During the summer (2006) I watched the documentary “New York Doll.” Later, in August, I rewatched it at the Sunstone Symposium and attended a QandA by the movie’s director: Greg Whiteley. The documentary was pretty bizarre . . . but in a good way.
The film is about Arthur “Killer” Kane, an original member (bass guitar player) of the glam rock group, the New York Dolls. When they filmed thirty years later, Arthur was working 3 days a week doing fairly menial jobs at the Mormon geneological library near the Los Angeles Temple.
After the Dolls broke up, Arthur’s life crashed. And he became bitter in an Ozzie Osbourne sort of way. The early heavy living had taken its toll on his brain and body. During his long down period, he joined the Mormon church. According to Whiteley, Arthur’s church adventure had its ups and downs; he had trouble with the religion’s restrictions. He was eventually reactivated for good by an elderly, hunched over Stake Patriarch who would hobble over to Arthur’s apartment. The library job cemented his return to the fold.
The documentary has a lot of interviews with his home teacher, bishop, ex-bishop, and colleagues at the church library. They are all very respectful of Arthur and the church members acquit themselves welll. Arthur comes across as sweet, but bitter. Not toward the Mormon church, but about the fame that he had lost. There are also a lot of interviews with Arthur’s contemporaries, and they are all generally lauditory.
The whole film is a buildup to a “reunion” Doll’s concert that was held a few years ago in London. According the Whiteley, the rehearsals in New York didn’t go particularly well, but Arthur did have a pleasant reunion with the Doll’s lead singer, with whom he had been estranged for a long time. In London everything went perfectly at the concert and Arthur retrieved some of his old glory. One chronicler described Arthur as one of rock’s “greatest living statues,” after his penchant for just playing his instrument with few histrionics.
In London, the Doll’s lead singer made playful fun of Arthur’s Mormonism (tithing, word of wisdon, etc.), but Arthur took it well. One of the many endearing moments in the movie is when Arthur offered a prayer prior to the concert. It was a nice prayer, everyone seemed respectful and genuinely touched. After the concert, Arthur had other opportunities, but chose to return to L.A. and his church job.
The documentary is engrossing because of the contrast between the two lives (heavy metal rocker and geneological librarian), and because it treats its subject with respect. It is probably manipulative with its editing, but it is still very impressive. I loved this film.