“When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra & the Theremin”
Just who is Theremin master Armen Ra? He is eccentric and enigmatic and he takes us with him on his journey that mixes together concert performances, candid interviews and archival material as well as music that has the ability to make everything look beautiful. His creativity is life defining and soul saving and it is the core of this biographical look at the man. This is a candid look at some of the key moments in his Ra’s personal growth and we see just how much of an enigma he is as he talks with an off-camera interviewer. We learn of a life lived as an outsider, initially by society’s design then ultimately on his own terms.
Ra was born into a minority in Iran where the threat of persecution was always present. He suffered from violent bullying at his new American high school and while it was painful it helped define his self-worth. His acceptance among the LGBT community of New York City was reaffirming but substance abuse stifled his growth. It was not until he managed to reach a degree of sobriety that he became one of the greatest living proponents of the ethereal electronic instrument.
Ra’s fine features and feminine curves made him a drag superstar and Robert Nazar Arjoyan’s camera captures all his charms, both physical and intellectual. Often appearing to be at one with the lushly glamorous set design against which he is framed (and which he personally compiled for the film), the enigmatic musician lays bare periods of drug and alcohol consumption. His fateful take on how the theremin came into his life and set about redefining his very existence is deeply affecting.
Interspersed with Ra’s recollections is intimately staged concert footage that captures the prowess and precision required to be a master of the seven octave theremin, the only instrument played by not touching it and the first electronic musical device invented.
“When My Sorrow Died” is a look at the emergence of a man in the guise of an artist, of a life made richer by reconciliation with one’s demons. Arjoyan’s detailed, heartfelt ode to a musical genius is also a look at a unique individual searching for and ultimately finding a path to acceptance and understanding. Armen Ra’s journey and talent deserves a film that transcends the concert film genre and Arjoyan delivers on that with graceful style.