Lately, there seems to be a fine line between documentary filmmaking and the monstrously disproportionate “reality” industry. “Reality” frees the filmmaker or star or producer from the confines of objectivity. In “reality,” stories can be manipulated for entertainment. In good documentary filmmaking, however, life must happen naturally. Whatever shape the story ultimately takes isn’t supposed to be up to the filmmaker. It’s unavoidable, at times, not to interject subjectivity.
In the surprisingly moving documentary, or if you will, rockumentary, New York Doll, an unpredictable plot twist makes the film stand for something more than just an entry in the “Where are they now?” file.
Being a New York Dolls fan defines a person. All you need to know about them is wrapped up in that preference. They were called dolls and they dressed up in glam rock garb, birthing untold numbers of bands and personas in their wake. When they broke up, they spread out like sharp shards from a shattered vase. Most of them immersed themselves in hard drugs and/or alcohol, which rendered them mostly useless, or worse, insane.
One such exile was the Dolls’ base player, Arthur “Killer” Kane, a tall, blonde introvert whose stage presence was probably the opposite of who he really was – a character he once played. The film, “New York Doll,” is Kane’s strange, sad story of how he was a Doll, then he almost died from alcohol addiction, went into rehab, found Mormonism and eventually made his way back to the music…until fate would have its way with him again.
In addition to many a great voice being interviewed in the doc, like Chrissie Hynde, Morrissey, Iggy Pop and Bob Geldof, those who knew Kane as a rock star, an addict, and finally a Mormon are there to shed light on the man’s life. He rounds out to be, ultimately, a fairly simple-minded fellow who looks like he’d be just as comfortable milking cows for the Amish as dressing up in glittery spandex – hardly one of a few that kick-started the punk movement in the States.
The story follows Kane’s obsessions, big and small – like the one in which he wants to re-unite the Dolls for one last show, well, what’s left of them anyway, those who weren’t dead or too tweaked to perform. It follows his odd rivalry with the band’s one big success, David Johanson, aka Buster Pointdexter, who had no idea of Kane’s imagined mutual dislike. It was Kane, in the end, who secretly and passionately hated Johanson.
Probably the most entertaining parts of the film revolve around the “normal” people with whom Kane works and lives. Sweet old ladies who have no real clue as to whom they’ve been getting to know all of these years. Somehow, he stumbled out of a world he couldn’t handle and found one that just seemed to suit him better. Indeed, it was as though he traded one addiction (booze) for another (religion) but at least he was functioning somewhat in the real world. In fact, he describes his first prayer as something akin to an acid trip.
In one scene, he tries in vain to explain the Mormon rules of no booze, no caffeine, no cigarettes, no drugs etc. to Johanson and others. Simply because so many drugged out rockers of the past few decades have become Twelve Steppers, Kane’s religious ramblings don’t come off half badly at all; in fact, for a while there it looks like he might just convince one or two of them that there are better ways to blow what little money they have left.New York Doll is surprisingly moving at the end – it is as if Kane somehow knew what would ultimately become of him and was working against the clock. Either way, it serves as a delightful reminder to some of us, that the best really is yet to come.