Though Greg Whiteley had been a film student, he didn’t think that his first feature doc would be anything remotely like this movie, but when he got to know fellow Mormon Arthur Kane, he found out he had a remarkable life before joining the Church of The Latter Day Saints. Arthur “Killer” Kane had been the drugging and debauched bass player of the legendary New York Dolls. Well, more than 20 years after they formed, the band was revived with the three remaining members — Kane, lead singer David Johansen and guitarist Syl Sylvain — to do one memorable gig in England.
The L Magazine: Did you want to make a rock movie?
Greg Whitely: No. This is a movie about a guy who was a rock star but it’s not a rock-u-mentary. I think as a result it avoids some of the clichés you find in VH1 behind the music. Not that those are bad. I enjoy them. This is a story about a guy who really wanted something really bad for a long period of time and he miraculously got it. What inspired me was he was a friend of mine. He went to church with me.
The L: So you are a Mormon? Had you been a filmmaker before you knew Arthur?
GW: I was a graduate film student when I met Arthur.
The L: When you first met Arthur, was it a surprise to see how different he was from typical Mormons?
GW: I think that’s part of what the film addresses. We make this box and we write on it, “typical Mormon” and then we take this box and we write “typical rock star.” I find the more you get to know someone the less they fit in that box. I probably do not fit the stereotype of a typical Mormon.
The L: How did you decide to make this film?
GW: Well, over the years I got to know Arthur, he would drop names to me. To me I would go, does he really know Morrissey? And he’d say that he talked to Morrissey. The week before we left for New York he said that he had tickets to go see Morrissey. He asked me to go so I said sure. We go and we got there late. As we walked in, the song that Morrissey was playing was ‘Subway Train’. After the show, we went backstage and the entire band fawned over Arthur. I couldn’t believe it. I knew I didn’t know who my friend really was and I had to find out and that’s what this film is all about.
The L: What was the inspiration to do this?
GW: I don’t know when it occurred to us that we had a movie that was going to play in theatres. Two nights before we left for London, I was on the Internet and I was thinking if I should go or not. But my wife said you should do this. So going to New York for the rehearsals and to London I was just thinking “I don’t know.” Along the way doors opened for us and then we became these people that didn’t take no for an answer. We knew we could get this shot or this interview if we kept after it. Ed Cunningham who never produced anything in his life, hopped on and Seth Gordon came and the three of us made this movie. We showed a rough cut to a group of friends to expedite things. We didn’t have a deadline from a studio, so we’d invite friends for a screening of our film on this date. Then we would work and try and prepare for the screenings. I remember the first time we did that, I showed it to them and I thought it was terrible. I thought I wasted four months of my life. But they were completely taken by it and I knew we had something.
The L: Was this your first time in New York?
GW: Yeah, coming with Arthur to rehearse for the first time. You’re looking at a total virgin — pre-Arthur. Then Arthur took me under his ways. I had taken a couple of trips to New York but they were always very fast. But coming to the city and taking the subway to Arthur’s different haunts and digs I had never done.
The L: Who was the person that was the hardest for you to get for this film?
GW: Morrissey. He doesn’t do interviews. I think he’s smart that way. He’s able to maintain and allure. But he can afford to. He’s got that type of career. How to get a hold of him is a hard thing. The trick is telling him who it was about and what it was for. He’s not willing to do it for himself. He loves the Dolls and loved Arthur.
The L: This is your first feature. What were your expectations?
GW: My expectations were that we would have something to take back home and show Arthur’s friends at church who he really was. But Arthur believed that this film would be seen by millions of people. Arthur believed that his band would reunite and be a big hit. He was right at least about the band part. We’ll see about the film.