In Gary Numan: Android in La La Land filmmakers Steve Read and Rob Alexander focus on the comeback of Gary Numan from a period in his life where he stood back, reassessed where he was and what he was doing, and decided to make some changes. Read and Alexander gained unprecedented access to Numan, his children and his wife, Gemma, in their move to the U.S. The filmmakers explore moments in Numan’s amazing career and feature candid commentary about the period in his life when Numan didn’t perform. They skip-jump to the transformations in his present life: his emigration to the U.S., his road tour with his 24th album Splinter (his first album in over 7 years), allowing Gary Numan to fill in the backstory.
On the surface Gary Numan’s life is one that any mere mortal might envy. His fans lionize him as a pioneer of electronic pop music. His peers (David Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson), credit him with influencing their own work. He has a cult following and maintains his popularity so that he is still able to sell out tickets to his shows. Indeed, Numan has sold millions of records and has established an amazing sustained career in each decade since his 1979 hit “Cars” and his debut solo album The Pleasure Principle which saw its 35th anniversary in 2014.
But who is Gary Numan? And what of his early image as a wooden android? Read and Alexander peel away the layers of the past and images of “fandom” and “Numanoids” and reveal the very human, funny, and appealing Brit (now American citizen), as they strip all the masks away. Underneath, they discover a person many of us would be able to “get down with” and have an average conversation about kids, family life, and the little details about extending one’s career into the next decades which Numan is sure to accomplish.
During the course of Numan voice-overs as we watch the family pack up their last items from their home in East Sussex and follow them to Numan castle in LA, which others have referred to humorously as “Hogwarts,” Numan reveals that his initial image was actually a fluke and concocted at the very last moments before a gig when to cover his acne, heavy makeup was applied and the black around the eyes was added because he looked like a washout. How could he or anyone else at the time imagine that who he appeared to be and his iconic sound together melded into a phenomenon that was just right for that time, until it wasn’t.
As he and his music have grown and changed, he has maintained his artistry though the image and person that have stepped into the light are very real and much more grounded, especially after his long friendship that burgeoned into a strong relationship and eventual marriage to his wife Gemma O’Neill, his biggest fan since she was 12-years-old, right up to today. Numan’s love for her is legion and both affirm that they are mates and soul mates having changed each others’ lives in the hope of evolving to become the best that each can be. Indeed, because of Gemma, Numan who was foundering in the shallows of excess, confusion, unkindness from the press, and panic attacks was able to confront issues and with her encouragement, friendship and love, rise up over the hurdles of self to be restored, morphing his music and moving forward toward a new success.
During the Numans’ move to the U.S., the filmmakers catch wonderful moments before and after, i.e. with Numan quipping with his three daughters who crack on their Dad being old and needing makeup. The filmmakers manage to capture a priceless moment in time as Numan reads a story, Giraffes Can’t Dance, to his daughter in her lovely bedroom. The story actually is a metaphor for Numan’s life as the odd and unique one growing into being himself. Filmmakers’ clever insights allowed such a serendipitous moment to be included in the film; it moves to the heart of who Gary Numan is.
Segments of authenticity and spontaneity pepper the film. Read and Alexander have edited it with precision. They select the most interesting footage of the family’s move, Numan’s on stage presence and performances, his interactions with his three daughters, comments by his cheeky, quick-witted wife Gemma, and much more. Throughout, Numan relates his first-person narrative. He shares his having Asperger’s, his being $600,000 in debt, almost losing his house, his depression, and his inability to get a viable record contract which made him question his next moves and believe that his career was “dead and buried.”
But sometimes it is necessary for the trials to appear because the road back up the mountain is a glorious journey that leads to triumph over self. This certainly is the case with this doggedly determined, ambitious, and exuberantly creative musical artist. His world tour of Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), has been his largest since 1981, and Splinter is his first top twenty album in over thirty years.
The one constant in the years that were especially troublesome for Numan has been his very human and real relationship with his wife Gemma, who holds his foot to the fire when necessary and whose incredible humor helps lift them all into a flow of contentment. The filmmakers spool back in time through Numan’s and Gemma’s commentary when Numan met Gemma. She had been a fan since she was 12-years-old. How the two met and merged is more like a divine ordination of hope and faith dropped in Gemma’s heart, for her dream as a teenager was to marry Numan.
If you are a Gary Numan fan, the film is not to be missed. And even if you are not, the filmmakers’ skilled work reveals the theme of how those who appear to “have it all” are projections of our own need to deify in one moment so we can tear them down the next. This solid film reveals the fun of realizing a pop star is just like us in his vulnerability, whimsy and humor. It his artistic genius and ineffable talent, a gift that must receive life-long nurturing, that is unique and worthy of our veneration.