He's first introduced as a nervous, unassuming type, quietly waiting for a Los Angeles MTA bus – you wouldn't peg him as one of the more influential rock musicians of the last three decades, but indeed, the New York Dolls' bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane sums it up best: "I'm demoted from rock star to a schlep on the bus." Such is the opening scene of Greg Whiteley's poignant, engaging New York Doll, a brisk biography and documentary charting the surprise reunion of the greatly influential rock band, noted as the source of much of the modern music saturating our existence.
A host of bold-face names sit for Whiteley's camera, including Sir Bob Geldof, The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, Iggy Pop, photographer Bob Gruen, The Clash's Mick Jones, author Nina Antonia, Blondie's Clem Burke, bandmates David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain as well as Morrissey, whose 2004 curation of the Meltdown Festival in London instigated the reunion of the seminal Seventies band. With the looming reunion as his framing device, Whiteley explores the 30-year gap between Kane's somewhat hedonistic lifestyle during the New York Dolls' lightning quick existence through his tumultuous alcoholism and eventual conversion to the Mormon religion, which employs him at the Los Angeles visitor's center. Relying upon archival performances as well as newly filmed interview footage, Whiteley constructs a cheeky love letter to not only the New York Dolls' injection of sex and danger back into the popular music of the early Seventies, but also Kane's life; tragically, Kane passed away not long after the Dolls' reunion in 2004, which tinges New York Doll a distinct shade of melancholy. Despite the outcome being known, Whiteley manages to generate a fair bit of suspense as to whether Kane will not only keep his cool while reuniting with his bandmates, but whether he'll actually take the stage in London.
Despite only two studio albums and existing less than five years, the New York Dolls had a tremendous impact upon every rock band that strapped on a guitar thereafter – visually and aurally audacious, the Dolls delivered a much-needed slap in the face to a genre besotted with interminable drum solos and brainless electronic noodling. Thanks to Kane and company, rock was likely saved from the nerds – whether for good or ill is debatable. With its weirdly compelling subject and a few tongue-in-cheek nods to the Dolls' considerable influence, New York Doll entertains and moves you, maybe even surprising you with its emotional depths.
New York Doll is presented with a sharp, clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer – while much of the archival footage expectedly looks like crap, the newly filmed interviews look crisp and free of defect. The often hand-held footage of Kane on the streets of Los Angeles doesn't jitter or display significant video noise .
As befits a documentary about a man and his music, New York Doll arrives on DVD outfitted with a surprisingly subdued Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack – while the dialogue from the numerous interviews is strong and clear, the music lacks punch. There is occasional surround activity (notably in the concert sequences) but I wanted more. A Dolby 2.0 stereo track is also onboard.
In lieu of a commentary, director Whiteley submits to a six minute interview, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen; extended interview footage with New York Dolls superfan Morrissey runs a total of 19 minutes, likewise presented in non-anamorphic widescreen; a music video of sorts, Johansen and Brian Koonin perform "Come, Come Ye Saints," presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with a trailer for Be Here To Love Me and the New York Doll theatrical trailer completing the package.
New York Doll centers on the left-of-center life lived by Arthur "Killer" Kane, bassist and founding member of the deeply influential rock band New York Dolls – director Greg Whiteley fashions a loving tribute to both the band and the man, finding pathos in the most unexpected places. Highly recommended.