Gary Numan: Android In La La Land

Directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander

Starring Gary Numan

The Godfather of electronic music is on a one-way trip to crack America, returning to the studio for the first time in nearly a decade. Android is a celebration of a music-making pioneer and the love story that helped him turn his life around.

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  • ★★★★ review by steve... on Letterboxd

    I Am ElectricThere’s a playful visual device employed at the beginning of the wonderfully honest, personal and vulnerable documentary ‘Gary Numan: Android In La La Land’ (directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander, 2016) that whether deliberate or not is almost a visual metaphor for the renowned musician himself. Driving along an American highway we are seeing everything upside down, from an angle we never really see anything in, a completely different perspective to ours, yet familiar at the same time. That same initial confusion is similar to how Numan was received, particularly by the music press when he burst onto the scene in 1979. Having seemingly taken the Nicolas Roeg film starring David Bowie ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1976) as a blueprint for a career, this human shape yet somehow alien being stood in front of us as a messenger from another galaxy, creating unearthly sounds that somehow connected directly to our subconscious. The music seemed cold, but stirred powerful emotions in his fans around the world. He was just 21 when he had his first No. 1 hit with the iconic single ‘Cars’.He had been in the music industry for a couple of years previously (signed his first record deal at 18) as frontman for the new wave electronic band Tubeway Army though without much success, but it was the foundation and direct catalyst to discovering his calling upon the random pressing of a synthesiser whilst heading into a recording studio to make a new punk influenced album. With a single electronic note he found a voice for his humanity.It is easy to look at videos of his early career and believe that it was some sort of cold machine before us. But it was out of crippling anxiety (he has Asperger’s) that forced Gary to restrict his movements and act awkward in interviews (resulting in a misguided distain by the press), but he wasn’t awkward, he was terrified. As is quite common in folk of an artistic temperament, they communicate through the only way the know how, through their art. To try to express anything via another medium isn’t generally within the realms of their abilities, that’s why they excel in their art form of choice. And that’s why it resonates with audiences around the world. And while the likes of Bowie developed his characters/personalities after some very considered and well researched development, Numan put on heavy white make up before his first Top Of The Pops appearance to hide his acne, sensitivity and embarrassment dictated his ‘look’.Somehow this human delicacy shone through with the power and almost brutality of his electronic music. He was speaking the language of the Now before anyone had learned it, we just all had to catch up. But such global success and how to deal with it wasn’t really taught in schools in the 60s. The halcyon days of sitting in an inflatable dinghy in the front room of his newly bought mansion while the new sports car dressed the outside gravel drive weren’t to last long as various situations arose to test pretty much everything in his life, including his sanity.The documentary introduces us to Gary, his long standing wife Gemma (she’s almost the real star of the film) and his three life enhancing daughters who gleefully and lovingly mock the successes and talents of their dad. But success is seen as a distant memory now and the family are on the path to rectify that situation, as a family. They are moving from their pink English cottage to a castle LA to record his new album ‘Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)’ (2013) and so begins their adventure and his well earned/deserved salvation.Considering the ‘perception’ many may have of the man, this wonderfully tender and sincere film shows him in a powerfully raw light, which is also it’s outstanding strength. He may use cold sounding noises to communicate, but the guy screams humanity in every look and moment, to the extent that such ability would be understandably overwhelming at times, and considering the personal tribulations and battles the couple have had to cope with over the years, if they did had a super power it’s resilience and perseverance. Tracking the development, creation and recording of the new album is fascinating stuff in itself, but it is the family aspect of the film that makes it transcend. No matter what is thrown at them, they motor on. They get repeatedly knocked down, and they repeatedly pick each other up, for each other. Trashy magazines are filled with pseudo crisis in various folks lives, there is nothing fake about what this couple have endured.The question ‘Are Friends Electric’ may have rang out across the digital landscape for decades influencing the birth of many genres, we may not ever know the answer to that, but Family Definitely Is Electric.

  • ★★★½ review by Steve Pulaski on Letterboxd

    There was something exuberant and difficult to explain about the first time I heard Gary Numan's "Cars." There was something about its wavy, repetitive synths and Numan's robotic vocals that drew me in and made me want to listen to the entire song even if 85% of it was just the same instrumentation. It wound up being the song of summer 2013 for my friends and I as we navigated the season before our final year of college. It also helped draw me into other great tunes by Numan, such as the haunting and melancholic "Down in the Park" and the modernist funk sound that is "We are Glass."

    I fell off with Numan's current works, as he's transitioned more comfortably (or perhaps uncomfortably) into darker sounds, industrial rock, and hallmarks or Gothic art. I find his music in the 1980s unbelievably enjoyable and subversive, as well as his famous album The Pleasure Principle chock full of definitive examples of early techno-music and experimental pop. Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is a documentary that shows how less formidable and enjoyable recent years have been for the English new wave singer. Upon being diagnosed with Asperger's and experiencing a vicious bout of depression, Numan fell into a funk with releasing music that stalled a lot of his output in the 2000's and early 2010's.

    Read the full review on my personal website, stevethemovieman.proboards.com/thread/5581/gary-numan-android-la-land

  • ★★★½ review by mariusdownunder on Letterboxd

    SO, this isn't a sequel to La La Land?

    While not a huge fan, I did find this interesting. He comes across quite level headed and I adored his wife and kids. He clearly has a large fan base and despite the ups and downs it's great to see him continue his success.

  • ★★★★ review by Starsk on Letterboxd

    A tale of love and Asperger's, plus massive highs and lows, depression and re birth. Gary owes so much to his wife that I'm not sure he would have made it through without her. A gentle character, which this film captures with warmth and affection.

  • ★★★½ review by Heather Forrester on Letterboxd

    Gary Numan is really great and I love his music. If you are a super fan you need to check out this doc. The rest may want to skip it.

    There is very little archival footage. Most of the doc focuses on his comeback in 2013 with Splinter (and his subsequent move from England to Los Angeles, USA to finish recording). Thus we get to see lots of Gary with his wife and kids, and some recording and concert footage surrounding Splinter (including a concert with Nine Inch Nails where Reznor raves about what an influence Gary was on him). The live music in the doc was nice, and is probably the best part. The drama with his dad (who was his former manager) was unclear and left the audience thinking what was that all about?? That part is too unresolved for me as it left me with more questions than answers and it was too narrow of a focus.

    At the Q&A at SXSW the directors mentioned how they didn't have a big enough budget to secure the rights to the archives. This is why so much backstory is missing. They also refused to comment on what was going on with Gary's dad which made him get into so much of a spiral in the doc (and which prompted his move to the US). There is really no discussion on his diagnosis of Asperger's. Overall the doc is entertaining on the live music part but leaves behind too many unclear questions.

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