Johnny Thunders, Room 37, and the Dark Walk of Fame
The Death Of A New York Doll

DETROIT - The legendary guitar hero Johnny Thunders is the focus of, "Room 37" a new film from the Cordero Brothers. Thunders was the guitarist for one of rock and roll's most notorious bands, The New York Dolls. This band lived to excess and did incredible amounts of drugs and alcohol during its wild heyday. Nothing was too outrageous for them and they had the style and the stage presence to prove it. The New York Dolls dressed like the way they sounded. Everything about them was loud and made a statement. This was one of the most groundbreaking bands of its time and they set the standard for crude and outrageous for groups that followed.

The premise of the story is centered around a mystery. Johnny Thunders was found dead in the St. Peters Guest House Hotel in New Orleans on April 23, 1991. The role of Johnny is brought to life by actor Leo Ramsey and the likeness is very believable. He nails the New York accent perfectly and delivers the body posture that comes off as very believable. Johnny arrives in New Orleans for a chance of scenery and to get his health back. The side streets of the French Quarter that he travels down are very shoddy and lackluster. There are no signs of glamour anywhere to be seen. The St Peter's Guest House is shown as a no-frills establishment with no modern conveniences. You get the sense that there is no air conditioning and the hallway carpeting looks old and outdated. You can almost smell the staleness of this place. There is something old and unnerving about this place and it is a departure from the spotlight and fast life of a New York rock star.

By 1991 the wildlife of the New York rock scene has changed and shifted into a different animal. Famous haunts like the Mercer Arts Center and Max's Kansas City are no longer around and it is a much different world. The Dolls were broken up after 1975 and were all doing solo projects. Johnny's spin-off group The Heartbreakers only released one album and in 1976 they had toured with the Sex Pistols on the "Anarchy in the U.K." tour. Half of those dates were canceled due to the negative press of the Punk Rock movement.

From there Johnny kept playing and popping up at different gigs and released solo albums. By the late 80's he was rarely heard of in the growing Alternative rock scene on the radio. The New York Dolls fell into a state of folklore and was rarely seen in the press. Alt radio was giving favor to what was selling such as REM, The Cure, INXS, and whatever was on MTV's heavy rotation. The Dolls were being edged out of relevance. It wasn't until the mid-'90s when you started to hear about them again in books, recordings and independent movies such as "New York Doll".

The movie is a dramatic portrayal of drug addiction and mental deterioration. It is stylish in its presentation and it pulls you right into the experience. One has to wonder if some scenes are part of a dream sequence or if they are participating in the dark madness of drug addiction. It is painful to watch Thunders unravel and lose his sense of self and ability. There is nothing pretty about the drug life and this film doesn't pull back any punches. The death motif is apparent right from the start of the film when we see a mysterious animal skull draped in bizarre clothing appearing in the hallway. This unusual spirit presence follows Johnny wherever he goes and he experiences a hard time coping with the overall oddness of its appearance.

We learn that Johnny is a heroin addict and is dependent on methadone. He carries twenty thousand dollars worth of cash on him in his suitcase and is cut off from his own family. Keep in mind that this film is based on true events and there is a lot of artistic licensing here but it's done exceptionally well. Somewhere early in his stay in room 37 his drugs and money go on missing. He has been robbed. This sends Johnny into a deep-rooted panic and he begins to flip out on the hotel staff. This is where the film gets dark and the journey to his own demise begins. The search for medicine takes Johnny from the hospital, where he is denied, to the bowels of humanity. Here Johnny meets the worst people under the sun and we see the ugliness of the dark human condition. This is cringe worthy and Is hard to watch but as Johnny says in the film, "There is a heavy price to pay for this kind of life."

Johnny is haunted by a former deceased band member, Billy Murcia, who was the original drummer for the New York Dolls. Murcia had O'D'd on drugs and his friends put him in a bathtub and poured coffee down his throat and accidentally killed him. That full story can be found in the book, "Too Much Too Soon". Adding this part into the film adds insight to the depravity of the drug life and reveals a sinister energy.

We are dragged through the process of drug addiction and see all of the seedy characters along the way. The journey is harrowing and at the same time horrifying. Johnny's appearance begins to deteriorate from rock star to living corpse. This is not an easy ride. The interplay of characters that enter into Johnny's life are mysterious as well as dangerous. They offer foul language, zero compassion, and pure and utter hatred. The Cordero Brothers handle this transition very artfully and it is tasteful as well as compassionate. I enjoyed every minute of this production and it is masterfully done.

This film doesn’t have all the answers but it does tell the story very well. It was originally released in 2019 and made quite a buzz on the web. It is currently playing right now on Amazon Prime.




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