Review: ‘New York Doll’

Even though I was thoroughly enjoying it, about 15 minutes into the documentary “New York Doll” I began to get a bit worried. The Mormons seemed too nice and naive, the punks too decadent, and Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane, the washed-up punk bassist turned Mormon too awkward and goofy (and too much of a loser, frankly). The whole story was still fascinating, of course, but great Mormon art? Eh.

But then when Arthur travels to New York to reunite with his former band members and then to London to play Morrisey’s meltdown the threads began to come together. The situations got more intense, and the whole narrative became funnier, harder, sweeter and, in the end, tragic. I don’t want to spoil things for those who haven’t seen the film, but there are some amazing moments. Some amazing Mormon moments.

And in the end, well, I began to see Bro. Kane as those around him — both punks and Mormons — saw him as a humble, talented guy with an inner strength and optimism that is truly inspiring.

“New York Doll” is not only a fine, entertaining documentary, it is also a genuine piece of Mormon art. I grant it instant canonical status.

If you remain unconvinced, check out Brian Gibson’s in-depth review at By Common Consent.

More on the documentary, including showtimes, at the New York Doll Web site


1. I attended a screening last weekend at the Roxie in San Francisco. The crowd was probably 75-80% punk fans and 20-25% Mormons (not counting the overlap between the two). Director Greg Whiteley was there for a Q&A — some fascinating questions. It took one young punk girl about two minutes of hedging to finally get out here question about whether or not the profits from the film would go to Mormon church. Greg deftly handled the question, explaining that the profits go to the production company, but that as an active church member he would indeed be paying tithing on the ‘millions’ that would he would be personally earning from the film (all of his Q&A answers were honest, to-the-point and generally funny and he really seemed to connect to the audience — specifically to all the punks sitting down in the front).

2. The canonical status thing is a bit of joke. A serious one. But I stand relatively firmly in the camp that we just don’t have enough works of Mormon art yet to seriously talk about a Mormon canon (an aesthetic canon — doctrinal/historical canons are a different matter).

3. If you haven’t seen it yet — pay attention to the music and the graphics. I would need to see it several times before I could do a worthwhile analysis, but I think we’re seeing the glimmer of a Mormon aesthetic. Or at the very least, an excellent example of how Mormon materials can be used aesthetically.

6 thoughts on “Review: ‘New York Doll’”

  1. WM,
    This is indeed a fantastic film. It was more spiritual/touching than any previous “Mormon” movie I have seen. Fantastic film. 

    Posted by Rusty

  2. I think the key moment for me is when Arthur is getting teased about being Mormon in the dressing room. The way he is teased and the way he dutifully did his best to make a stand is just so universal. That was the moment where I really felt that this film had something to say very specific to the Mormon experience. 

    Posted by Brian G

  3. I think it would be interesting to find out what the punk audience thought of the film, and more specifically, what they think of Arthur. I read an interesting review in the paper that amazingly mentioned the religious aspects of the film twice and then only briefly. The whole thing focused on the band and the reunion. It made me wonder if that’s the way the film is looked at by most people – as a documentary about the reunion of a punk band, with some weird Mormon stuff in the background. Unfortunate, because that perspective is missing a lot. On the other hand, it may be a good thing from a commercial standpoint, if people see what they want to see.  

    Posted by Eric Russell

  4. William, I’ve been fascinated lately by this concept of the “aestetic canon” you mentioned. I’ve heard the term bantered around in some other places as well. Over the last ten years or so, there has been a real blossoming of LDS arts, particularly in the popular arts. I agree, that even with that, there still isn’t enough to really have “classics” of LDS art yet.

    But I’d be really curious to discover what works are leaning that way, in all genres…


    PS, I reviewed “Doll” and “States of Grace” at Moboy:

    Posted by Mark Hansen

  5. William,

    Could I persuade you to say more about the graphics and how they relate to a “Mormon aesthetic”? Are you referring to the music genealogy chart, or the time lines, or something else?

    Quite the contrary, I think. I’ve read more reviews that say “Interesting stuff, for heavy-handed Mormon propaganda” than ignore the religious aspects. Christgau, for one.

    Greg Call

  6. I enjoyed the version of “Poor Wayfaring Man” that Buster Poindexter performs at the end of the film. At first I assumed it was a joke, but ultimately I found it to be a touching tribute to his friend and former bandmate. It was quite appealing.  

    Posted by Brad Mortensen

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