New York Doll is a film that captures one of those rare occasions where life is not only stranger but also better than fiction. 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 paved the way for the punk and glam rock Dolls look-alikes who would follow in the next decade. Unfortunately, like many other bands, the Dolls crashed and burned amidst a flurry of drug and alcohol abuse. Fast forward thirty years, and find 55-year-old Arthur riding the bus to his job at the LDS Family History Center Library in Los Angeles. Arthur had converted to Mormonism in 1989 after answering an ad in Reader’s Digest. He’s somewhat content but still dreaming of reuniting with the Dolls and returning to life as a musician. Enter Greg Whiteley, a filmmaker and member of Arthur’s ward, who believes Arthur’s life story would make a wonderful short documentary and begins interviewing him. As they are moving ahead with this project, they learn that Morrissey, the legendary former lead singer of The Smiths and a huge fan of the Dolls, would like to have the band reunite for a huge music festival in London he is organizing. This breaking news, combined with the fact that Whiteley’s interviews with Arthur were beginning to “look like a film,” emboldens 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 was becoming a bigger idea. The final film, New York Doll, is an 76-minute documentary that has excited audiences at festivals, including the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and in theatrical release. The film features interviews about the Dolls and Arthur with rock legends Morrissey, Bob Geldolf, Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones, Iggy Pop, and others. It also features interviews with Arthur’s friends at the Family History Library (who pitch in to help Arthur get his guitars out of hock so he can begin practicing for the reunion) and depicts many poignant moments leading up to Arthur’s reunion with the other surviving members of the Dolls and their triumphant comeback at the 2004 Meltdown Festival.

Greg Whitely