Film Focusing on Arthur “Killer” Kane of the New York Dolls
Every Doll has its day, as you see in the movie New York Doll. I hit play on this short documentary clocking in at one hour and eighteen minutes thinking I’d be watching a film about one of the greatest bands to hit New York back in the early 1970s. Little did I know it would be a film about the band’s bass player, Arthur Kane, and the beautiful end to a rock star’s life.
For those who know nothing about the New York Dolls, please don’t start with the documentary New York Doll. Check out Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls And The CBGBs Set, or All Dolled Up: A New York Dolls Story. Each one will give you more details on how this band formed and its importance. Once you get a bit of history, come back to New York Doll and discover the life and times of Arthur Kane.
At the beginning of New York Doll, you are introduced to this unassuming man, Arthur Kane, who works at a Mormon library and find he once did the unthinkable – dressed like a woman prostitute and played hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll. True rock ‘n’ roll compared to what’s popular during the time like boring 10-minute solos and peace and love and too many forced smiles. The film takes a pilgrimage of the life of this trail-blazing son-of-b*tch and shows where his life went when the New York Dolls broke up so long ago. The resentment he felt for others’ success and how he turned to alcohol to cope. Circa the 1990s, he joins the Mormon church. My jaw dropped when they first mention that Arthur “Killer” Kane became a Mormon, yet that’s the way it unfolds. His first attempt at prayer felt like a “trip,” as he puts it.
As New York Doll reveals his life, you find sympathy for a man who watched his friends gain fame and those influenced by the New York Dolls generate millions following in their footsteps. The troubles and pain it caused him and his lack of a purpose give an understanding of how he found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or it found him).
Arthur Kane gets the most air time throughout New York Doll, and the film does a good job of adding graphics to show a timeline of his life. In between, you hear from friends, exes, and players of the scene like Morrissey, Christie Hynde (of the Pretenders), Leee Black Childers (photographer, writer, manager), Clem Burke (of Blondie), and Iggy Pop (of the Stooges).
Eventually, you find out Morrissey wants the New York Dolls to play the 2004 Morrissey’s Meltdown. Arthur’s reaction is disbelief and says ‘yes,’ to the dream-come-true question of whether will he play the show. A question he has been waiting for, for a long time as it’s been 30 years since the Dolls last played. The remainder of the film follows Arthur, and the other surviving members, as they prepare and play Morrissey’s Meltdown.
David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain are the only other two remaining New York Dolls alive. And there is mention of a feud between David and Arthur Kane, which upon seeing each other for the first time is quickly mute with Arthur’s smiling face. It’s more than a look you give to a friend, it’s a look you give to a family member lost and found again.
One of my favorite parts of New York Doll is when they take the stage for Morrissey’s Meltdown. As they perform, the documentary splices past performances. Their stage presence remains just as it did so long ago. Tears can form even for the hardest of punks at these old f**ks doing their thing. It’s beautiful. You should see it.
Tragedy strikes at the end when Arthur Kane dies shortly after the 2004 Morrissey’s Meltdown. Only 22 days. The entire movie you hear his plea, his want to play again, to be a Doll. And the idea he was able to right before he died — perfection. We could all be so lucky.
RIP, Arthur “Killer” Kane.