neatly for any audience beforehand, as this Village Voice article suggests, at least the article makes up for it now by doing so in its own tepid way.

I think filmmaker Larry Wessel did the best thing: he let the subject speak for itself.

I'm not keen on these types of articles that attempt to offer their suggestions to the artist in the form of constructive criticism -- mostly because the criticism is so wrong.

The worst criticism is that Larry has "disinvited" people to grind their axes on the subject of Boyd Rice, as if there should be a fair and balanced clause, as if when you're doing a subject like -- let's say Barrack Obama for a random example -- you should spend at least half your time interviewing people who don't like him -- let's say George W. Bush, the GOP, the KKK and the Tea Party.

And, apparently, Larry's documentary wasn't "investigative" enough and he should have picked a fight with Boyd at a certain point on camera to prove he was up to Nick Pinkerton's standards of manly fortitude or have a gotchya' moment: "You're no Satanist, sir! Your red card was revoked!"

Maybe all publicity is good publicity; these criticisms in the article are terse, but snarky and wrong. There, I said it.

Iconoclast stands on its own. That film is going to be in my collection of greats and repeat-viewings for a long time. This Village Voice article, on the other hand, disinvited me to give a better viewpoint to help synopsize and investigate the subject. ;)

Best Wishes,

Ken Gage


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