When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra & the Theremin

Telling the story of Theremin maestro Armen Ra who uses his creativity as a life saving path to greater achievement. Hailing from the Armenian Christian minority of Iran, he fled during the Revolution of 1979 to resettle in America with his family. In this documentary, he introduces himself and his name by retelling how he earns his name during his early teens when a tarot reader rushes out of a crowd in an overheated hotel bar to tell him that he is the reincarnation of the Egyptian god – Amum Ra.

The director Mr. Arjoyan, elegantly portrays the story of a man who transcends expectation and ridicule to live the destiny of his true, unique self. The shots of Armen Ra’s apartment are stunningly and evocatively composed, as if one is looking into a Persian harem or an Aladdin’s cave of sparkling delicacies. The juxtaposition of these warm interiors with the cooler, alien-like concert pieces of Armen Ra playing the eerie electronic instrument, his bedazzled Theremin, are haunting.

Throughout, Armen Ra shows a confidence and flirtatious quality which is undiminished by the vagaries of society, his drunk and alcohol addicted background or ideas around traditional musical success. He is a musical genius, the quality and control he has with his chosen seven octave instrument is unparalleled, even to the man who invented the instrument. As he explains, one side of the Theremin is for tone, the other for pitch so it is a delicate and sophisticated balancing act to play the instrument.

His story begins on the streets of New York as a jewellery maker and then a glamorous drag queen with his ‘ladyboy look’ he becomes known as the bookend to the better known Amanda Lapore, each complimenting another. To the crescendo of his mainstream success; touring with Nick Cave across the United States whilst simultaneously arranging for the hospitalisation and treatment of his father. The climax being the accidental destruction backstage of his four thousand dollar Theremin, which he bought by pawning a ruby and diamond necklace he thought for years was just paste.

The documentary reaches high, occasionally to outer space itself, but always manages to bring a certain down to earth feel which cuts through the glamour and illusion of Armen Ra’s story. What we see is an original, the proverbial Persian cat diamond encrusted and filled with haunting exoticism, a fabulous achievement which is at times both frightening and gracefully intriguing.

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