Friday, August 19, 2011

AMERICA LOVES ITS VILLAINS: The Boyd Rice Documentary Experience

ICONOCLAST: The Boyd Rice Documentary
Only current NY screenings: August 20th & 21st, 7 pm
at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave, NYC 10003

"America loves its Villains ..."

You’ll hear Boyd Rice say that a couple times over the course of Larry Wessel’s epic (4 hour) new documentary “ICONOCLAST” - a title which works in description of both Rice and the documentary itself. It’s almost like “Freakonomics” for the Goth / Industrial / Noise set, and it’s a very welcome banner to see hanging. I can’t think of a film that has better debunked the myth of the “evil” intentions and attitudes of this sect of society, and if hilarious anecdotes about Anton LaVey’s penchant for electronic whoopee cushions - or simply “fart machines” - doesn’t debunk it for you, then I‘m not sure anything ever will.

Boyd Rice's ouerve has various specific categories. His knowledge of many various areas of American pop and unpop culture is at the level of scholarly. He's considered to be one of the most seminal names in the Noise genre, he was part of the defining stages of Industrial Culture, he did enormous things for Exotica music and Tiki culture, he's written material in the "Answer Me!" zine, "Apocalypse Culture" Book; and his own books, both fiction and nonfiction. He and his friend Jim Morton literally wrote THE book on strange films, "Incredibly Strange Films", which would strongly influence coming generations to deviate from their local shopping mall multiplex's menu of pandering crap. The list goes on quite a long time. From teen years to my "adulthood", I'd heard the name Boyd Rice in association with so, so many fascinating things. Often these things seemed to fit into a kind of mold to me - it was as if the cool people that were 10 - 20 years older than I had found these magical connections between Charles Manson, old cartoons, H.G. Lewis, flea-markets, and weird records. They made fanzines and films, wrote books, recorded amazing records ... Some of the content featured was totally shocking to me - pictures of actual deaths/accidents, writing that championed the crimes of serial killers, and of course wildly offensive humor. At first it was hard to understand. I think it was because (in some ways at least) I was a 'good person'. I couldn't conceive of someone genuinely celebrating this kind of thing. I understood sarcasm, but this stuff was WAY more extreme than that. As I grew more, I increasingly became enraged by what I saw as injustice and stupidity around me. I began to have feelings that I couldn't exorcise with simple sarcasm. I was getting to the point of needing cathartic release, and I didn't know it yet. Seriously folks, if it wasn't for films like "The Defilers" and zines like "Answer Me!" I'm sure I would've went Columbine. So, sometime in my 20's, I started to "get it". And with that came a lot of knowledge and power. Part of what was so attractive about this (at times) extremely alienating culture was that so many people involved in it, unlike most people in most scenes, didn't appear to be total assholes. Or more accurately, these assholes seemed a whole lot more like me. In other words, breakfast cereal and mass murder were fine to talk about in the same breath.

As I became more exposed to this world, Boyd Rice seemed to be near the top of it. At once he was someone who had wonderful, honest and courageous taste; as well as someone who spoke freely about his thoughts and feelings AND accepted the same from others he widely and intensely disagreed with. Cumulatively, ignoring one's personal beliefs at the same time as refusing to accept another's seems like the new American Pastime - and it's through this unfortunate window that ICONOCLAST will look most poignant.

The opening image of “Iconoclast” is that of a woman’s vagina. A knife sits on her belly, the “NON” (Rice's Noise outfit) logo is scarred onto her pelvis, and she’s bleeding (not profusely by any means) from several fresh slices on her inner thighs and stomach. It’s clearly a confronting image. One that certain viewers might find distasteful; and therefore attribute an unwholesome, sexist, nihilistic, or even “evil” nature to the people involved with creating this image. It’s a rather brilliant choice on Wessel’s part, the next sequence is the “exorcism of homosexuality” of some poor woman who apparently did time as a lesbian. The preacher tells her “What those girls did to you - now, that’s not your fault. You can still accept Jesus into your life”. All of this before the speaking in tongues begins and another preacher demands that she “smell the bible” … The set up couldn’t be better, the audience’s nose is rubbed directly in an issue that I’ve always felt was widely ignored: if we as individuals all have these values that we say we do; if we all hold this particular morality and believe in our own freedom and civil rights, then by these standards WHO is the REAL “bad guy” here? Which of these situations is actually "wrong", or "unwholesome", or “evil”? People liking kinky sex and cutting themselves up might not exactly be an activity for Sunday School, but it’s really an individual’s choice if he or she would like to do something like that. It simply doesn't have anything to do with anyone else; unlike the idea that God would want those who spread his words of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to not only CARE about other people’s sex lives, but actually engage in the repulsive acts that one will witness in ICONOCLAST’S opening sequence. Those actions, to me, are a great example for "evil". The confrontation of the film’s opening forces the viewer to make a logical conclusion of whom they think the “bad guy” really is. It’s a hell of a morality barometer, and it draws a very obvious line as to what’s right and what’s wrong. The intensity of imagery and art does not support actual wrong action. It can indicate it, exploit it, expose it, embrace it - but as “wrong” as a viewer finds this imagery to be it’s only ever because of his or her own interpretation.

“Iconoclast” appeals to two different audiences. The Cult of Boyd will be thrilled, much of the information offered here is fresh, as Rice’s life story hasn’t been a very accessible one. The other audience, the audience who doesn’t know of Boyd Rice or his art, will be treated to an explicitly unique experience regarding someone who is completely, totally and gloriously, a truly underground entity.

I spoke to both Larry and Boyd recently about ICONOCLAST, their artistic processes; and of course, some incredibly strange films ...

Interview with ICONOCLAST director Larry Wessel -

Mike Hunchback: What was your first inspiration to make a documentary on Boyd Rice and how did Iconoclast go from just an idea to an actual project?

Larry Wessel: On November 16, 1997 I attended a show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles headlined by Death in June with NON/Boyd Rice as the opening act. Before entering the club, I encountered a very strange scene taking place on the sidewalk that night. There were a few protestors there who had somehow successfully gotten the management of the El Rey to ban NON/Boyd Rice from performing. When Boyd emerged from backstage during Death in June's set, I followed him outside to the front of the theatre and introduced myself. He said that he already knew who I was and that he was a big fan of Taurobolium, my Tijuana bullfight documentary and that Anton LaVey (another big fan of Taurobolium) had screened it for him at The Church of Satan. Incidentally I was told this story over and over again by various people who we're lucky enough to have an audience with Anton LaVey that he would require them on their first meeting to spend 2 hours watching Taurobolium with him! Boyd and I kept in touch with each other after that show. In 2000, I traveled to Colorado to shoot Boyd for a documentary I was doing about obsessed collectors. Boyd was a collector of Scopitone movies and obscure girl group records and I interviewed him about the obscure objects of his desire. It was during a dinner we were having at the bizarre restaurant/amusement park Casa Bonita that I pitched him on doing a documentary on his life. He didn’t seem very interested in doing this at the time. He suggested that I do a documentary about The Partridge Family Temple instead. On June 24, 2002 Death in June did a show at the Key Club in West Hollywood and I shot the entire concert. Two years later, Death in June and NON/Boyd Rice returned to the Key Club for another show. A few weeks prior to this return engagement, I received an email from Boyd. Boyd said that he was a big fan of all of my documentaries and ended the email message with, "What about doing a documentary about ME?". So I guess that I must've planted a seed when I had suggested this idea to him 4 years prior to this! I responded that I would love to do a documentary about him. he then informed me that it would be his last tour with Death in June and that it might be my last opportunity to interview Douglas P. Wearing his strange Death in June mask, Douglas gave me a very humorous and informative interview. The final show at the Key Club was made very strange by the presence of protestors once again. They were carrying picket signs. One of the signs had "STOP NAZI MUSIC" scrawled on it. Another read, "BOYD RICE IS A NAZI THROUGH AND THROUGH". I filmed Boyd confronting the protestors outside of the show and found it extremely odd that they didn't even recognize the man they we're protesting! This was the beginning of an odyssey that would end 6 years later with the red carpet world premiere of Iconoclast at Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in Hollywood on August 17, 2010.

MH: Was anyone particularly difficult to pin down for an interview?

LW: Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Laboratories) would not answer my email inquiries. I had a pleasant telephone chat with Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle) up until he told me that "there is no way that I would be in a documentary about Boyd Rice". I asked Gen why and he told me that he didn't have to give me an explanation. He said that "Boyd knows why". I asked Boyd about why he thought that Gen didn't want to participate in ICONOCLAST and Boyd was simply mystified. When I called RE/Search's V. Vale after he didn't return any of my emails, we talked on the phone for close to 4 hours. Vale said that the only way he would be in ICONOCLAST is if Boyd provided a signed affidavit that he was not in or affiliated with any white supremacist or neo-nazi groups.

MH: As a viewer I noticed some great reoccurring themes in ICONOCLAST. Did you have a direction in mind when you began filming, or perhaps when you began editing? Or were these occurrences totally natural?

LW: The process for making one of my documentaries always begins with shooting miles and miles of footage with everything unfolding naturally. No preconceptions or battle plan at all. I never dictate the content. I prefer that my subject matter and the audience for my documentaries think for themselves. In the case of Iconoclast, I ended up with 200 plus hours of interviews with Boyd Rice and approx. 40 or so other people! It is during the editing process that my films take shape. This is when I find the narrative structure, a natural beginning, middle and end and where I can begin to have fun with the content and infuse it with many levels of meaning.

MH: I don't think anyone interested in seeing a Boyd Rice documentary would be upset about the film's length, but did you have any reservations when you arrived at the 4 hour mark?

LW: I have always been very comfortable with the unusual length of ICONOCLAST. So far nobody who has seen ICONOCLAST has complained about it's length. On the contrary, people keep telling me that ICONOCLAST is so fast paced, so fun and exciting that they are left wanting to see more!

MH: Is there anything in particular that it hurt to leave out?

LW: There was an entertaining section on cult leader Uriel and her Unarius Academy in El Cajon that Boyd was fascinated by and would frequently visit that I felt a little sad about removing.

MH: Are you working on another documentary at the moment?

LW: Yes. As a matter of fact I am in the process of editing 4 more documentaries, all which have already completed shooting. The first one (mentioned previously) I began shooting it in the year 2000 and is about obsessed collectors. The second one is a documentary about the amazing artist from Albuquerque, Beth Moore-Love. Number three is a sequel to ULTRAMEGALOPOLIS, my documentary about Los Angeles. And the forth one is all about New York City and my adventures there.

Interview with Boyd Rice, subject of ICONOCLAST -

Mike Hunchback: Any reservation to having a documentary made on you?

Boyd Rice: No, no.

MH: And how did you meet Larry?

BR: I knew of him through Anton LaVey and other mutual friends and he’s sort of showed up one night when I was playing at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and we immediately hit it off. He had some sort of very favorable, lucky night because of being with me. He got to hang out with some sexy young girl, and he was saying “Boyd, you bring me luck, you bring me luck!”

MH: The thing I noticed perhaps most about ICONOCLAST was that you seem to have evolved into a very appropriate person. The image a lot of people have of you is that of a antagonist or a disrupter, but there’s so much of the film where we see you being quite courteous and quite polite. I really like the stuff near the end of them film where you’re speaking with Bob Larson and you're both laughing, even though you guys clearly disagree about a lot of things. It just didn’t seem to affect you that someone thought so differently.

BR: It never has, it never has. I was friends with Jello Biafra for over a decade and I never saw eye to eye with his politics, but it didn’t matter. I was apolitical and I didn’t care what anybody else thought. I kind of had that Thomas Jefferson thing where he says that “A man can believe in whatever he wants to so long as it doesn’t break my leg or pick my pocket”. I really don’t care. That’s sort of always been my attitude. There was a time when I disagreed far more severely with Bob Larson, I saw him as being emblematic of something that was baleful of Western Civilization.

MH: Is there anybody that you would’ve liked to see in ICONOCLAST that didn’t make it in? I heard Jello was hard to get a hold of.

BR: I thought that Larry did get a hold of Jello and he just said ‘I absolutely don’t wanna be a part of this”. Because early on, when Larry was saying ‘who should I interview for this?’ I said ‘Well, you really need to interview Jello Biafra’ and you need to interview Vale from Re/Search, you need to get some of these people … it’ll be more interesting if it’s like me being on Bob Larson’s radio show. There’s some people who are saying horrible things about me that will make it a lot more fun. Unfortunately, all those people, those dissenting voices, refused to be part of it. It’s not like they were excluded or disinvited or anything. We asked as many people as we could think of and some just said ‘no, forget about it’.

MH: That brings me to something we had talked about in email, the Village Voice review. Right off they mention Bob Larson being in the film, but quickly the piece begins to be about how no one interviewed in ICONOCLAST questioned you, or disagreed with you. It didn’t seem that way to me, and you were also saying how you didn’t feel that this was the case …

BR: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t think it was … I mean who could you get who is in greater disagreement with me than Bob Larson? The film starts with Bob Larson, Bob Larson is in the middle, and the film essentially ends with Bob Larson. It’s like you were saying earlier, you think I’m a mellower person, and I’m happier and I’m more civil and relaxed, and realistically that’s the person I’ve always been and that’s why I’ve been around for 33 years. Because I’m civil, and I’m polite and people really, really like me. There’s this perception out there that ‘Boyd is this guy that nobody likes’. I think the absolute adverse is true, everybody likes me except for a handful of malcontents. And I think even those malcontents once they see this movie will have a hard time reconciling their feelings against me towards what they see on the screen, because I’m obviously not what they imagine I am. And you know, that’s a good thing! (laughs)

MH: Some of my favorite material you’ve ever done is your material in “Answer Me!”. I expected to see a little bit about that in the documentary but it didn’t get covered. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the beginning of your collaboration with them.

BR: I went out to Musso and Frank’s [editor's note everyone should visit this amazing historical landmark at least once] in Hollywood for a meal … Jim and Debbie Goad were living right around the corner from Musso and Frank’s. I went out with them, Coop and his wife, and Adam Parfrey who does Feral House, we all went out to have dinner at Musso and Frank’s. And I think Russ Meyer was there with a babe in the corner booth. He was always there, back in the days that you could still smoke cigars in Musso and Frank’s, and he was always smoking a cigar. So, I met them then and they really took to me, they kind of expected me to be like y’know … [it was as if they were thinking] ‘Oh, this is just some guy who does noise music, why do you want us to meet him?’. But we realized there was some sort of overlap or interface between our world views. He had me do that thing where I gave the definition for those words or something ['Rice Ain't Nice', Answer Me! #3], so I did that, then they decided to do the rape issue of the magazine and I gave him that piece ['RAPE: Revolt Against Penis Envy' Answer Me! #4]. And that’s another of these things that I expected people to want to tar and feather me for … but people just said ‘ Wow, I love your article on Rape!”. Crispin Glover even told me he took that out of the magazine and had it bound! And read that to every girl who came to his house … I said ‘Really? What kind of reaction do you get?’ and he said [Crispin Glover voice] ‘Really good, really really good’ …Strange!

MH: (laughs) That’s great … changing gears just a little, have you had any personal discoveries of film in the recent years? And would you ever go back to the style of writing you did on “Incredibly Strange Films”?

BR: Yeah, yeah. That area is kind of vast and bottomless, so I’m discovering new stuff all the time. My friend Jim Morton who wrote the Incredibly Strange Films book with me recently spent a lot of time in Berlin and he’s discovered these East German films that are absolutely mind-blowing. Like, East German Beach Party movies, Disaster movies, Science Fiction movies. Especially now with DVD, a lot of obscure stuff is coming out that it would have been impossible to release 20 years back … it’s just like, everything is coming back again. And it’s stuff you’ve forgotten about, and it’s stuff you never even knew about, so I’m seeing new stuff all the time.

MH: For a while you weren’t using the internet much, but now you seem to be more frequent. Do you mind being on there these days, or does it serve its purpose for you?

BR: The internet is the triumph of communication over content; of information over knowledge. It's the opiate of the masses in a far more profound way than religion ever was. And, it’s a mixed blessing, it’s a double edged blade. I sort of need to do it for business purposes, because I’m doing stuff with people all over the world and it’s really the most convenient way to communicate with them. It still drives me crazy a bit … and I can’t be on there in some social networking fashion, I can’t put up with that. I don’t even like looking at the things people write, even the positive things sometimes drive me crazy. There’s a lot of stuff on there I’d rather not know about. My girlfriend sort of convinced me I need to be on there for business reasons, and you know it’s working really well lately, like this interview with you.

MH: Do you think the internet has changed much about the realms of culture you enjoy? Films for instance - do you think that the way that people talk about or discuss these movies has changed? Is there a different kind of appreciation now, and is it better or worse?

BR: Well, I’m not sure what you mean, but I think part of the charm to me of those movies we documented in the Incredibly Strange Films book was that you sort of had to be an insider. You had to sort of know about these things, and they rarely played in movie theatres; if they were on television at all you’d have to scan the TV Guide and watch them at three in the morning, and you‘re sort of watching these rarefied movies at a time when you knew everybody else in the city is asleep. So it made it seem special, it made it seem like something that was your own personal possession. And it seems like now it’s this proliferation of media where people don’t really have to try so hard, so I don’t know if these movies are as special to them as they were to me when I was 16 years old. You can just go on the internet and see them live streaming, and it makes other suggestions and you can see something similar … y’know, I don’t know if it’s bastardized the experience for everybody else or not … I still like if “Manos: Hands of Fate” is on TV. I just watched “A Bucket of Blood” again -

MH: (totally interrupts) Oh it’s so good, goddamn it’s great …

BR: This coffee table art book is coming out from Outre Press in Australia, and it’s of my collection of thrift store paintings. Martin Macintosh who owns Outre Gallery also has thrift store paintings. I wrote an intro to that and I mention “Bucket of Blood”, and how that represented this weird, beatnik ideal of ‘the artist as the free spirit!’ He just sent me the intro and he uses a photo of “Bucket of Blood”, and it was the same night “Bucket of Blood” was on television …

MH: I actually had the pleasure of seeing it on film at Anthology not long ago. There was an amazing retrospective of Corman films, with a bunch of the Corman Poe films, “Bucket of Blood”, and they even played “The Intruder”. To see that on film was unbelievable. You guys have a great home in showing “ICONOCLAST” at Anthology, they really are the coolest in NY I think.

BR: Wow, yeah. I’m excited about it, very excited.

MH: One of my favorite people in the film is Adam Parfrey. He comes off great in the documentary and seems like a wonderful guy. Can you tell me a little about your friendship with him? It seems like you guys get along very well in real life …

BR: Yeah well I met him, strangely enough, at a film screening in San Francisco many, many years ago, and he kind of approached me and said ‘Hey, I’m going to put out this book, called APOCALYPSE CULTURE, it’s gonna come out on Grove Press. I’d like you to write something for it.’ He gave me his prospectus and I went home and looked at it and it was just absolutely over the top. And I just thought ‘there’s no way anybody’s going to publish this book, not even Grove Press!’. But, he kept in touch with me, and every time he sent me the updated outlines for the book it became more and more cohesive, so I did something for it. And you know, it came out and at the time there was nobody in San Francisco I could talk to about the sort of things that were in “Apocalypse Culture”, none of my friends wanted to hear it. So I sort of began a long phone friendship with Adam. He was in New York, I was in San Francisco and this was in the days when long distance calls were really, really cost-prohibitive. But we spent hours on the phone talking about this stuff, and I suspect he had nobody in NY to really discuss this stuff with either, so it was like we’d get off the phone and we’d sort of recharged our batteries. Afterward we probably both thought 'Well gee, I’m not so crazy after all, there’s this other guy who sees very much eye to eye with me'. So yeah, we’ve been friends for … it’s gotta be 25 years or something. And he’s coming out with a book called “Feral Man in a Feral Land” and it’s essentially an oral biography of his life and experiences in publishing, and I’ve done a bunch of stuff for that.

MH: Speaking of “Apocalypse Culture” … it makes me think about the time period it came out in, about things like “Answer Me!”, and about a lot of really interesting visual art and music that were going on at the time … It seemed like there was a very intense uprising of that kind of extremely strong imagery and topics, often confrontational. I’ve had a couple of my friends tell me things like “The first time I read “Answer Me!” I was physically shaking”, or that it was “the biggest breath of fresh air we could have had at the time in the 90‘s“. Do you think there was something specific about that time that made that kind of art and talking about those kinds of things more appropriate?

BR: Things like "Apocalypse Culture" and "Answer Me!" were sort of a response to the times. They were a by-product of their times while still being one giant step ahead of them. If you're too young to remember the mid 80's, it was a very apocalyptic time: there was a lot of gang violence, drive-by shootings, the AIDS epidemic was just going full throttle, and the world seemed to be going to shit. Yet everyone was still talking about peace, love, and harmony. We were sort of the odd men out. We were the voices in the wilderness. People who were essentially asking "what if everyone's basic assumption is wrong?". And it seemed to be. My new book "Twilight Man" is about this period. It's an autobiographical novel due out in a month or so on Heartworm Press. It details some of the ugliness and violence I experienced on an almost nightly basis as an alarm agent working the graveyard shift. By the time I left San Francisco, my favorite film character was Travis Bickle. That more or less laid the foundation for my mindset during the late eighties and the decade of the nineties.

MH: Is there anything fresh or challenging coming out now that’s interested you lately?

BR: I like Cold Cave, if you’re familiar with them. I like this band that’s also on the same label, the Liars.

MH: Though I haven’t read Lisa Carver’s book myself, I keep hearing about some of its contents regarding an abusive relationship between you two. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject and also give you a chance to defend yourself against any rumors.

BR: I think Lisa got maybe one sentence in the film and that was one too many. I recently debunked her lies about me in an interview you can find on WFMUs BEWARE THE BLOG. It was good to finally defend myself after all these years and get the truth out there, but really it all seemed so sad and boring. After all this was like 16 years ago or something that these charges were literally laughed out of court. Lisa admitted in an interview that she wrote her book in order to destroy my life and career ... words of a spurned woman. I've undergone a few decades of false accusations about a great many things and if I cared enough to defend myself against them all it would be a full time job. Those who choose to believe such things are going to do so no matter what you say. Luckily, I don't really care. As you saw in the film, I live a great life and I'm very happy.

This one was for Amber! Visit Larry Wessel’s website here:

Visit Boyd Rice’s website here:

Visit Anthology Film Archives here for the most happening revival screenings in New York:

Very, very special thanks to Boyd and Larry for being so accessible.

And everyone check out ICONOCLAST tomorrow and Sunday at Anthology Film Archives!