New York Doll
A Film by Greg Whiteley
(First Independent Pictures)
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2005, Volume 12, #11
Written by John Metzger
The stature of the New York Dolls has grown considerably since the ensemble self-destructed after releasing just two studio efforts (its self-titled debut and the aptly titled Too Much Too Soon) in the early í70s. Although it never achieved widespread success, the groupís blend of grit and glam played a significant role in paving the way for both punk and heavy metal. However, as much as the New York Dollsí historical implosion and unlikely reunion in 2004 at the bequest of Morrissey might have made the perfect storyline for New York Doll, Greg Whiteleyís documentary, itís merely the backdrop for his biographical depiction of bass player Arthur "Killer" Kane.
Yet, even in telling Kaneís tale, Whiteley misses the boat, at least in part. With more than two-thirds of his film devoted to the New York Dollsí preparation for and performance at Londonís Meltdown Festival, he largely glosses over most of the emotional turmoil that surrounded Kane and his bandmates. While he does succeed in succinctly defining the groupís legacy, he skimps on the tension that drove Kane and New York Dollsí front man David Johansen apart, and the trailer park blow-out that, for years, left them as adversaries is mentioned merely as an afterthought. As a result, Kaneís descent into alcoholism and his attempt at suicide by jumping out of a third-story window is left largely unexplained, so when he and Johansen finally reunite, the emotional resonance of the situation is severely lacking and utterly incomprehensible. In addition, by not delving deeper into what made the members of the New York Dollsí tick, Whiteley, a fellow Mormon who had no idea who Kane was when he first met him, also undermines the emphasis that he places upon Kaneís religious awakening, and as a result, he dances dangerously close to turning his documentary into a propaganda piece for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What salvages New York Doll, then, is Kane, whose facial expressions frequently belie the words that he speaks. Although there unquestionably are times when he found some semblance of peace within the Mormon religion, which he embraced as part of his recovery from alcoholism, itís clear that he also remained embittered by the manner in which his life unfolded. He was consumed by his jealousy over Johansenís post-Dolls success and frustrated by how close he came to fame without ever achieving it, which he revealed when he dryly portrayed the arc of his life as a demotion from being a rock star to being just another "schlep on the bus." It was Kaneís lifelong dream to reunite the New York Dolls, and he immediately settled back into the groove of meeting with his adoring fans. Yet, the contentious nature of his relationship with Johansen never fully dissipated. In a backstage discussion between the pair, Kane tolerantly endured Johansenís sarcastic attitude towards his faith, and the look on Kaneís face when Johansen gleefully approached him after the concert said it all. Indeed, Whiteley managed, almost by accident, to tell Kaneís heartbreaking story without truly ever knowing or understanding it.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box