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‘Gary Numan: Android In La La Land’ review

‘Gary Numan: Android In La La Land’ review

By: William Alexander

If you’re not familiar with the name ‘Gary Numan’ you’ll at least have heard his glittery synth hooks in “Cars” and “Are “Friends” Electric?” at some point in your life and I can probably almost definitely confirm that.

Gary Numan: Android In La La Land is an on-the-go documentary directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander that unsheathes the late 70s electro-pop wizard and details his recent years returning to the music scene after exiting a low-profile status. It’s a cool and complex film that doesn’t tire out in its 85 minutes nor does it try to make Numan out to be a bigger figure than he already is; instead it’s an honest portrait that documents his family and his emotional and exciting journey back into music. In this documentary we observe his writing process during the making of 2013’s Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) and Steve Read and Rob Alexander lock us deep inside Numan’s mechanical mind of music.

Steve Read, co-director of Gary Numan: Android in La La Land with Gary Numan
Steve Read directs Gary at the liquor store. Los Angeles, Oct 2012.

If you’re not familiar with the name ‘Gary Numan’ you’ll at least have heard his glittery synth hooks in “Cars” and “Are "Friends" Electric?” at some point in your life and I can probably almost definitely confirm that. He’s been a household name for over three decades, released twenty studio albums and still boasts a big cult following. Ridiculed for his quirk, notably in the early stages of his career, Numan was ahead of his time and at the ripe age of 21 he was already worth millions. He’s 58 now and though age has changed him and brought about new responsibilities in his life, Numan’s mojo is still intact. We follow Numan, his wife Gemma O’Neill, who was once a member of his fan club, and his three charismatic daughters as we catch up on lost time after a long silence from the public eye. They epitomise the bohemian lifestyle and relocate to America where they adapt to new settings and adjust to the change in culture. As a family they are instantly likeable too, huddling up together on the road in support of Gary’s musical comeback.

The documentary is padded out with lots of archival footage of Numan in the days of The Pleasure Principle (1979) just as our parents might remember him. His once static, yet untrammelled performances still fascinate people today. These clips create a nice juxtaposition as to who he was during this era in contrast to the family man he is now as a “rockstar dad”. Gary Numan: Android In La La Land does dwell on the downfall of his career but only to demonstrate how it has shaped him as an individual and as an artist for the better. We learn that his ambitious touring plans became unaffordable and no longer tangible, leading to near bankruptcy and enormous family strain. In the present, though, what we do see is Numan re-discover his love of making music for what it is, brushing off external pressures that have always seemed to overhang.

Anxiety and depression are spoken about in depth and in great volume by Numan and Gemma, giving us some backstory into the many personal struggles they have faced and overcome together in harmony. Numan is complete in Gemma’s company and it is uplifting to see their achievements, their happiness and their incessant sarcasm with one another in the documentary. Their abnormalities make great entertainment. Those who have seen the documentary before its official release have all agreed with me in saying that the film has made them want to discover more of Numan’s discography, going past the obvious classics and exploring his less commercial releases. You don’t even need to be a diehard fan of Numan to enjoy this documentary too because it’s less factual than most music biopics and more upfront and personal.

It’s heartwarming to see Numan’s fans of all ages come together and show their dedication to him as a musician and as a hugely inspirational figure upon the release of Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind). He’s influenced the music of many contemporary greats after him, such as Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins, and still continues to encourage musicians around the globe to stay true to themselves, speaking as if he is the chief representative of all misfits. Gary Numan: Android In La La Land hits cinemas on 26th August so make space in your diary for this one because it’s an absolute gem.

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