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New York Doll:: (Film Review)

They may have looked like a pack of ugly transvestite prostitutes, but at their early-’70s sleaziest, the New York Dolls could outrock and outraunch the Rolling Stones. Dressed in platform boots and thrift-shop drag and belting out songs like “Trash,” “Identity Crisis” and “Jet Boy,” the Dolls single-handedly revitalized the downtown New York City music scene with their combination of glam rock and Brill Building pop. And they set the stage for the coming punk explosion before imploding in a mess of ego, drinking and drugs after only two albums. By the time fan-boy Morrissey would attempt to recruit the band 30 years later for the 2004 Meltdown Festival in London, there wasn’t much left to reunite. Lead guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummers Billy Murcia and Jerry Nolan were all dead. Lead singer David Johansen had gone his own way, recording a few solo albums, briefly morphing into Buster Poindexter (“Hot Hot Hot”) and appearing in movies. Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain was appearing around NYC as a solo act. The strangest post-Dolls path, however, was taken by bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane: After bottoming out and nearly killing himself in L.A., Kane found salvation through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and took a job helping out around the Family History Center library. That’s where filmmaker Greg B. Whiteley found Kane when Morrissey’s request arrived — humbly riding the bus to work every day alongside sweet-faced elderly women who had no idea that the awkward, 55-year-old giant loading the copier was a rock legend. Shot in 2004, while Kane was traveling back to NYC to reunite with Johansen and Sylvain and rehearse for the upcoming festival dates, Whiteley’s film is an unexpectedly poignant chronicle of an unexpected turn in a completely unexpected life. The film is filled with great footage of the Dolls in their heyday, together with interviews of various rock luminaries and of Kane’s coreligionists. But its best part melds the Dolls’ vintage performance of “Jet Boy” on The Old Grey Whistle Test with their 2004 Royal Festival Hall version of the same song. This might be the only documentary that will appeal to punks and Mormons alike. — Ken Fox