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A documentary about the amazing life of Leon Theremin, inventor of the theremin, the electronic musical instrument so beloved of 50s sci-fi movie music. Theremin amazed America with his instrument until his kidnapping by Soviet agents in the mid-30s. Upon his release from a labor camp, he worked on surveillance devices for the KGB. Almost 60 years later , he is brought back to America for a touching reunion with his friends and colleagues. Written by
Erik Gregersen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY is a documentary on both the Theremin, the instrument, and Prof. Leon Theremin, the inventor. The film follows both through a strange sequence of events and interweaves these stories with those influenced by the machine and the man. Some of the interviewees include Clara Rockman, a virtuoso Theremin player, and one time love of Prof. Theremin. Robert Moog, who went on to create the massive Moog synth--and it turns out, who started out by building Theremins himself. Nicolas Slonimsky, a composer who studied the work of Prof. Theremin. And Brian Wilson, which brings me to my first problem with the film: Even though Wilson is amusing with his burned out rambling, his interview goes on far to long and adds little to the flow of the story. I can see why the director, Steven M. Martin, wanted to use this footage, however it is obvious that Wilson can neither play the instrument nor knew what one was until Phil Spector brought it to him. I would have much rather seen more about Bernard Herrmann's score for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which, sadly, has not had the lasting impact of "Good Vibrations". Anyway...
Well it turns out that at one point midway through his life, Prof. Theremin was kidnapped by the KGB and brought back to Russia. Second problem: those shadowy years are explained by Theremin himself, however being in his mid-nineties and speaking broken English. It is very hard to tell what happened and when, although some other sources flesh it out to a certain degree. Subtitles or a better microphone would have helped. He apparently was involved with electronic listening devices and received an award from Lenin himself. Heady stuff for a single man's journey through life. Although, the film remains too aloof to capture the whole scope of Theremin's story.
That is not to say that the film does not have some great moments. The scenes of the elderly Russian inventor wandering, alone, through the busy streets of an urban sprawl are haunting and sad. And simply to witness Rockman performing on the instrument is incredible, the way the smallest movement to her fingers creates an unique sound. I was familiar with the story before I saw the film, but it did not shed much light on the questions I had. It is a good film for someone who has never even heard of the Theremin before, but I felt it fell short of it's promise of really delving deep into the story and casting light on corners that will more than likely remain shrouded with gloom. 6/10.
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