Personality Crisis: One Night Only directed by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi is a documentary that follows punk pioneer David Johansen which premiered at NYFF60. The film follows Johansen, who, during his residency in New York City in 2020, gives a detailed account of his life, how he navigated the music scene from the 1970s up to present day, and why music is integral to his existence.
The film starts with Johansen at the Upper West Side establishment Cafe Carlyle for his yearly performance residency. Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry and film director Ari Aster have front-row seats to the show. Johansen is most famous for being the frontman of the punk band New York Dolls, and as 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 definition of cool.
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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. The television host labeled him the harbinger of punk, which is partially true. The New York Doll’s first show in England ended like punk rock shows usually do: with booze, drugs, and vomit. Johansen resembled Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and had a similar swagger and his look drew in a lot of new fans
A young man named Steven Patrick Morrissey (yes, that Morrissey), was the New York Dolls fan club president in England. In the film, Morrissey talks about his love of the group and their signature look, which he compared to “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. The party is all that matters. No other band was doing that at the time, and its one of the things the group is known for and what made them stand out to Morrissey. However, the solo singer also states that their heavy alcohol and drug use doomed them to failure. That may have been the end of the group, but David was a force to be reckoned with.
What makes a great rock star? I asked myself, why would Scorsese and Tedeschi choose Johansen as a 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. Born and raised in New York, Johansen believes being from Staten Island gave him an edge. While juggling the music space, he kept his ear to the streets and was sure to keep up with the latest cultural, political, and art trends.
Personality Crisis: One Night Only is 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. The musician traversed several music genres and is still standing after most people around him have died. As he recalls parts of his life, it’s almost as if he feels guilty for still being alive. His fan base is fiercely loyal, which, along with his wife and daughter, gives him the will to keep going.
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