Head over to YouTube to watch the clip of Gary Numan perform his huge 1979 hit single CARS on BBC’s TOP OF THE POPS and it’s hard to believe that he was a man secretly battling stage fright, crippling anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome.
At just 21, Gary Numan quickly became one of the most famous men on the planet when his 1979 debut solo album THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE reached number one in the UK charts. But as the hits started to fade and money troubles began, Numan began a long, downward spiral of anxiety and depression, resulting in a six-year isolation to escape it all… until now.
GARY NUMAN: ANDROID IN LA LA LAND tells the story of Numan’s fascinating career and his quest to rediscover his love for music after six long years of struggle. Directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander, the feature length documentary looks back at Numan’s early life, from his worldwide success with hits such as ARE ‘FRIENDS’ ELECTRIC? and CARS, to his battle with anxiety and depression which eventually lead to his slow disappearance from the public eye.
The vast majority of the documentary focuses on Numan’s attempt to break the American market and the making of his 2013 album SPLINTER, his first LP of all-new material in seven years. The album actually turns out to be his bestselling and best-reviewed effort in decades but its creation is fraught with anxiety, particularly when in the middle of recording, he packs up his family and transports them from their rural cottage in Wealden, East Sussex to a lavish mansion in Los Angeles.
It is also studied and intimate look at the man himself. Numan openly discusses the challenges he’s overcome, including his Asperger’s, the syndrome that that helped inform his music and image but also brought its own problems. At a time when the public knew little about the condition, the press labelled him a freak and one paper even suggested his parents should have been doctored for giving birth to him. But in reality, Numan is a world away from the android-like on-stage persona he implies. He is in fact, a man with passion, talent, humility, insecurities and a devoted love to his family.
While ANDROID IN LA LA LAND is one of the best rock-docs I have seen in a long time, the film’s focus on the making of Numan’s new album makes its feel like a glorified promo for SPLINTER at times. I was also disappointed with the lack of background related to his early career. The film assumes a prior knowledge of Numan’s career and as such, tends to brush over his early work. The lack of archive footage also makes it feel more like an observational documentary than a portrait of Numan’s career.
That said, what the film lacks in archive footage, it more than makes up for with access to Gary and his family. The film is also visually slick, with Read and Alexander experimenting with slow-motion sequences, upside-down shots and reverse motion to break away from the conventional techniques usually used in documentaries.
Whether you’re a fan of Gary Numan or just a music lover, you’re sure to enjoy GARY NUMAN: ANDROID IN LA LA LAND. An intimate expose that’s both sad and empowering.
GARY NUMAN: ANDROID IN LA LA LAND is released in UK cinemas on 26 August.
This review was originally written for ScreenRelish