Monday, November 20, 2006

New York Doll

Well, I finally saw New York Doll last night and I can’t get it off my mind! What an amazing, amazing work.

I think this film is an amazing example of what LDS art should be. Here’s why:

It simply told a story.
It told it very truthfully, without emotional manipulation.
The character that the story was about was Mormon.
Some things happened to him. Some of them involved his Mormon-ness.
The viewer was left to make her own judgments about the story and the character. (No preaching of any kind!)

Amazing, amazing. (Did I mention it was amazing?) This story was told in such a way that I COULD NOT DOUBT the religious experience that Arthur Kane had—without ever even feeling as if the creators expected me to believe it! What breathtaking skill! I kept thinking about another Arthur, Arthur Henry King, who tells about his experience reading Joseph Smith's account of the first vision, and feeling absolutely compelled to believe it because of the plain and non-manipulative words Joseph used. (And is Brother King now rolling over in his grave at having been compared with New York Dolls' Brother Kane?)

Now, aside from my feelings about this film as a piece of Mormon art, here are some other observations:

How ridiculous (to me—I wonder if it did to non-Mormons, or to people involved in rock culture?) the other members of his band looked compared to Arthur when they reunited. Saggy, dirty, silly, with their swaggers and attempts to be polite about Arthur’s conversion. Weird to think that they were probably looking at him with gentle condescension because he was poor and had never made anything of himself and now belonged to this weird church. Weird because of how silly they looked in their stupid clothes. They laugh a little at him because he feels a responsibility to return to his job (at the family history library) on Monday because they are understaffed. Is the concept of responsibility, of not letting down one’s friends, so foreign to them? Such a strange and beautiful juxtaposition of cultures and values.

I was very moved by the fact that Arthur died so soon after the reunion. To me, it was God’s reward for his faithfulness through what must have been incredible odds. (Arthur seemed quite lonely. I think he is probably being sweetly rewarded now.) I’m not sure I have as much faith as Arthur showed by converting after such a wild life, and then quietly sustaining that conversion in the face of his old friends, whom he must have sensed laughing at him at times.

This movie haunts me.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Here is my 100% original poem on the subject. (You know it got to me if I'm writing poetry about it.)

Paper Dolls
In Memoriam: Arthur "Killer" Kane of the New York Dolls (1949-2004)
“They who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 9:18).

Candy-coated rock stars, once your friends,
giggle in embarrassment, slide their eyes
away behind their glasses, feebly pat
your shoulder with their cartoon sophistication.
If we put them in the sun, they'd melt.

Not you.
You welcomed sunlight, judging glare that pierced
with pain, revealing ugliness: the inside
of the dumpster, the bottom
of a shoe, the terror
of the darkest part
of your own small, withered heart.

You winced but didn't look away.

The starkness of the light has softened you.
Now you stand, newborn pink, and face the sun.

You are foreign to these paper dolls,
spreading wide your arms, meeting their eyes.
They shiver, sensing hidden holiness.
You lope into the afternoon to catch a bus.


Darlene said...

I have to admit that my thoughts and my poem cannot really be about the man, Arthur Kane. Rather, they are about the character in the movie whose name was Arthur Kane. Because all I know of him is how he was painted. (Who knows what he was really like?) But I was really touched by this character and thought it worthy of a poem.

Darlene said...

Also, I think I used the word "amazing" too much in this post. But I'm too lazy to go back and edit it. Deal with it.

kristen said...

I just borrowed this movie from some friends of ours...we got it two days ago and still haven't seen it. I will today!!

mary ann said...

Loved the movie. I saw it with a friend from high school. We loved seeing the bands that we used to listen to talking about the man who had converted to Mormonism. We loved the juxtaposition of the genealogical library with the geneology of rock they used. We loved Arthur's earnest attempt to pay tribute to Joseph Smith. We loved Arthur.
Incidentally, my friend now lives in LA, and Arthur was for some months her home teacher. She said he was diligent and came every month with his companion, but didn't say very much. I also loved the sense of closure and redemption that Arthur got by participating in the meltdown.
My friend said that the home teacher was the unsung hero of that whole story (helping him financially with the bass in the pawn shop, the trip to London, the concierge's jacket and more), and I told my husband he should show it to his elders quorum as an example of true home teaching.

Darlene said...

Kristen, hope you like it as much as I did.

Mary Ann, Yeah, that would really solidify Rob's role as pillar of conservative righteousness in your ward.