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Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey
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Index 19 reviews in total 

14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Interesting and unique story

Author: poppy9usa
11 September 2004

Fascinating story. Well-done film. I had never heard of Theremin, although of course I had heard the sound of the instrument in movies and in Good Vibrations. The film documented a piece of musical history and an unusual life story while many of the principle players were still alive to participate.

It is not only a story about music, but also about the reach of the Soviet Union into the U.S. It is amazing that this story has not received more attention in the past. In the process of telling about Theremin's life, the film gives a glimpse into the lives of other artists who were associated with him in New York and of his influence on contemporary music.

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9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Interesting film

Author: rag-23 from United States
20 November 2006

I own one of Bob Moog's theremins, and it's the most difficult instrument that I've ever tried to learn to play. This film is a great overview of the instrument, the man that invented it, and the artists who have mastered it. I, too, was glad that the film downplayed the sci-fi gimmicky aspect of the instrument, but that is also an important part of its history. The best use in a film is probably The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Many of the people in the film have since become deceased, so this is a great historical record of Mr. Theremin and Ms. Rockmore. I only wish that I could come close to her artistry with the instrument.

Various companies build and sell theremins, the most popular among them being the late Bob Moog's Big Briar.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Mix with "Better Living Through Circuitry" for a great double feature

Author: frankimbur from Long Island NY
21 February 2004

I was transfixed by this story -- but the film makers decision to subtitle only the Russian words on Professor Theramin's interview was maddening. Did they think *anyone* would be able to understand him?

Then, to add insult to injury, I remember seeing subtitles in the DVD menu -- but not in English!

Anyway, I *do* agree with the film-makers decision to de-emphasize the sci-fi connection with the Theramin. I wish the theramin was played by more artists like Clara Rockmore; it is a real instrument, not just the answer to a trivia question.

I'd recommend seeing it, though -- the man and his time are fascinating. A great time-warp double feature: this and 'Better Living Through Circuitry".

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

An Excellent Musical Documentary

Author: Kirill Galetski ( from St. Petersburg, Russia
3 January 2000

This is a superlative documentary on the life and achievements of Leon Theremin, a Russian scientist and musician who invented the world's first electronic musical instrument. It follows his life, career, and contributions from 1928, through his kidnapping by Stalinist agents in 1938, years of exile and service to the Soviet state (he also invented the surveillance bug, for which he received highest commendations and relative freedom), to his triumphant and happy return to America at the spry age of 95. Equal time is given to explore his personal and professional life with warmly candid interviews of those closest to him, his colleagues, and such electronic music luminaries such as Robert Moog. The film endearingly arouses interest in its subject, and shows just how prevalent Theremin's influence was in classical music, Hollywood movie soundtracks, and Rock'n'Roll. The interview sequence with wacked-out, wired Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is real hoot and is worth the price of admission (or video rental) alone. Don't miss this one.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

I agree, a fine documentary - (Spoiler)

Author: greglatraille from United States
4 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found this to be a wonderful film, and the touching ending, where the film makers brought Clara Rockmore and Leon Theremin together again after so many years moved me to tears. (Sentimental? Yes, but it was real!) It was also fascinating to learn of Theremin's other inventions and his kidnapping by the KGB. Other portions of this film reveal his influence on serious electronic music as well as pop music, and of course the use of the Theremin in SciFi films. Highly recommended.

One correction to an earlier review: the theme music for the original Star Trek show did not use a Theremin at first. It was in fact a soprano voice.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

an unexpectedly absorbing documentary!

Author: Ed from New York, NY
29 October 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The theremin is one of the first electronic musical instruments invented and I can't say I was ever crazy about it. I always thought of it as something used to add an eerie quality to certain psychological films like Hitchcock's "Spellbound" or science-fiction films such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still".

As it turned out, the theremin had an enormous influence on the later history of electronic music.

Named after its creator Léon Theramin (Lev Sergievich Terman), it was treated by others as a serious musical instrument especially when played by its greatest exponent, Clara Rockmore, She, as a matter of fact, happened to be the sister of my last piano teacher, Nadia Reisenberg, who often accompanied her but I knew nothing about this during my piano studies.

One of the problems with this documentary would have been very simple to remedy: it is usually impossible to know who is being shown without a caption though that could usually be worked out by the context. In the case of Clara Rockmore, there was a family resemblance and Nicolas Slonimsky had a familiar face. But another problem has been mentioned often enough: the aged Theremin's speech in the English language is incomprehensible and should have been subtitled (Only when he spoke Russian were subtitles included.). In fact, an English subtitles option would have been very welcome throughout.

I also think, in view of various questions which have come up, that the "abduction" of Theremin from the United States in 1938 seems too much of a whitewash. In view of his invention of a bugging device which was used for espionage against the United States, one wonders where the real allegiance of the inventor lay.

It was thought, for many years, that Theremin had been executed by the Soviet government but in a real "believe it or not" story, he turned up late in life and eventually went back to the U.S. for a time. His unexpected reunion with Rockmore made for a very touching ending for the documentary.

Another not very user-friendly DVD and, I would hope if it is ever reissued, that these problems could be remedied.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Clara Rockman? Who is she?

Author: Lorenzo1950 from USA
13 July 2004

Underfire apparently did see this documentary but does not remember Clara Rockmore's name. Yes, Brian Wilson was annoying and rambled too long. Maybe a psychological study of excessive partying and drug abuse would make for another documentary on rock stars. Seeing Professor Theremin was richly rewarding to me. Clara Rockmore was wonderful to watch. Her mastery of the Theremin is amazing. It took me awhile to make up my mind but I purchased the DVD and I'm glad I did.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:


Author: Cosmoeticadotcom ( from United States
1 February 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While not a landmark in documentary filmmaking, Steven M. Martin's 1993 documentary, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, is almost the documentary Kijack's is, as it has a far worthier subject- electronic musical pioneer and inventor Leon Theremin, but a bit more scattershot execution, cinematically. The 83 minute long film mixes traditional biography of Theremin's life, his loves (marrying a black ballet dancer in the 1930s), his political persecution in the Stalin era Soviet Union, details on the history, construction, and musical influence of the theremin, and a summary of it all.

The film features interviews with Todd Rungren, Robert Moog, who discourses on Theremin's role in electronic music, his own influential career, and has a number of lesser known talking heads, and one transcendently silly interview with a literally batshit insane Brian Wilson (of The Beach Boys fame), who speaks wanderingly of how he got the idea to use the theremin for his hit song Good Vibrations. Archival footage and audio only clips of theremin music, as well as clips from many films- including 1940s A films like Spellbound and The Lost Weekend, and 1950s B and sci fi films, like It Came From Outer Space and The Day The Earth Stood Still, testify to the influence of the film.

However, the film's star is not Leon Theremin, but his younger protégé, the great theremin player, Clara Rockmore. And when I state that this woman was great, I mean it. Her handling of the theremin dwarfs all the other players. This virtuoso could literally make the instrument, which could range from producing eerie to barely tolerable sounds, into an instrument of, well, to beg the cliché, genius. In Rockmore's air divining fingers, the theremin could sound like the most virtuoso female singing voice ever recorded. Her talent level, on this instrument, is so staggeringly far above any of the other on screen players that it is akin to watching humans and a cvreature from another species do the same task.

Additionally, this film, unlike the first, is much more dependent upon the technical aspects to cohere it into a narrative and artistic whole. Aside from director Martin, kudos must go out to cinematographer Robert Stone and, especially editor Robert Greenwald. Rare is the film where the editor plays a larger role than the cinematographer, but this is one of those films. By the end of the film, we get to see the long awaited reunion of Theremin and Rockmore- who long feared Theremin was dead, after he was kidnapped in 1938 and forcibly returned to the Soviet Union. The film deserved its many honors at film festivals.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

It makes you want to buy a theremin and start playing....

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
24 May 2011

I owe my watching this documentary to my strange daughter. Now I do not mean this in a bad way--I come from a family of strange people and the fact that she KNEW what a theremin was surprised me, as I sure didn't. Apparently a theremin is a magnificent electronic musical instrument created in the early part of the 20th century by Dr. Theremin--a genius who had immigrated to the US around the time of the Russian Revolution. This film, then, is about the instrument and its inventor--and it makes for a slow but very interesting story worth seeing even if you are not a musician. I am certainly not one, but I found myself marveling at the beautiful and other-worldly sound of this machine. In fact, we have all heard the theremin before--most often in sci-fi movies but even in other places such as the Beach Boys' song "Good Vibrations". And, speaking of this, seeing Brian Wilson interviewed was pretty bizarre, as he looked pretty good but the more he talked the more you realized that he still is quite mentally ill.

Anyway, there is MUCH more to the story in regards to Dr. Theremin--much more, but I don't want to say more because it would spoil this wonderful film. His life, put simply, is MUCH stranger than fiction! I give the documentary very high marks for all the effort it took to construct--with trips to Moscow, locating the Doctor, arranging for interviews, etc.. Clearly this was a labor of love and I appreciate this. The only reason i don't rate this even higher is that it is a bit dry in places and although it kept my interest, I have a much larger capacity than normal for this sort of thing...and the average person might just find their mind wandering. Still, it's fascinating and I strongly recommend you try it.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A Great Amazing Film About So Much of Life

Author: John W Chance ( from San Francisco, California
18 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is an amazing film. It's subtitled "An Electronic Odyssey," and indeed, it is, an amazing journey to many places you would not think you'd go.

First, it appears to be the story of Leon Termin's invention of the Theremin. It is! It gives us great historical footage, and interviews with his associates and contemporaries. It seems almost comical now that the Theremin would have been promoted as an orchestral instrument (like the previously recently invented saxophone by Adolph Sax), but the interviews are articulate, revelatory and prescient. Thanks for this wonderful history! Next, of course, is what actually became of the Theremin in musical history: it became the signature sound of 'spooky' films and of science fiction films in the 1950s. We had the great Franz Waxman's "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) score, which was also used in "Flash Gordon" (1936), Miklos Rozsa's "Spellbound" (1945), "The Lost Weekend," (1945) and many more even up to "Bartleby" (2001); then all of the low budget and high budget 50's SF films! The genius Bernard Hermann knew he needed it for "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (1951), one of the great, defining, SF soundtracks! (For me, "The Bride of Frankenstein" is the greatest one).

The film showcases, and keeps playing, "Good Vibrations" (1966) by the Beach Boys, apparently to show how the Theremin can be effectively used in music-- much like the slide whistle, chimes, or bells. Bonus points for the extensive 'interview' with the super nutso genius Brian Wilson explaining how 'Good Vibrations' developed. Anybody who's ever taken drugs can understand everything he says! Way to go Brian! Even if you have completely flipped out!

We get the great Robert Moog himself describing his love affair with the Theremin, how it works, and its impact on the development of the synthesizer and electronic music!

But there's more! Termin is abducted by the Russians in the 1920s, and like a mystery thriller, he is discovered again in the 1990s! The documentary interviews him at age 94, and shows him traveling back to America to receive belated accolades, and to revisit New York City to see how his old haunts, and the city itself, have changed.

The last part of the film is a startling film segment for anyone who has ever gotten older. How would you feel traveling back to your old haunts of fifty or sixty years ago? The camera focuses on a bent nonagenarian wandering the alien streets of a New York sixty years in his future. What must he be thinking? What would you be thinking if you were in his place, as you will be in fifty or sixty years? All of a sudden, the film makes you stop and think about the odyssey of your own life, its past, present and the future as looking at the past. It's a psychedelic segment.

So you've got it all-- an entertaining and transfixing musical history and a mirror pointed at yourself. A great film! Thanks Steven Martin! I give it a 9.

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