|New York Doll (2005)
Starring: Arthur Kane, David Johansen, Barbara Kane, Morrissey, Sylvain Sylvain, Iggy Pop, Sir Bob Geldof, Chrissie Hynde
Director: Greg Whiteley
Arthur “Killer” Kane, bassist for glam-punk pioneers the New York Dolls, often found his onstage manner described as “statuesque.” Not because he was a towering figure, though some would say he was that as well, but because was, indeed, the embodiment of a living statue; he rarely moved a muscle that wasn’t required in the process of playing his instrument. (Good thing the band’s frontman, David Johansen, regularly stalked the stage like a panther on the prowl.)
In the new documentary, “New York Doll,” Kane’s life is given the once-over by director Greg Whiteley, an idea instigated by the surviving members of the Dolls being invited to reunite and perform at the 2004 Meltdown Festival, at London’s South Bank Centre. (Of the original five members, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan had already passed away, leaving only Kane, Johansen, and guitarist Syl Sylvain.) The invitation came at the behest of none other than former Smiths lead singer Morrissey, himself president of the U.K branch of the New York Dolls fan club during the ‘70s. That the reunion proved to be a smash success is a matter of record, since the performance has since been released on CD and DVD. Unfortunately, it was also well documented that, a mere two weeks after the Meltdown Festival, Kane died of leukemia, a condition he didn’t even know he had until hours before it claimed his life. (The only reason he’d gone to the emergency room was because he thought he had a severe case of the flu.)
“New York Doll” leads up to the reunion by exploring the person Kane became after his days with the Dolls. “I’m spoiled by the past, but it’s hard to put those memories away,” Kane admits in the opening minutes of the film. “They’re my fondest memories.” After the Dolls disintegrated, Kane found it hard to accept the fact that so many other lesser talents in the music industry were utilizing the glam look of his old band (cough, cough...motleycrueandpoison...cough, cough) and scoring significant financial success, while he was reduced to non-speaking roles in films like “Innerspace” and “Spaceballs.”
The last straw, however, was watching David Johansen transform himself into Buster Poindexter and achieve mainstream success, then parlay his music career into an acting career as well. If Kane had been drinking too much already (and he had been), this sent him into a full-on bender; he recovered, however, and found religion in the form of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In fact, when contacted about the reunion, Kane is working as a librarian at the LDS Family History Center, riding the bus to and from work, earning an income so insignificant that he has to get his bass guitar out of hock for the upcoming gig.
“New York Doll” includes interviews not only with Morrissey but also with Iggy Pop, Sir Bob Geldof, Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones of the Clash, and Clem Burke of Blondie, among others, including Johansen and Sylvain. Imagine a blending of “Behind the Music,” “Bands Reunited,” and “The E! True Hollywood Story,” but without the sensationalism, and you’re in the right ballpark. Sure, there are sensational elements, but the heart of the tale is the story of a man who spent almost three decades wishing and hoping to see his band get back together; the detailing of the lows he experienced during those years and the highs he achieved in what would turn out to be the last weeks of his life are what tug at the heartstrings. That the film ends with a caption which indicates Kane’s death is almost incidental to the story that has unfolded before it; though it adds a certain degree of poignancy, the film was obviously made as a tribute to the man, without any knowledge at the time that fate had already written its ending.
I close this review with what will seem at first to be an unrelated anecdote, but hang in there and see it through.
When the first season of the aforementioned “Bands Reunited” ran on VH-1, myself and a few of my friends were surprised to find that our favorite episode of the show was the one about Klymaxx, a band we could’ve cared less about. I don’t know about my friends, but, personally, I didn’t feel a burning desire to run out and buy one of their CDs after watching their story...but it was no less enthralling for that.
The moral to this story, of course, is that, whether you’re a fan of the New York Dolls or not, you should still give this documentary about the life of Arthur “Killer” Kane a chance. It’s the kind of film that the phrase “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me” was created to describe.
Although the DVD is a must-buy simply for the film itself, admittedly, the features are a little thin for a movie which received so much critical acclaim during its all-too-brief theatrical run. There isn’t even audio commentary from director Greg Whiteley, although there is, at least, a brief on-camera interview with him. It’s less than ten minutes long, however, and offers little more new insight than clarification as to how Whiteley came to know Kane in the first place. Calling the interview with Morrissey a “bonus” is a bit of an overstatement, since it’s the conversation from which the clips of Mozzer in the film were taken; it’s nice to have it all in one place, sure, but don’t anticipate that it’s a brand-new chat, because it’s not. And while the clip where “David Johansen ‘dolls’ up a classic hymn” as a tribute to his late Mormon bandmate is touching, it’s decidedly brief. The most revelatory thing about the DVD is the advertisement enclosed, which reveals that a brand-new New York Dolls studio album is imminent, with June 2006 penciled in as the tentative release date…but, knowing that Kane isn’t here to be a part of it makes the news decidedly bittersweet.