Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey

Apart from Crumb, this film by Steven M. Martin may be the best American documentary feature of 1994. It’s certainly one of the most fascinating, taking as its subject the electronic musical instrument known as the theremin; Leon Theremin, the Russian visionary who created it; and all the remarkable things that have happened to inventor and invention over the past seven decades. In a way, the film also describes the complex history of a concept in this country: how a particular sound gave birth to electronic music (Robert Moog is one of the many people interviewed here, along with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and various classical musicians) and wound up being used in Hollywood, mainly in SF films. Then there’s the hair-raising story of Theremin being kidnapped by Soviet agents in 1938, his romance with a Russian violin prodigy, and much, much more. I shouldn’t leave out the fascination of watching a theremin being played; just as it’s difficult to play a vibraphone without dancing, it’s hard to play a theremin without “conducting.” Martin will attend the screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 19, 8:00, 443-3737.

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