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Film review: 'New York Doll' chronicles life of LDS rocker

Musical documentary is filled with amazing coincidences

NEW YORK DOLL — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature about the late musician and LDS Church convert Arthur "Killer" Kane; rated PG-13 (drugs, profanity).

"New York Doll" is one of those stories so incredible that even the most creative Hollywood screenwriters couldn't have come up with it.

It's story filled with seemingly unbelievable coincidences, as well as a Hollywood-style ending so contrived that it wouldn't be believable — if it weren't real.

Writer-director Greg Whiteley's fascinating and moving musical documentary examines the life of the late Arthur "Killer" Kane, the former bass guitarist of the 1970s glam-rock icons the New York Dolls.

As it turns out, Kane was also a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Whiteley discovered when he became Kane's home teacher. When the film catches up with him, Kane is living in a small apartment in Los Angeles, barely eking out a living by working at the LDS Church's Family History Library.

Kane claims to have been "spoiled from the past," having rocketed to fame in the influential band. So he's obviously excited when he gets the news that he's been invited to participate in the Meltdown Festival, an all-day music event organized by British musician Morrissey.

The festival will mark the first time the surviving members of the New York Dolls — including singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain — have played together since they parted ways nearly 25 years earlier. And Johansen and Kane didn't exactly leave things on good terms.

Also, Kane has to get his bass guitar out of hock and then relearn how to play songs he hasn't played in at least two decades.

In his more outrageous, younger days, Kane looked a lot like Michael McKean's glammed-up rocker character in "This Is Spinal Tap." But as this documentary was being made, he resembles a buttoned-up version of British character actor Bill Nighy and is surprisingly soft-spoken and mild-mannered.

But Kane's sense of humor is still intact — as during a moment in which he likens his spiritual awakening to "an LSD trip from God."

The film's most telling moment — and one of its most touching — comes when Kane and Johansen are finally reunited. And Kane proceeds to share his religious beliefs with him!

Whiteley employs several creative techniques to give the film a unique look and feel, such as the use of a genealogical "tree" to show progression of the band. And he fleshes out the material with interview segments featuring some of Kane's musical peers — the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and Mick Jones from the Clash.

"New York Doll" is rated PG-13 for drug content (including some drug imagery and references to narcotics use), scattered use of profanity and a few disturbing images. Running time: 77 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com