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Reunion with rock's glam proves grand

From catching up with a musician fallen into obscurity, 'New York Doll' takes thoroughly engaging twists.

October 28, 2005|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

"New York Doll" is a documentary with the charm of the unexpected. It's a rock 'n' roll fairy tale involving fame and obscurity, feuds and friendship, glam rock and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If that sounds like an unlikely combination, the reality is twice as improbable.

Front and center in this genial tale is 55-year-old Arthur Kane, introduced wryly complaining about the Los Angeles bus system that takes him from his midcity home to his job servicing copy machines at the Westside's LDS Family History Center. "I've been demoted," he says at one point, "from rock star to schlep on the bus."

Thirty years earlier, this man was Killer Kane, bassist in the influential cross-dressing glam rock band the New York Dolls, characterized by British singer Morrissey as "one of the most raucous, notorious bands in rock 'n' roll history."

The combination of alcoholism (his own) and heroin addiction (two of his bandmates), feuds and bad decisions led to the breakup of the Dolls and Kane's decades-long estrangement from rock.

In the interim, he'd converted to Mormonism after answering an ad in TV Guide, a development someone says is "like Donny Osmond becoming a New York Doll."

That's when director Greg Whiteley, a fellow Mormon, met Kane in L.A. His plan was to do a small-scale documentary on this quirky, engaging individual, whose onstage immobility, one rock critic noted, made him "the only living statue in rock 'n' roll." That's when fate stepped in.

For when Dolls fan Morrissey was named curator of London's 2004 Meltdown Festival, he asked the surviving Dolls (Kane, Sylvain Sylvain and frontman David Johansen) to put aside their past differences and reunite. To each other's amazement, they all agreed.

While Kane's Family History Center colleagues, knowing how much of a dream this had been for him, pitched in so he could get his bass out of hock, director Whiteley managed to find financial backing and persuade filmmaker friends to accompany Kane to the pre-concert rehearsals in New York and the concert in London, the first music the man had played in long years. While many projects never get off the ground, this was one that was meant to be.

"New York Doll" was also fortunate in its interview subjects. Aside from the thoughtful, articulate Morrissey, the film talks to celebrated Dollophiles including the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, the Clash's Mick Jones, Iggy Pop and Bob Geldof. And then there is Kane himself, who has a disarming quality all his own.

Though it is small in scale and lasts only 78 minutes, "New York Doll," like any documentary, goes places we expect it to and places we do not. As journeys go, this is one to treasure.


'New York Doll'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for drug content

Times guidelines: Frequent references to drug use

Released by First Independent Pictures. Director Greg Whiteley. Producers Ed Cunningham, Seth Gordon. Cinematographer Roderick Santiano. Editor Seth Gordon. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.

In limited release.

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