The Byron Bay International Film Festival is almost upon us, bringing to our screens some cinema gems.
One such film is When My Sorrow Died – The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin.
Born into a life of privilege, fine art, opera, and honour; reared to be a gentleman and the last heir to a sizable fortune, Armen Ra was prince of not just any home.
His aunt was a renowned opera singer, musicologist, and a graduate of the famed Santa Cecilia Conservatory of Music in Rome. His mother was a concert pianist and his father was a jazz enthusiast and saxophonist.
Their home was frequented by artists, writers, and such musical luminaries as famed soprano Luciana Serra and French-Armenian legend Charles Aznavour, to name a few. Armen was surrounded by talent.
What would have been a yearly summer vacation abroad became an event that changed his life forever.
The Iranian Revolution of 1978 forced Armen Ra and his family to remain in the United States. He was never to return home again.
Exiled in America and forced into school, unable to speak a word of English, Armen had to adapt, and adapt quickly. He endured years of abuse from bullies, who ridiculed him for being feminine and from Iran. Although diminutive in stature, Armen fought back. The only way he could survive the world that he was forced into was to create his own world.
After being expelled from school in the 10th grade, for fighting, Armen could no longer accept what his life had become and set out to create that unique world.
He moved to NYC at the age of 16, where he enmeshed himself in jewellery design and the drag scene. Armen was in a city that seemed boundless, at a time when being young and gay was dangerous.
He became an integral part of the famed Club Kid scene and was lauded as one of the most beautiful drag queens of his time. Armen was accepted into the social elite while learning the ways of the mean streets as an underground hustler.
At times homeless, at times staying with wealthy friends, and at times in crack hotels, the story spirals into drug addiction, alcoholism, and self-destruction.
Attracting the attention of such luminaries as Vali Myers, Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dali, hanging out at the Chelsea Hotel, performing in drag at all the ‘IT’ clubs, and rubbing shoulders with greats of the entertainment industry, everyone wanted to be around Armen, except Armen himself.
Armen’s friends started to die of AIDS, murder, drug overdoses, and suicide. But he survived.
Divine intervention led him to what would essentially save his life: a voice. Armen taught himself to play the Theremin – the first electronic instrument ever invented, in 1920, by Russian physicist Leon Theremin.
He mastered this most difficult musical instrument, refining his talent to the point of affecting people emotionally. This ‘gift from the gods’ changed the direction of his life from slow suicidal escapism to total devotion.
A truly remarkable being, Armen tells his life stories, which read like mythology, yet are painfully true, with the sharpest of wit, a cutting sense of humour, and deep sincerity.
Armen will also be appearing at the Byron Bay International Film Festival February 28 till March 9.