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Nov 16th 2005

new york doll

new york doll movie

we repeat: go see new york doll. here are the sweet production notes:

New York Doll is a film that captures one of those rare occasions where life is not only stranger, but better than fiction.

and it continues:

As the founding member of the visionary rock group The New York Dolls, Arthur “Killer” Kane belonged to a select group of musicians widely credited as the definitive proto-glam-punk ensemble. The Dolls pioneered a look and sound that left the rock scene of the 60s back in time and helped pave the way for the punk and glam rock Dolls look-a-likes who would follow in the next decade. Musical historians agree that the Dolls directly influenced and inspired many of the most successful music acts of the last thirty years.

After the Dolls’ short-lived success and almost predictable break-up, the next thirty years that were Arthur’s life reflected none of his former glory. As Arthur puts it, he was “demoted from rock star to schlep on the bus.”

Director Greg Whiteley had recently graduated with a Masters degree in filmmaking from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena when he began attending the LDS Church on Santa Monica Blvd. It was there that he met Arthur Kane, whom he’d been told had once been in a band.

Whiteley recalls the first time he visited Arthur in his apartment in 2001:

“Arthur pointed to a poster of a rock band hanging on the wall behind his couch. The bassist in the poster had enormous hair and was wearing a skin-tight leotard, a feather boa and a large pair of thigh-high platform boots. ‘That’s me,’ he said.” He told Whiteley that he had not played with any of the Dolls after the break-up but still held out hope that they’d get back together.

The band formed in 1971 but began falling apart after the release of its aptly titled second LP, Too Much Too Soon, ultimately dissolving in 1975. While other Dolls members remained fixtures of the music scene and achieved new levels of success, Arthur was emotionally derailed by the Dolls’ demise and struggled with personal demons. He joined other bands, formed others still, but the combination of drugs, alcohol, and a failed marriage culminated in an incident in which Arthur fell from a third story window. It was a point the increasingly diffident Arthur delicately labeled “rock bottom.”

Meanwhile, the Dolls’ musical and style influences began fueling much of the up-and-coming punk and “hair metal” scenes of the early 1980’s. Bands as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Kiss, The Clash, Blondie and others borrowed the Dolls’ swagger and outrageous appearance. As former Smiths lead singer Morrissey puts it, “It seems to take the pop world thirty years to really understand a group or an artist” and few seemed to really understand or appreciate the New York Dolls.

In February 2004, Morrissey was named curator and artistic director of the 2004 Meltdown Festival in London. Amidst the flurry of his first hometown performance in seven years, and the release of a new album, Morrissey parlayed his administrative clout in an effort to reunite the Dolls.

A once obsessive follower of the band, and former president of its unofficial UK fan club, Morrissey quite clearly shared Arthur’s own dream. In his first statement concerning the festival, Morrissey said “…this is a privilege and I will rise to it. Curating Meltdown is a great opportunity for me to acknowledge some of the music and words that have excited me over the years.”

When Arthur informed Whiteley of the potential Dolls reunion in London, the director approached Arthur and suggested filming him as he prepared for the event. “We couldn’t believe it. I’m convinced that Arthur woke up every single day aching to get his band back together. I think it was the number one thing on his ‘to do’ list every single morning. And here it was finally happening.” The first day of shooting occurred when he asked Whiteley for a ride to get his bass out of the pawnshop so he could begin practicing for the event.

This breaking news, combined with the fact that Whiteley’s interviews with Arthur were beginning to “look like a film” emboldened the filmmaker to envision his modest project more ambitiously. What had initially begun as a short profile of Arthur’s strange journey from rock god to lost soul to LDS Family History worker, had become, for Whiteley, a bigger idea.

“I was working on some other projects at the same time. Things were coming together, but I thought I should find a way to get to London and film this. None of us had any idea what would become of the film but I thought at the very least I could give it to him as a present.”

Arthur’s dream of reuniting with the Dolls was finally coming true. He was excited, sharing his joy with everyone, and allowing Whiteley to film him all the while. What Whiteley soon began to appreciate, however, was that Arthur was most excited about the prospect of seeing his friends again.

“Arthur was actually more thrilled, and more intimidated about seeing David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain again. (Dolls members Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan died in 1991 and 1992 respectively). He’d ended it badly with the band, and regretted their split ever since. What he seemed to regret even more, though, was that he’d lost touch with his pals. Remember, they were all practically kids when they started. Arthur came from a broken home and in many respects the Dolls were his family, and he cherished them no matter how disenfranchised they had become.”

It was around this time that Whiteley brought onboard longtime friend Ed Cunningham to produce the film. A former Arizona Cardinal offensive lineman, and currently a college football color analyst for ABC Sports, Cunningham was fascinated with the idea of documenting Arthur’s journey. “I offered to do anything it took to get the film made, including sleep on the floor, or travel in the cargo compartment. I just loved this story, “ Cunningham says.

Whiteley then called his friend cinematographer Rod Santiano the night before they were to fly out to New York to film the surviving Dolls rehearse before they traveled to London. Greg then asked his friend Seth Gordon (producer/editor) of whom he had collaborated with before on an industrial film for the Marines if he would like to fly over for the London show. What started out as a guy following a friend around with a camera grew into a much bigger story and – we just kept adding parts,” said Whiteley. I am just grateful that people as talented and in demand as Seth, Rod and Ed made themselves available for what started out as a very small project.”

In New York, Arthur’s reunion with Sylvain Sylvain was effortless, but the longstanding strain between Johansen and Arthur, which Arthur worried might derail the reunion entirely, created a dramatic tension that culminated in a scene in New York where Arthur and David see each other for the first time in twenty years.

More than personal discord, however, it was the daunting task of filming the Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall in London that really began to concern Whiteley. “We had no business being there. We had no permission from Morrissey to film the Meltdown Festival. We just decided we would keep going until somebody said ‘no’. And nobody did. People loved the Dolls. They loved Arthur. All the big names who never seem to want to be interviewed, you just mentioned Arthur’s name and they volunteered and jumped in front of the camera.”

Whiteley’s interviewees soon became a who’s who of musical canon. Sir Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats, Live 8), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Mick Jones (The Clash), Iggy Pop (Iggy and the Stooges), Frank Infante and Clem Burke (Blondie), Don Letts (Big Audio Dynamite), and of course, Morrissey, all graciously cooperated with the filmmaker, leaping at the opportunity to spread their affection and affinity for, in Morrissey’s words, “one of the most raucous and notorious bands in musical history.” More specifically, however, they were ever willing to talk about the quiet and unassuming Arthur “Killer” Kane, “the only living statue of rock and roll” (a reference to Arthur’s infamous wooden posturing on stage).

The Dolls were the undisputed hit of the festival, celebrated by fans and the media. Their reunion was a complete success, and plans were immediately made to get together again for more gigs. A tour was even discussed (The surviving Dolls have, in fact, reunited and are producing a new album).

Many times a struggling young director’s first experience behind the camera is riddled with the logistic woes of independent filmmaking. But Whiteley considers the experience of “New York Doll” a fortuitous one.

“Along the way things fell into place, and in many ways it paralleled Arthur’s story. We found investors, rented gear, convinced friends to skip work and make our film, and headed off to New York and London to see if Arthur’s dreams – and ours – would materialize. It was very serendipitous. And, in the end, very emotional for everyone involved.”

“Arthur was finally able to get to that place he’d been trying to get for so many years and we all feel extremely fortunate to have been able to witness it.” [source]

3 Responses to “new york doll”

  1. al

    Radio West had a whole segment devoted to the dolls about two weeks ago, talking about how they were the pioneers and whatnot. Cool bit!

  2. al

    here is the link

  3. I’m going to see this (haven’t yet) – and may I highly recommend States of Grace (God’s Army 2). Praise I gave for it was picked up for the film’s promotion – Here’s my blog entry on it. It’s also at the reviews link at the href=””>web site, second page of review blurbs.