The New York Dolls paved the way for punk rock and anticipated nonbinary presentation for musicians decades before it became acceptable. They lived fast and are all gone except for lead man David Johansen. Centered around a career-spanning set at the Café Carlyle, this affectionate and thorough stroll down memory lane doesn’t wallow in the gutters that cost so many of Johansen’s friends and colleagues their lives but instead celebrates the impact they made and exalts in Johansen’s own survival. In between numbers, the camera pans the audience and lingers on New York luminaries like Debbie Harry and Penny Lane, who sometimes engage their longtime friend Johansen in playful banter from their seats.
Archival footage of the Dolls playing and being interviewed creates a touching timeline interspersed with concert footage from 2020. Johansen is in good voice and still full of piss and vinegar. The pompadour is higher than ever (even if its provenance is iffy). What raises this above the typical nostalgia-logged music doc is the clear sense that Johansen is not reliving his long discography onstage but continuing to live it in that moment. Watching him vamp it up in front of an adoring crowd in a venerable hotel bar, it’s clear that he has aged into the wise-cracking lounge lizard he was always meant to be. 120 min.