It seems surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to finally do a proper Gary Numan documentary. Indeed, Numan himself occupies a somewhat unique position in pop music, his dizzying early successes with the likes of ‘Are Friends Electric’ and ‘Cars’ being followed by a late eighties period that saw him drifting further and further away from the charts, whilst also battling mounting financial debts. Indeed, Numan isn’t someone that you would have counted upon as being one of the big survivors, but just as he was reaching his bleakest points in the early nineties the likes of Trent Reznor and Dave Grohl acted as some of his biggest advocates, introducing Numan’s songs to their audiences, and in turn helping inspire his shift towards a heavier, more industrial rock-centred sound on subsequent albums like ‘Exile’ and ‘Pure.’
While the late nineties and early noughties certainly saw Numan enjoying a critical and creative resurgence though, the seven years leading up his most recent 2013 album ‘Splinter’ saw him strangely absent from the music scene. This 85 minute long 2016 documentary by Steve Read and Rob Alexander primarily focuses on the 2012-2013 period spanning ‘Splinter’s creation and leading up to the record release itself, but at the same time offers an intimate portrait of Numan’s family life during some of its biggest emotional upheavals. While as the title suggests ‘Android In La La Land’ covers Numan and his family’s relocation from England to Los Angeles, it’s Gary’s characteristic candour and openness about events including a falling out with his parents, and his deteriorating relationship with his wife Gemma while battling depression (itself the subject matter for ‘Splinter’) that form the real backdrop for the footage of studio sessions.
Rather than coming across as awkward in its frankness, there’s a real sense of warmth and humanity to this doco, and it’s hard to not get emotionally invested as Gary expresses his fears and self-doubts during the recording and mastering of the album, before its eventual release sees him enjoying some of the best critical reviews of his career and entering the UK charts for the first time in thirty years. In all, ‘Android In La La Land’ manages the difficult challenge of offering up a curiously uplifting viewing experience that’s likely to be of equal interest to both Numanoids and complete newcomers alike.
‘Gary Numan: Android In La La Land’ screens as part of the Antenna documentary film festival 9pm Saturday October 15 at Chauvel Cinema, Sydney. For more information check out www.groovescooter.com