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.
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.