"New York Doll"
5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 13, 2005
Movie review by David MalschArthur "Killer" Kane was the bass player for the seminal Glam-punk rock band the New York Dolls in the early '70s. They were formed in 1971, released two albums and broke up in 1975. Kane was considered the greatest rock and roll statue ever because he never moved on stage, he couldn't breath and play his bass at the same time. He stood 6'4" and like his bandmates were glammed up to look like transvestite hookers, they were "Rocky Horror" before there was a "Rocky Horror." The Dolls were the androgynous siblings of the Rolling Stones. Lead singer David Johansen (one of the great frontmen of all time) and guitarist Johnny Thunders were considered Jagger and Richards on acid. They breathed new life into a decade where progressive mod rock and heavy metal ruled the day. They influenced countless bands from The Clash and The Sex Pistols to Motley Crue and Poison.
When the Dolls broke up and went their separate ways, it affected no one more than Killer Kane. The Dolls were his life and without them who was he? Eventually, two members of the band succumbed to heroin and another to heart failure, but it was Killer Kane that should have been the fourth. Kane was an alcoholic and after the breakup fell into a deep depression that included a lot of bitterness. He went on to form other bands but to little success, he became a film extra in Hollywood but that also led him nowhere. In the '80s while watching television, he saw the movie "Scrooged" that starred Bill Murray and co-starred ex-Doll's lead singer Johansen. It was that moment when Kane could no longer accept his life and he plunged himself out of a three-story window. It was a suicide attempt that only got him broken bones and an even more bruised ego. His wife left him; he was flat broke and now hobbled.
While recovering from his injuries he saw a commercial for the Church of latter-day Saints and ordered himself the Book of Mormon. When the book finally showed up it was accompanied with two blonde missionaries and the rest was history. Kane quickly went from recovery to religion and barely looked back. He took a job with the church working in the Family History Center/Library where he aided visitors, kept to copy machine full of paper and made a modest living. While the other Dolls were continuing their music that included Johansen's transformation into Buster Poindexter, Kane went from (in his words) "rock star to schlep on the bus". Despite Kane's new Mormon life he would forever be haunted and nostalgic for his glorious Glam days.
Perhaps the biggest fan of the New York Dolls was ex-Smith's lead singer Morrissey. He saw them for the first on British television when he was 13 years old and became the president of their British fan club. In 2004, Morrissey's annual Meltdown Festival invited the remaining Dolls to reunite and perform at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Despite how badly the band ended, all three remaining members agreed to reunite. Kane's co-workers at the church all pitched in and got his bass guitar out of debt and off he went to New York City to rehearse and rekindle his relationship with Johansen and guitarist Sylvian Sylvian, both whom he hadn't seen in over 30 years.
It is at this point in this glorious film where you have so much love and affection for Killer Kane that you are on the edge of your seat and rooting for him to succeed like it's a sports movie. Kane despite is past addictions was one of the sweetest guys you could ever meet. He never wanted to stop being Killer Kane and longed for the opportunity to be him again with his friends the Dolls. This opportunity in London was a new chance for Kane and he wasn't about to screw up this time. There is always a fear of bands getting back together because rarely are they ever the same, but the Dolls playing the Meltdown Festival is so terrific and inspiring that you just can't stop smiling along with everyone there.
This maybe the only film ever where two completely opposite people like punk fans and Mormons can sit side by side in a movie theatre and enjoy this film. It is such a homage and love song to Killer Kane, musically and spiritually. His transformation from being rock star to Mormon is so genuine you never once feel that his religion isn't sincere. During that 2004 performance he even traded in his drag queen costume to look like Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. This film is a triumph but even more so if you are a rockin' member of the latter-day Saints (hey Karla!).
Within two weeks of that London performance, Kane returned back to his quiet life in L.A. and was diagnosed with Leukemia and died within two hours of finding out. Not only did the death of this sweet man devastate music fans around the world it dramatically affected the lives of his family in the church. Most of us will never know what it is like to be a rock star and even fewer will have a second chance like Killer Kane had. Perhaps that second chance is what helped Kane the most in the end, hopeful is bitterness died long before he did. In the end, the story of Killer Kane by fellow Mormon and first time Director Greg Whiteley is not only glorious but also emotionally wonderful. Arthur would have been proud.
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