Legendary, pioneering, revolutionary, there is no doubting Gary Numan’s influence on contemporary music. During his peak in the late 70s and early 80s, he dared to take punk music and put it through a synthesiser, changing the way people thought about both punk and electronic music. The albums ‘Replicas’, ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and ‘Telekon’ would go on to influence countless artists, perhaps most notably Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson as well as predicting the electronic sound the 80’s would later become famous for.
‘La-La Land’ follows Numan after a brief hiatus as he moves his family to Los Angeles from East Sussex to record a new album. The film gives a small career retrospective, careful to show the positive first, as well as introducing Numan’s charming family, while Gary himself explains his reasons for moving to L.A as essentially being “good for his career”.
This premise isn’t particularly interesting to outsiders; the privilege of such an opportunity to move from one big affluent house to another just to write and record an album in a warmer climate is not very engaging, while Numan’s fairly familiar writing process – long since bettered by his peers and disciples – is hardly revolutionary.
The film, however, is at its best when it touches on Numan’s very personal and relatable struggle just to make it to this point. Coming from very humble beginnings, Gary and his wife Gemma started with nothing other than love and support from their immediate family and made it through increasingly difficult periods post-‘Cars’ success. Gemma is especially engaging as the initial reaction is to write her off as a less than favourable “golddigger” – she was the head of Gary’s fan club who had no particular career ambitions – are completely washed away when she so clearly is a strong-willed, loving, caring and smart woman. One gets the impression that without her, or Gary’s parents, he scarcely would have a chance at still being with us today.
Equally, the film addresses’ Numan’s troubled relationship with the media which clearly affects him as a person. Diagnosed with Aspergers ast a young age, Numan has always struggled to fit in socially and admits had he not managed to become a successful musician, he would never have managed to start a family of his own. Yet the media consistently painted him as a subversive figure due to his unconventional look, while music journalists regularly dismissed him as not being “organic enough” at a time where this was perceived as the only desirable quality to have.
This lead to a tremendous strain on Numan’s personal life and musical output, causing him to become more audacious and risk bankruptcy in extravagant touring, as well as strain on his relationship with his father and manager. The fallout of this relationship and Numan’s mental health equally put his marriage on notice, and we find out he and his wife had many harrowing experiences trying to conceive.
While this is certainly endearing, there isn’t a lot else to say in a nearly 90-minute film. As mentioned, Numan’s family are warm and full of love and support and it is genuinely pleasant to see them doing so well after a long period of doubt and isolation. At times, however, this film essentially feels like a propaganda piece for Numan’s career and his most recent album ‘Splinter’, which he is creating at the time of shooting. It sways dangerously towards ‘Spinal Tap’, or worse ‘Partridge’, territory at times, as a once-successful artist tries to be relevant again. It is heart-warming in places, but its feature-length format doesn’t feel particularly justified and doesn’t offer much else to those who aren’t Numan fans anyway.
Gary Numan: Android In La La Land is in UK cinemas from August 26 numandroid.com