Brilliant in moments but basically flawed, “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey” revolves around Leon Theremin, the genius scientist/artist who revolutionized modern music with his invention of the world’s first electronic instrument. Gliding over crucial issues, director Steven M. Martin conveys only glimpses of the eccentric life, politics and art of Theremin, who died in Moscow in 1993 at the age of 97. Shown last fall on British TV, “Theremin” is likely for U.S. TV, though docu might also warrant a limited theatrical release due to its subject’s fascinating life and long-lasting influence on popular culture.
Labeled “the prophet of the future of music” and “the Soviet Edison,” Theremin was born in Russia in 1895. Docu doesn’t provide much information about his childhood and education, other than saying that in 1918 he invented the theremin, an electronic instrument that produced, as one interviewee says, “strange ethereal sounds from the air, without even touching it.”
Martin chronicles Theremin’s 1928 demonstration of his new instrument at a sold-out Carnegie Hall concert, which led to his acceptance into the American artistic elite. Unfortunately, little is said about Theremin’s controversial interracial marriage to the black ballerina Lavinia Holmes.
Docu’s most systematic aspect concerns Theremin’s vast impact on the music world, including Hollywood movies that used his invention for their eerie scores , illustrated by excellent footage from Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend.”
“Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey” suffers from too many information gaps and an awkward structure, but the man lived such an outlandish life that his near-century-long odyssey is absorbing.