Music documentaries have been gaining in popularity over the last few years with directors using lots of really creative narrative structures to complement the creativity of the musicians being featured.
Now filmmakers Steve Read and Rob Alexander have brought something utterly fresh and hugely enjoyable to the genre with this funny, warm and brutally honest portrait of Gary Numan.
Something strange happened to music in the early 1980s – a socially incompetent outsider wearing far too much make-up burst on the scene with songs such as Are Friends Electric? and Cars which used synthesisers to express an alien dystopia. The music, the look and the persona proved to be hugely popular making Numan a world-famous millionaire, but the glory days were not to last and after his spot in the limelight he found himself in a kind of musical wilderness.
What nobody knew was that Numan suffers from Asperger’s syndrome making it extremely hard for him to connect with anyone else and as chart success eluded him he descended into depression becoming even more isolated.
But Numan finally turned his life around with the help of his wife (and number one fan) Gemma and the documentary opens in 2012 as he and his young family prepare to emigrate from England to Los Angeles where he will launch his first album in seven years.
So far so standard documentary you might think, but what makes this film so astonishing is the very thing that marks Numan out as different – his Asperger’s. The man is incapable of any form of deceitfulness or pretence. He talks directly to camera about what it feels like to be a superstar and then have that ripped away from you; about how he gets spooked when he has to sleep in his house alone; about why he had to walk away from music before he reconnected with his own creativity; and in one of the best scenes of the film he gives a brilliant insight into his own creative process. “Sometimes, it’s about getting it wrong until you find something that works.”
The man is incapable of any form of deceitfulness or pretence.
Far from a cold, distant person, this honesty makes Numan all too human, charming, very funny and obviously very in love with Gemma and his three young daughters. Gemma too reveals painful parts of their life together including numerous rounds of IVF and miscarriages before she finally became pregnant.
These highly personal scenes, shot in a relaxed, fly on the wall style, are interspersed with scenes of Numan on stage but you don’t have to be a fan of his music to enjoy this warm, vibrant portrait of a man who has finally become comfortable living in his own skin.
Towards the end of the film we see him sitting on his daughter’s bed reading her a bedtime story called Giraffes Can’t Dance.
“Sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song,” he says. This documentary will have you rooting for a man who so obviously has found his.