Last night we went to see New York Doll (blurbomat entry). The local NPR station did a live broadcast with the director, Greg Whiteley, and a panel with a local music writer who is the associate editor of the local kind of lefty mag (who used to write for grid magazine), the owner of a record shop that’s been around for years and a music director for a community radio station who used to edit a rival publication to the one that I used to art direct.
I’m not sure the panel added much, except the record shop guy and music director in 1980 called Sylvain Sylvain up to get him to play in their band. They actually got him on the phone by calling Max’s Kansas City and asking for him. When Sylvain asked them what kind of music they were playing and they responded, “punk”, he said “I hate punk!”
It was good to hear from the director as he talked about how he met Arthur, and to see shots of the reunion gig, Arthur maintaining his statuesque catatonic stage presence and David Johansen channeling Jagger.
The film is funnier and more poignant than I thought it would be, particularly the scene where Arthur, the practicing Mormon, prays before they take the stage in London. In that one scene, Whiteley succeeds where dozens of Mormon propaganda films have failed. He shows a man who is converted. Not an ideal, perfect guy, but a man who has bee through shit and found something that gave him purpose. His prayer is sincere and beautiful. It doesn’t hurt that Arthur is portrayed lovingly and is quite endearing as a subject.
The film is not perfect. I got the impression that Whitely discovered this nutty Mormon guy who had this incredible history, and this guy was working at the Mormon Family History Center in Los Angeles at the Mormon temple. It feels like Whiteley shot some stuff and then the story got interesting. It doesn’t feel like Whiteley had this undying love for the New York Dolls, but that as a Mormon, he was given a story in that Mormon world that is both impossible and implausible. What filmmaker wouldn’t grab a camera and start shooting?
If you are a fan of the New York Dolls, there is some great stuff here, but it’s not the definitive work that some might want. It’s all about Arthur “Killer” Kane. If you are a fan of documentaries, this is worth seeing.
Best quote of the film came from David Johansen, “And now the man who after this is going to sing some songs at the children’s hospital to cheer them up… Morissey.”
UPDATE: You can listen to the broadcast here.