Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

“New York Doll”
Directed by Greg Whiteley
Playing at the Angelika
18 W. Houston between Broadway and Mercer
(212-995-2000; angelikafilmcenter.com)

Photo by First Independent Pictures

Greg Whiteley’s documentary “New York Doll,” breathes life into the dormant career of former New York Dolls bassist, Arthur “Killer” Kane, above.

Don’t call it a comeback

By Noah Fowle
“New York Doll” has everything a great documentary needs—a brutal history, an injured hero, and his heartfelt return. Its subject, Arthur “Killer” Kane, gained infamy as the stoic bassist of the original gender-bending glam band The New York Dolls in the early 1970s. The band split up after only their second album, the ironically titled “Too Much Too Soon,” and the film picks up where each of their lives left off. While some members found later success (and others early, drug-related deaths), Kane simply squandered his talents away in one failed attempt after another. Alcohol and self-loathing consumed his life, which nearly ended one night when he tried to choke his wife to death and then took a three-story plunge to the pavement. Kane awoke in his hospital bed, found a bible and followed his own path to healing by becoming a Mormon.

The film picks up with Kane in 2004 as he is riding the bus to work at his church’s library. He is all too aware of his clichéd fall from stardom: “I was demoted from rock star to schlep on the bus,” he says to the camera with remarkable frankness. After surviving his own demons and watching the successes of his former bandmates (particularly frontman David Johansen and his alter ego Buster Poindexter), Kane wishes for nothing else than to play again as the New York Dolls. As the camera follows this mild-mannered man about his days and gives voice to his musings, seminal rock stars like Iggy Pop (The Stooges), Mick Jones (The Clash), and Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) fill in the back story that Kane himself is often too humble to share.

Proving that fact is indeed stranger than fiction, Kane receives a phone call from former singer of The Smiths and current curator of London’s Meltdown Festival, Morrissey, who wants to bring the New York Dolls back together. The camera follows Kane as he collects a bass from a pawnshop and struggles to relearn his instrument. As he does, a silent tension builds over his impending meeting with lead singer Johansen before the poignant reunion of the Dolls’ surviving members in their first studio rehearsal after almost 30 years. Even better is the behind-the-scenes footage at their comeback performance, which captures each members’ take on anxiety and offers key insights as to the personality differences that most likely fueled their break-up. After the Dolls’ successful performance, the film takes an unplanned turn that ties up the conclusion with a tragic bow.

Director Greg Whiteley’s debut film avoids the feel of a trite, “Behind the Music” special and bears the mark of a true filmmaker thanks to its avoidance of the rock genre’s tropes. Gone is any aggrandizement of addiction, drug abuse, or the petty egos at the core of the band’s downfall. Instead, Whiteley creates a stunning portrait of a fallen legend and tells the story of his ascent to fulfillment by relying on Kane’s own candor and willingness to be exposed.

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