May 21, 2006

The Miracle of God's Creation

Most rock music in the early 70's was mired in boredom, safety, and pretention - long instrumental solos, a lack of connectedness to real life, etc. Then, the New York Dolls came and blew it all away - while never commercially successful, their back-to-the-basics approach influenced everything from punk to metal and back again. Two members died of complications from heroin use, two stayed in the music business...and bass player Arthur "Killer" Kane seemed to fade into relative obscurity.

The film New York Doll answers that question beautifully, and avoids the easy route of success to failure to comeback. It provides a picture of a man who, despite fighting his demons, finds spiritual (and musical) salvation. It is definitely one of the best rock-and-roll documentaries ever made.

In an hour and twenty minutes (or thereabouts), director Greg Whiteley takes us through Kane's life, emphasizes the importance of the Dolls in music history, tells us Kane's story (including his surprising conversion to Mormonism), and follows him through the Dolls' 2004 reunion at Morrisey's Meltdown Festival. New York Doll has a very gentle, yet informative tone - we learn of Kane's "feud" with a fellow Doll (alluded to with a "I won't say his name", but spoiled with a clever jump cut to a film clip), his problems with alcoholism, his struggles to maintain his musical career...but the best sequence is Kane's recollection of how he entered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (and interviews with his brethren) is a masterful sequence, showing us that spiritual development can make riveting filmmaking.

But the personal highlight is the third act - the actual reunion beween the surviving New York Dolls members. We see Kane fly out to New York for rehearsals, and gradually face down his demons. His reuniting with his two former band members has a sweetness and tenderness - something you would not associate with a band with the Doll's reputation. (In fact, the coolest moment comes when a fellow Mormon states that Kane wanted a "Brigham Young" style look - take that Osmonds!) And towards the end, Whiteley intercuts the reunited Dolls singing "Jet Boy" with the younger Dolls' appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test...and they sync almost perfectly. That's a tribute to the quality of the new Dolls' playing...and the end reveals the tragic answer to the question, "How is Arthur Kane ever going to adjust to not being onstage?"

My advice is that you rent this movie...and save your pennies to buy the Doll's two studio albums, or this compilation (the second album is out of print, so scour your local indie record store for a used copy). You, your stereo, and your DVD player will not leave disappointed.

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