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Stars: Armen Ra, Pat Field, Amanda Lepore and Justin Tranter.
Director: Robert Nazar Arjoyan

Reviewed at the Opening Night of the 2014 Byron Bay International Film Festival.

Screening at the 2015 Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Visit the official website for venue and ticket information.

Rating: 4/5

Creativity as a life-defining, soul-saving virtue is central to the story of Theremin maestro Armen Ra, as captured in Robert Nazar Arjoyan’s elegant, moving concert/biopic When My Sorrow Died. 

Candidly recounting key moments in his personal growth, Ra oozes an enigmatic appeal in conversation with an off-camera interviewer (with some nicely timed glances towards his audience). What emerges are recollections of life lived as an outsider, initially by society’s design then ultimately on his own terms.

Born into a minority in Iran, the threat of persecution was ever present; violent bullying at his new American high school was painful but helped define his self-worth. His acceptance amongst the LGBT community of NYC was reaffirming but substance abuse stifled growth; having achieved a degree of sobriety, 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 Arjoyan’s camera captures all his charms, both physical and intellectual. Often appearing to be at one with the lushly glamourous 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 charts the emergence of a man in the guise of an artist, of a life made richer by reconciliation with one’s demons. Robert Nazar Arjoyan’s detailed, heartfelt ode to a musical genius also soars as study of 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. 

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