Directed by: Steve Read & Rob Alexander
Starring: Gary Numan
Country: UK, USA
BBFC Certificate: 15
In the interests of declaring vested interests: at the age of 13, when I discovered the dystopic joys of Gary Numan, whilst I would not go so far as to say that I was a Numanoid (as his more rabid fans class themselves), I would admit to be a bit Numanic.
Hence seeing this documentary, knowing as we do that it leads to his first top 20 album since 1983, was a nostalgic joy. And thankfully it goes beyond that too. This works as a film that, standing alone, would engage the majority of music fans, electronic music buffs and those interested in the creative process and its relation to fame.
Numan is disarmingly honest about his pursuit of record sales during his post-breakout struggles. Trying to write to what he perceived as current clearly did him more harm than good. And his elaborate stage shows were bankrupting him too. I recall during the late 80s that his stage shows were spun as a star giving something back to his fans. But when he talks about that time it comes across as more of an indulgence to a young millionaire (for a while), and the film takes a turn for the touching when he recalls the pain he inflicted on his nearest and dearest – dad managed him, mum looked after the fan club, his brother was in the band – with his financial ineptitude.
Also coming across clearly in the documentary is the love in his close family. The idea of a star marrying a fan has understandable connotations, but comes across here as a genuine relationship, completely lacking the creepiness one may expect. He is clearly reliant on his wife, loving and available for his children and besotted with his big floppy dog.
And the family relationship is clearly not sanitised for the cameras either. Numan and Mrs Numan do a fair amount of sniping, albeit good-naturedly.
Numan’s image in the early days was clearly influenced by his crippling lack of self-confidence. Yet his portrayal at the time in the media was one of arrogance – the disparity clearly hurt him, and he speaks candidly about it.
Watching the development of his 2015 record, Splinter – Songs from a Broken Mind, as he endeavours to regain confidence in pursuing his own instincts, is revealing. Seeing him move house across the pond; work on pieces of music, collaborate with his producer at a distance, and regain his confidence with, for example, a guest appearance with Nine Inch Nails, makes for a pleasing journey and story arc.
Seeing tears in the eyes of the man a lot of us related to as an escape from the confused emotions of youth is moving. When he talks about his depression, Asperger’s syndrome and even still being embarrassed if he thinks his family can hear him sing in rehearsal, is the sort of honesty you don’t get with many a public figure. You would forgive someone who had been so big and then taken such a battering to retreat completely. He hasn’t.
The filmmakers have a made a tale of redemption – not because Numan has suddenly become massive again (he hasn’t, but acknowledges he would like to be at No.1 again) – but because he is a man who has rediscovered his muse, produced a settled home life and, it seems, found an ongoing niche to earn a living.
This is your regular satisfying everyman story that just happens to be about an ex-super star.