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June 10, 2006

New York Doll


Greg Whitely - 2005
First Independent Pictures Region 1 DVD

Even though I lived in NYC at the time, I never saw The New York Dolls in concert. Like a lot of people, I got put off by the clothes and make-up, and figured that if that's what the band looked like, I was nervous about who would be in the audience. Although my taste in rock was fairly wide, embracing Lothar & the Hand People and James Taylor, I couldn't be persuaded to go the short distance from my dorm room to The Mercer Arts Center. Except for a subway ride uptown to a club called Ungano's to see Captain Beefheart and Ry Cooder, my concert going was limited to whomever was appearing at the Fillmore East.

I was mostly interested in seeing New York Doll after reading about the film. The documentary of bass player Arthur Kane, above left, would seem almost too cliched for fiction. The narrative would read: a former minor rock star eventually falls into obscurity following the disolution of his band that has become a cult item over the past thirty years. Following battles with drugs and alchohol, the former rock star finds a modicum of meaning and happiness in religion, working on behalf of the church that has embraced him. His best years behind him, the musician still dreams of a triumphant return to the stage. His heartfelt prayer is answered, and the musician, for a few days, gets to live a life of glory as a revered rock star. Unknown to the musician, he is suffering from a fatal illness and dies soon after what turns out to be his final concert.

For me, the most interesting part of New York Doll was it's portrayal of Kane as a person of faith. The members of the Mormon church that Kane works with, as well as those who have provided religious guidance reveal a sense of humor and a generous spirit towards Kane's past persona. One of the church members explains that co-workers and church members collected funds to allow Kane to get his guitars out of hock prior to the New York Dolls reunion.

That generousity of spirit extends to Kane's relationship with David Johansen, above right. The one former Doll who has had the most success, Johansen shows up a day late when the reunion band is rehearsing. While teasing Kane about his ten percent tithing to the church, I had to wonder if Johansen may have denied Kane profits in New York Dolls merchandise. There is palpable joy in the scenes where Kane is overwhelmed by living in a London hotel room that is larger and more luxurious than his tiny Los Angeles apartment, and later enjoying a meal otherwise impossible in his normally frugal life. The film conveys Kane's total immersion and sincerity with his faith, a sincerity that is shown as affecting those around him. At a time when people are supposedly clamoring for films that extol Christian ideals, New York Doll's true story is more meaningful than any reenactment.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 10, 2006 01:38 PM


I'm really looking forward to seeing this film! I had forgot about it but, now I'll have look for it on DVD. I was a big NY Dolls fans growing up and saw Johnny Thunders play live numerous times after he went solo. Thunders was one of my favorite performers.

Posted by: K. at June 13, 2006 02:25 PM

I just saw a recently released dvd doc made during their heydays called "All Dolled Up." I also was not a fan back in the day, but they were obviously more than the glam preeners, their music is quite good. I was surprised that they were early 70s and probably preceded the Ramones, who must have been influenced by the Dolls.

Posted by: driveinjimmy at June 14, 2006 01:15 PM