If you know of Boyd Rice, you know why this film is bound to raise hackles. Rice is a controversial person to say the least. Artist. Writer. Musician. Prankster. Past member of the Church of Satan. Researcher. That’s not what makes him controversial, however. It’s his past stated views on fascism, Social Darwinism, women, and the counter culture; his friendship with Charles Manson; and his general existence that leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Say what you will about Rice, but he isn’t boring, and this film proves it.
Fans of Rice will like seeing him and his friends interviewed. They will love hearing the stories behind his pranks and art. Those who hate Rice (and they seem to be legion at times) will point to this 3 DVD set and say, “See, I’m right. Rice is a [fill in the blank].” So how does a documentary about such a polarizing figure work this out in a cohesive way? Easy. Do it in three acts with each part focusing on a different city Rice has lived in which seem to mark different periods of his personal and artistic evolution.
The first DVD is centered on Lemon Grove, California. Fans of the Pranks book will recognize this place as the city where Rice started his journey as a prankster and artist. From his beginnings as a young boy fascinated with the occult as introduced by shows like Dark Shadows and Strange Paradise, to the Tiki culture, pranks, punk rock and so on that filled his days and mind – it all starts here. His devotion to pranks and his astute understanding of how they transform reality (something I also believe in) could be the subject of a documentary in its own right and set the foundation for the man he would become, but it was his need to take his music further that set him on a course to the city featured on disc two: San Francisco.
When Rice comes to San Francisco he is an angrier man, and becomes moreso throughout his stay. This is where much of the controversy surrounding him stems from. His experimentation with fascist culture and Satanism rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. What few bothered to do was really attempt to understand it or him, quite unlike many of those interviewed in the film, which includes Blanche Barton, Coop, Bob Larson and others.
Now, if there is one place this film falters, it is here. Rice has made some very controversial statements in the past, and while they are touched upon, they aren’t examined nearly as much as I would have liked to see. Of course, when you are dealing with Rice, picking any one of his many interests could fill ten DVDs if it were properly delved into. What is important, however, is where he ends up after leaving California. And that would be Denver, the focus of the third DVD.
By the time the third disc is reached, Rice, while not exactly a changed man, is far calmer. As he tells Bob Larson in a great conversation that you really have to hear to believe, he is more concerned with meeting people with kindness these days, though he wouldn’t say he is less misanthropic. This is a side of Rice his detractors either don’t see or like to pretend doesn’t exist. Denver, a city he chose to live in because it seemed old, has become almost a sanctuary for him. He is at peace with himself and others. It’s a good end to the film, but it left me wanting more.
Director Larry Wessel has tackled an enormous subject here, and while there are minor complaints, I can’t help but be impressed by it. This probably shouldn’t be the final word on Rice, but if it is, it will stand on its own and the test of time. Will Rice gain any new supporters after this film is seen? I doubt it, but those who like him and his art now have a new understanding and appreciation of his work, and if that’s the best that comes of this, well, that isn’t so bad after all.
As for the naysayers … they are of little consequence. They were never going to get it anyway.