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New York Doll
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Babylon Revisited"
4 stars

“New York Doll” tells a story that is so chock-full of the ingredients one comes to expect from films dealing with the world of rock music–sex, drugs, dizzying highs, terrifying lows, personality conflicts, attempts at rehab and a last shot at the spotlight via a comeback concert--that if it were a fictional film, it would be laughed off the screen for being wildly implausible and cliched. However, this chronicle of Arthur “Killer” Kane, the former bass player for the semi-legendary rock band The New York Dolls, is not a work of fiction.

For those too old or too young to remember, the Dolls, who formed in the early 1970's, were a wild group that looked and sounded like a collision of the “Sticky Fingers”-era Rolling Stones, the “Ziggy Stardust”-era David Bowie and the Shangri-La’s (whose producer, George “Shadow” Morton worked with the group for a time). Described by many as a “cursed” band (their original drummer died just as they were about to sign their first recording contract), the group managed to release two albums–“New York Dolls” (1972) and “Too Much Too Soon”(1974)–before breaking up and leaving a legacy of songs (including such classics as “Personality Crisis,” “Trash,” “Babylon” and their incendiary covers of “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” and “(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown”) would go on to inspire any number of fans and fellow musicians (the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Bob Geldof, Iggy Pop and Mick Jones appear to deliver testimonials).

Over the years, the Dolls went their separate ways to different fates. Lead singer David Johansen went on to commercial success both as an actor (perhaps best known for playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in “Scrooged”) and through his alter-ego of Buster Poindexter. Guitarist Johnny Thunders formed the Heartbreakers (not Tom Petty’s) and recorded one authentic masterpiece, “You Can’t Throw Your Arms Around a Memory,” before OD’ing in the 90's Other members went on to other bands and other careers. However, no one seemed to know what happened to Arthur Kane, the group’s bassist and a man whose stage persona was so solid and implacable, despite the outrageous outfits, that one person in the film describes him, not inaccurately, as “the only living statue in rock and roll.”

In “New York Doll,” filmmaker Greg Whiteley catches up with Kane to fill in the blanks and gets one hell of a story in the process. After the breakup, Kane dabbled in music but never found an outlet that would allow him to reach the (relative) heights he had achieved with the Dolls. After the depressingly familiar bouts with alcohol, drugs and a busted marriage, Kane’s stock falls so low that when he makes an appearance in a Hollywood movie, it is as an extra in “Innerspace.” When even that work dried up, coupled with the later success of his bandmates, Kane decided to end it all by going headfirst out his kitchen window. He survived and during his convalescence, he began to study the Book of Mormon–a lark at first, he soon became a convert to the religion and when we see him, he is working as a librarian in one of their Family Centers while occasionally explaining to some elderly regulars that yes, he used to be in a rock band.

Then, in 2004, an unexpected miracle occurs. In England, glum-rock pioneer Morrissey was asked to be the guest programmer for a yearly arts festival and he wants to put on a reunion performance of the surviving Dolls. Kane gets his bass out of the pawnshop and heads off to New York to meet up with the guys that he hasn’t seen in decades to rehearse for the show. He appears both thrilled and nervous over the prospect–thrilled to once again get a chance, however brief, to get back on the stage and nervous over the question of whether the old conflicts will start up once again. The other thought on everyone’s mind is whether they can actually live up to their collective legend or if they were better off as a memory in the minds of their fans.

Those fans already know what happened next but newcomers will be surprised by the events in the final reels–both the triumphs and the tragedies–and even the hardest heart may find themselves getting a little misty-eyed. However, “New York Doll” is not a film that is dependent on such revelations in order to make its impact. Instead, Whiteley is more interested in telling a more spiritually-oriented story by looking at a man who lost everything, somehow made peace with himself and then found his faith rewarded in unanticipated ways. And yet, the film is not simply 75 minutes of Mormon propaganda–in fact, one of the funniest scenes occurs in a greenroom as an incredulous Johansen struggles to wrap his head around the tenets of the faith to which Kane has now devoted himself.

There have been a lot of rock documentaries in recent years, some of them fascinating and some little more than an excuse to slap together 90 minutes of archive footage to make a quick buck on the DVD market. “New York Doll” has a little more on its mind Instead, it is an uncommonly interesting and touching film that will be of value both to hard-core fanatics of the group and neophytes alike. If you are in the former group, you will want to run home after the film and dig out the old albums. If you are in the latter, you will want to schedule a post-screening trip to the nearest music store.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11207&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/24/05 22:23:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/06/07 Leonard B. Heartwarming example of redemption and "coming to life." 4 stars
3/22/07 Robert What a beautiful ending; a truly blessed man. I can't wait to meet him. 5 stars
10/24/06 Tanya Amazing, I own less than 10 DVD's and will buy this one. A must see that appeals to all. 5 stars
12/02/05 Punkman It's hilarious and touching... 5 stars
11/09/05 Patrick Perrett Fantastic, Excellent story of Rock redemption. 4 stars
10/30/05 Everett Possibly the best movie of the year. 5 stars
10/27/05 Phoebe Touching and Rawking! How often does THAT happen? 4 stars
7/08/05 Juliet Burk One of the most funny, touching, beautiful movies ever made. 5 stars
6/30/05 Kameron Bybee Loved it! What a great film. Can't wait to see it picked up for a wide release. 5 stars
6/23/05 Jackie I cried at the end. I never cry at the end of anything...this movie is AWESOME 5 stars
6/20/05 Paul J Jacobson A very stright foward look at a rock and roll inovator, yet a simple man. 5 stars
5/20/05 Steve one of the top movies I've ever seen 5 stars
2/16/05 Jennifer Earnshaw Powerful movie. Saw it three times at Sundance and it wasn't enough. See it for yourself. 5 stars
1/27/05 Draya P Love it, great story, amazing how it all came together. I'll see it again, and buy the DVD 5 stars
1/24/05 Amanda Really well done, fun and bright movie, great music 5 stars
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  28-Oct-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Apr-2006



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