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New York Doll

In 1974, Arthur “Killer” Kane was the hard-living bass player for the cult rock band the New York Dolls, early influencers of the punk genre. In 2004, Kane is a devout Mormon, a recovering addict… and once again the bass player for the New York Dolls. Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.


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The New York Dolls were the ultimate in-your-face punk band of the 1970’s. With an unforgettable style, the Dolls pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable content in music and art. In particular, the group’s image played with gender identity issues back when this was still considered a major cultural taboo. Yet the title of the band’s second album, Too Much Too Soon, pretty much sums up the band’s story. Due to the pressures of success, substance abuse and  tensions between Arthur “Killer” Kane and David Johansen, the band broke up.

After years of struggles, Kane sobered up and became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A popular urban myth suggested he was brutally assaulted during the Rodney King riots, though this is only half true. Despite health issues and financial woes, Kane rejoined the New York Dolls in 2004 for the band’s reunion show.

This movie is what happened next…

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New York Doll was a smash hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary competition. The now classic rockumentary also features appearances by such celebrated musicians as Morrissey (The Smiths), Iggy Pop (The Stooges), Mick Jones (The Clash), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) and Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats). 


Where did the music go?

The New York Dolls influenced rock groups such as The Sex Pistols, Kiss, The Ramones, Guns N' Roses, The Damned and The Smiths, whose lead singer Morrissey organized a reunion show for the New York Dolls' surviving members in 2004.

If documentary film is about being the "fly-on-the-wall," then there’s always an element of luck to the final product. Every doc filmmaker wants to be the most inconspicuous fly on the most interesting wall in the world. In this sense, Greg Whiteley’s story about a troubled musician rejoining one of the pioneering groups of punk rock was always going to be compelling no matter what. The New York Dolls had come back into vogue as a younger generation of indie music fans rediscovered their sound, and Kane’s personal narrative had all the elements of the classic rock star tragedy. Kane’s struggle to confront the demons of his past in the figurative forms of addiction, loneliness, and “has-been” status, as well as the more literal form of estranged fellow New York Doll David Johansen, would earn New York Doll its place in the canon of rockumentaries. Yet Kane’s [SEMI-SPOILER ALERT] untimely death after being diagnosed with leukemia turn the film into a poetic meditation on the human condition that no one saw coming at the outset of this project. On top of all that, the music is still rad, with appearances by such rock deities as Morrissey, Iggy Pop, and Chrissie Hynde.

The New York Dolls had many members over the years, but for their first two and most influential albums the line up consisted of: Johnny Thunders, Sylvain Sylvain, Jerry Nolan, Arthur Kane and David Johansen.

3 comments

  1. Marquis de Shade ( User Karma: 5 ) says:

    Cool band. I don’t know that the Dolls were necessarily the inventors of punk in the US. MC5 and The Stooges came first. Detroit in the 1960’s was where it was at for badass white boy rockers. I’m curious what Iggy has to say in the movie.

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