One Night Only: Personality CrisisDirected by Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi’s documentary follows the life of punk rock pioneer David Johansen. This film premiered at NYFF60. The film follows Johansen as he relates his life and how it relates to the New York City music scene.
The film begins with Johansen in Upper West Side cafe Cafe Carlyle, where he is performing his annual residency. Ari Aster, a film director and Debbie Harry (Blondie) have front row tickets to the show. Johansen is well-known for being the frontman for the punk band New York Dolls and the pompadour-wearing Buster Poindexter. He’s introduced on the stage and wearing a dapper two-piece suit and dark sunglasses, ready to sing in front of a Jazz band. Johansen is the epitome of cool.
The audience is treated to moments of the singer’s life during each set beginning with a clip of Johansen on an episode of Conan O’Brien. He was referred to as the “harbinger” of punk by the television host. This is partly true. The New York Doll’s first show in England ended like punk rock shows usually do: with booze, drugs, and vomit. Johansen was reminiscent of Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. He had a similar look to Jagger and attracted many new fans.
Steven Patrick Morrissey was a young man who served as the New York Dolls president in England. Morrissey speaks about his love for the group and their iconic look, which he likens to the Beatles. “looking like prostitutes.” The Dolls made a conscience choice to wear women’s clothing. The band didn’t care about gender norms, “I wanted to have a party,” Johansen says. Only the party matters. It was something that no other band did at the time. This is what the group is famous for, and what makes them stand out to Morrissey. But, the solo singer said that their excessive alcohol and drug use was what made them fail. David was still a formidable force, even though that may have been the end for the group.
What makes a great rock singer? I was curious as to why Scorsese or Tedeschi chose Johansen for their subject. Its because he’s led a fascinating life filled with stories that cross decades of his career with The New York Dolls, Buster Poindexter, David Johansen, the Harry Smiths Band, and a solo career. Through all these experiences, the man remains authentically himself–eccentric, charming, talented, and hilarious. Johansen, a New York native, believes Staten Island is what gave him his edge. Johansen was an expert in the music industry and kept his ears open for the latest news and trends.
One Night Only: Personality Crisisis a love letter to Johansen’s musical legacy, the people who influenced him and vice versa, his impact on punk, rock, and pop, and an intimate portrait of someone who refuses to accept convention. He has remained a musician through many music styles and even after the deaths of most others. As he recalls parts of his life, it’s almost as if he feels guilty for still being alive. His loyal fan base, as well as his wife, and daughter, give him the drive to keep going.