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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 27.27%
Average: 18.18%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 15 user ratings

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New York Doll
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by Chris Parry

"The best advertisement for the Mormon faith since My Ten Wives."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: The New York Dolls were rock gods. They were the pinnacle of a musical movement that came from nothing, briefly scared the suburbanites, and then receded into near nothingness just as quickly as it had formed. In the midst of the mayhem that was the Dolls stood a hulking giant who barely moved while on stage; a man who stood and played and seemed either scared or bored or frozen in time. that man's name was Arthur "Killer" Kane, and his lack of stage presence made him an icon within a group of icons. It was his penchant for mind-altering substances that would become his downfall, leading him into a dark place that few escape from with a clear conscience. But Kane did indeed escape his personal hell... he became a Mormon and went to work in a library operated by the church. And now, many years later, Arthur has received the call to return to the stage, for one last time, as the Dolls reunite.

If you laid every musician who had ever been stoned out of his melon for a decade or more, end to end, you'd have yourself a damn fine scumbag highway. As the grandson of a jazz pianist, I know full well that any form of success on the stage invariably ends up becoming an invitation to live one's life as a god, with no rules, no threat of punishment, and no limits as to what you can have. You drink, you do drugs, you screw, and the worse you behave, the longer the line of people pepared to congratulate you for doing so. This has perhaps been never more true than it was in the 70's, as all it took was one successful show at the right venue to turn a group of teenagers from wannabes to underground superstars.

The New York Dolls took that route, burned bright, and then faded away really quickly, but their legacy lives on in the minds of thousands of musical artists who grew up listening to the band. Some continued their musical careers with other bands, or as producers. Others went into other forms of media, like David "Buster Poindexter" Johansen, who starred in Oz and is perhaps best remembered as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged. And then there was Killer Kane.

Kane had a life that featured big ups and massive downs. He had all the trappings of fame, but when the Dolls ended, he flailed and failed, culminating in the sort of lows that few make it back from. Failed marriage, destitution, the works. Until one day Kane found the Mormon Church.

Now, I'm not one to criticize religion just for the sake of criticizing religion. If someone finds something in the church that gives them reason to stay alive, then by all means clutch on to that something and don't let go. And the Mormon faith really did give Killer Kane a new start, so nice work on that front. My beef comes when that faith is given extraordinary status in the turnaround of a person - "God chose me" or "It was God's will that I get off heroin." To be fair, Killer Kane isn't one of those people - while he certainly credits the support he received from the church for his life turnaround, he's not standing on street corners with sandwich boards around his body yelling about the end times. But filmmaker Greg Whitely isn't always far off.

The real story with Killer Kane's turnaround is not that the people around him were Mormons, but that people gathered around him to help - period. While Kane's transformation to Mormon is unmistakeable and complete, New York Doll really is the story about a guy who had it all, lost it all, and discovered the beauty of quiet existence. It's the tale of a guy who 'got it', that fame is fleeting, riches are shallow, and that being able to walk the street in the morning and get a bus to work, for a job you enjoy, surrounded by people who like you for all the right reasons, is a damn fine way to live your life. But I don't get the impression Whitely really got that.

Instead, we follow Kane to his reunion concert, contrasting the wild-living former members of the Dolls with the quiet Kane, watching them laugh at his new life as he quietly, even angrily, looks away. Whitely makes the story about how Mormonism is an underappreciated lifesaver and everyone else is missing out, instead of what it should have been - a contrast in lifestyles, where everyone has found their happy middle ground, albeit in totally different ways.

Kane is a wonderful guy, and far from laughing at him and writing him off as a crazy, what the footage in the film shows is that those who remember Kane for his old ways, don't care whether he prays or doesn't pray, or whether he has leopard skin underpants or slacks. It's all about the music, man.

When a documentary shows an amazing character with an amazing story, but the filmmaker misses the point, it sets up an uneasy dynamic between audience and subject. In making a film that has been widely described as 'the best advertisement for Mormonism in years', Whitely misses the chance to make a film that would be better described as 'a biting expose on how fame is vastly underrated, and community is underappreciated.' That, to me, would have been a five star film. New York Doll is not.

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originally posted: 02/13/05 09:21:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/07/07 Leonard B. Heartwarming example of redemption and "coming to life." 4 stars
3/23/07 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
12/03/05 Punkman It's hilarious and touching... 5 stars
11/10/05 Patrick Perrett Fantastic, Excellent story of Rock redemption. 4 stars
10/31/05 Everett Possibly the best movie of the year. 5 stars
10/28/05 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
7/01/05 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
5/21/05 Steve one of the top movies I've ever seen 5 stars
2/17/05 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
1/25/05 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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