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Imagine the frustration of being in a hugely influential band
that was responsible for the monetary rewards reaped by
later bands, but virtually none for your group. This was the
case with the New York Dolls, the pioneering Proto-Punk/Glam
Rock band on the scene in New York during the early to mid
1970’s. “New York Doll: The Movie” is a 78-minute film
documenting the story of their bass player, Arthur “Killer”
Kane, after the breakup of the band in 1976.

One of three surviving members of the New York Dolls,
Kane (1949-2004) was relegated to a life of drunken
poverty during most of the intervening years. Eventually,
he embraced the Mormon faith near the end of his life,
and became an active member of the church. Film maker
Greg Whiteley has chronicled these events that were
largely spearheaded by Morrissey (1959 – ) of the British
alternative band, The Smiths. Ultimately, this would lead to
a reunion of the New York Dolls, and a second chance
at glory for Kane.

While the portrait of Kane is the focus of this movie, the film
also frequently segues between others, including members
of the Mormon church who knew Kane, and Morrissey who is
a constant presence in the film, and in a 20-minute interview
that is a part of the bonus features. Kane’s ex-wife, Barbara,
was also interviewed and she stated, “I had the distinction
of being the wife of a Rock star who had no money.”

Arthur “Killer” Kane comes off as being an extremely humble
and self-deprecating person in this portrait, making the
ultimate reunion of the band in London during 2004 all the
more heartwarming. Kane hadn’t even practiced his bass
in the intervening years, and his friends in the Mormon
church raised the money for him to finally get it out of
the pawn shop once and for all, so that he could practice
for the concert. His reunion with surviving members David
Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain was touching, and the concert
itself was a triumph. Of course, other players needed to be
hired to fill out the ranks left by the deceased players.
Unfortunately, Kane would die from leukemia shortly after
the concert, adding a poignant postscript to this story.

This movie succeeds on two levels:  First, it provides an
intimate portrait of a man living in poverty who is given
a brief second chance at the life he once lived, as a Rock
star. It does this well. Second, via historical footage and
remembrances from people like Morrissey, it provides a
look at this highly influential band of the 1970’s. A huge
fan of the New York Dolls, Morrissey mentions when
interviewed that the band suffered the fate of a
group that was too far ahead of its time, in many respects.

Later bands that would be influenced by the New York
Dolls include Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, and Blondie,
along with many other Alternative/New Wave bands that
would achieve great fame and fortune. Although they had
a devoted core of followers when they were together, the
New York Dolls never achieved anything even remotely
resembling “mainstream” success. This is often the case
for true trailblazers and pioneers, and was obviously
frustrating not only for Kane, but also for frontman David
Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain.

“New York Doll: The Movie” was a 2005 theatrical release,
and a Grand Jury Prize Nominee at the Sundance Film
Festival held that year. It’s rated PG-13 and is worthwhile
viewing for anyone who would like to learn more about the
Punk/Glam Rock scene of the early 1970’s. Due to its main
focus on Arthur Kane, I believe it’s even more successful as a
human interest story. The bonus features also include a
roughly six-minute interview with its director, Greg Whiteley,
who was inspired by Kane’s story and provides his reasons
for making this film.