Arthur “Killer” Kane
David Johansen (New York Dolls)
Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls)
Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)
Bob Geldoff (Boomtown Rats)
Steven Morrissey (The Smiths)
Iggy Pop (The Stooges)
Mick Jones (The Clash)
Don Letts (Big Audio Dynamite)
Steve Conte (Revamped New York Dolls)
Bishop Bragg (LDS Church)
Bishop MacGregor (LDS Church)
In Arthur “Killer” Kane, Greg Whiteley has found such a unique angle to telling the story of the influential New York Dolls that you can’t help but pay attention and be interested.
Arthur “Killer” Kane used to be the bass player for the influential punk band The New York Dolls, but after losing the fame and fortune and hitting rock bottom, he found God in the form of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Thirty years after the band broke up, he gets a second chance at his rock n’ roll dream when the Dolls reunite for a special one-off show.
Music has played such a huge part of my life that when a rock documentary breaks away from the normal “this is who they were and this is what happened to them” formula, it gets my attention. Greg Whiteley’s “New York Doll” takes a unique approach, looking at the seminal glam-punk band, the New York Dolls, through the eyes of its former bass player, Arthur “Killer” Kane, who was never able to attain the success of his band mates.
Kane’s story is tragic, because after the band broke up, he tried but failed to succeed on his own. At one point, he was so distressed by the success of singer David Johansen (AKA Buster Poindexter) that he tried to kill himself, before finding salvation in the Church of Latter Day Saints. Now if you think about it, you can’t get two more polar opposites than being in a narcissistic rock band and being a Mormon, but somehow, Kane fits right in. Imagine his surprise when he gets his second chance to live the rock lifestyle when British singer Morrissey asks the band to reunite for the annual Meltdown Festival in London.
Now 55 years old, Kane is a giant of a man and he’d be quite imposing if not for his quiet demeanor, not to mention the shirt and tie that make him look like a kindly uncle. His slow speech patterns might make you think he’s not all there, but he seems cognizant of his surroundings and there’s a childlike honesty to him that makes you empathize with the deep-seated resentment he feels still exists between Johansen and himself. It’s amazing to watch Arthur go from his new life in the church back to the glam and glitz of the Dolls, as we see him prepare for the big show while dealing with the nerves of playing again. It doesn’t take long for the original “Killer” Kane to return, as he finds outlandish clothes to wear on stage.
The reunion between Kane and Johansen is not as climactic as you might expect. Johansson just walks into the rehearsal room while the band is playing, hugs are traded and it’s like thirty years of pain disappears from Kane. Then again, in a moment before the show, David mocks Arthur’s new Mormon lifestyle and you wonder if Kane will react, but he proves himself the better man, having obviously changed thanks to the teachings of the church. Kane’s heartfelt prayer before the big gig sums it all up, and even Johansen has nice things to say about Arthur later.
“New York Doll” includes some great archival footage of the band, as well as interviews with those who were around at the height of the Dolls’ fame. Mick Jones of the Clash, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, Bob Geldoff and even Iggy Pop, all talk about the influence of the Dolls and Kane’s part in the band. Likewise, Morrissey talks about why he loved the band and urged them to reunite after thirty years. It’s just as interesting to hear Arthur’s elderly coworkers at the Mormon Church talking about him in such a different way, not knowing his previous life of debauchery. His former wife Barbara isn’t as nice. The whole thing is rather surreal, as you realize how, sex and drugs aside, Arthur’s two lives are kind of similar.
Whiteley’s documentary effortlessly bounces back and forth from the past to the present in such a smooth fashion, and he uses some nice animated graphics to recreate the band’s timeline and a musical family tree of the bands influenced by them. It’s a great follow-up to some of last year’s rock docs like “MC5: A True Testimonial” and “End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones”, because the Dolls’ music really stands the test of time.
Unless you’re a fan of the band, you might not know the tragic epilogue to this story, but it’s heartwarming to watch Kane have the chance to reunite with his band, and this is a brilliant documentation of that journey.
The Bottom Line:
Greg Whiteley has found a unique way to document a period in rock history, looking at it through the childlike eyes of someone who lived through it, but only barely. “New York Doll” is a fascinating study of a man who once had fame and fortune and lost it all, but was able to get a second chance once he found God.