Iconoclast Dir. Larry Wessel

[Wesselmania; 2011]

Styles: documentary, biography
Others: Pearls Before Swine, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, Triumph of the Will

Larry Wessel spent nearly a decade filming this leviathan of a biography on one of the American underground’s most controversial figures. It’s true that Wessel’s subject, Boyd Rice, has undoubtedly caused enough of an uproar in American culture over the last 40-odd years to merit such a lengthy feature — Iconoclast clocks in at roughly four hours. However, what makes the film essential viewing for anyone interested in its subject is the extent to which it debunks and/or clarifies most of the stunts that rendered him persona non grata in just about every social circle in the world that wasn’t led by Anton Lavey or Douglas P. Rice, considered by many to be the godfather of noise music, made his literary, visual, and musical career in large part due to his laser-like focus on absolutist and fatalistic theories concerning humanity in general and society in particular. A high priest in the Church of Satan with a professed admiration for Mondo filmmaking, fascism, and Tiki culture, Rice’s artistic endeavors have only been augmented by his utterly misanthropic public statements and a surprising ability to come off like he doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything that does not directly add to his own experience of a world he considers totally brutal.

In Iconoclast, Mr. Wessel, intentionally or not, lays bare a gentler side of a man who once famously pleaded for the return of Hitler, Mussolini, and Nero, among others, to set right the world and put the weak back in their place. The artist’s unabashed admiration for people like Oswald Mosley, Goebbels, and Tiny Tim are unsettling for many, and with good reason. Rice has traditionally cherished (publicly, at least) those elements of humanity that most of us consider mean, base, and destructive, and this in turn allows him a modicum of notoriety that he might not otherwise enjoy. Beneath the all-black-everything aesthetic, the Nazi memorabilia, and a desire to crush all that is weak — specifically the mentally and physically handicapped — lies a sophisticated trickster, only too happy to shake things up in the most tasteless way possible.

This preoccupation with toying with people is described at great length by fellow members of the Church of Satan, who recount creepy and hilarious tales about the kinds of shit Boyd and Anton Lavey used to get into when the latter lived in his infamous Black House in San Francisco. In light of these interviews, Rice’s Satanism appears less a sincere belief in the power of occult magick than an ardent desire to negate the religious background of the vast majority of people he knew in California. There are plenty of other instances where Rice’s contrarian streak appeared throughout the doc, and they all more or less fit an M.O. of trying to unsettle his audience in the deepest and most personal way possible. There’s an unnerving quality to Rice’s trickster career path, an uncertainty about whether he really does think Hitler was onto something genuine and genuinely efficacious in bringing about authentic equilibrium in the natural order of things. How is it that a man who professed to hate so many could pour so much of his energy into creating a Tiki Bar in Denver that provided so much joy to crowds of people he publicly wouldn’t admit to allowing a taste of his bootheel?

Regardless of how comfortable you are with Rice’s less-than-optimistic musings about the weak, and how slaves should remain slaves and stop ruining the world for us smart fit people, and how a small group of elites should rule the world, and how suggesting otherwise is a ludicrous attempt to controvert an unchangeable and completely arbitrary natural order, Iconoclast is a superb documentary that will reward those with enough free time on their hands to explore it. The film presents us with an exhaustive portrait of an artist who, for good or ill (usually ill) never backed down, an individual who controlled his image and creative output with immense precision and discipline. After all, what offends most about Rice is the way he really just plays the concept of Social Darwinism out to its logical end. Perhaps what horrifies most about Rice is the way in which he constitutes a possible outcome of a world completely ruled by a cold, logical, and unequivocal ethic based solely upon strength and force. Contrasting the bleakness of his worldview with the obvious joy that Rice exudes in his interviews is such a worthwhile experience on so many levels that I cannot hesitate to recommend this to anyone curious about the man, his work, and the fascinating origins of Tiki culture in America (seriously).

Most Read