Armen Ra On His Shocking Documentary, Favorite Nightlife Stories, & Theremin

In this holiday-shortened week, with the spring pushing and pushing and pushing its way to free us from this winter of discontent, I am writing about the unusual suspects who toil or play in the clubs as they define their crafts. Yesterday it was FLXX. Today it’s Armen Ra, the master of the theremin. The theremin is a rare, eerie-sounding musical instrument, with its foremost astonishing trait explained by Armen in our interview below. Right now, Aremn is raising loot on Indiegogo for a theremin-infused feature documentary about his life: one of growing up in Iranian aristocracy and, after going on vacation in the United States, being forced to stay there due to the Iranian Revolution. A man from wealth and in exile, his story takes flight when he discovers the magic of the theremin and its effect on people. The fundraiser has six days left, and $4,000 to go to get the feature released.

Armen Ra is a well-known face and figure in the posh NY nightclub scene. His story is of ups and downs and all-arounds. It will shock and awe you. I asked him to tell me all about it
 
It’s been a long road. You are an exile,  being forced to leave Iran and live in a foreign land. Tell me about that transition.
That transition was a complete nightmare. I literally thought it was a nightmare for years. Coming from a sheltered aristocratic background, growing up in the opera, traveling the world yearly, submerged in music and art and literature. Being stuck here was like Gilligan’s Island from Hell. I started making jewelry, doing puppet shows with sets and costumes, learning about the power of beauty. We had been to the US several times already, but I didn’t speak any English. My mother and sister were fluent though, so they helped. I adapted quite fast in every way possible. I had to. It was a sudden survival, and I was unprepared at that age, but you figure things out when you have to.

Drugs, prostitution, alcohol, a zillion demons – not exactly the American dream. How’d you get out of that?
Divine intervention, self discipline, and believing in my own intelligence to eventually conquer the demons that were in reach. The light is always there. We are all light. The substance abuse was knocking holes in my aura, diminishing the light. It was not easy to get a regular job for someone like me at the time, especially when the club scene collapsed. Sometimes I had nowhere to sleep and was living in my friend’s multi-million dollar mansion. I worked at Patricia Field doing make-up, did reception at hair salons, drag shows, and whatever else I had to do to survive. I even worked at Show World in the old Times Square! Until I found a voice through the theremin, I was spiraling downward. I wanted to be great at something, and drag and clubs and doing make-up did not satisfy that urge, that quiet knowing that something else is in store, but what? A gift from the gods…waiting for me to open my eyes, to look up.

Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, Vali Myers, Salvador Dali met you, checked you out… you guys rubbed shoulders.
Being in NYC at that time and living in the East Village, it was inevitable really. I’ve always been lucky in attracting interesting people, and I was just amazed that such incredible people and artists wanted me around. It wasn’t that I had low self-esteem; I was just coming out of years of school and abuse, so it was a fabulous shock. I tell the stories in the film. It really is like mythology, and thankfully its all documented and witnessed. Being 16 and spending hours a day with Vali Myers in her room at Hotel Chelsea with people like Ira Cohen,  Andy Warhol, and Debbie Harry coming and going was insane. Vali would constantly take Polaroids of me and send them to Dali. Befriending Leigh Bowery and Thierry Mugler, dancing with Grace Jones in the Limelight DJ booth,s itting on the floor of Frankie Knuckles’ DJ booth at the World… going to a tranny hooker club with Tim Burton and Francis Ford Copolla. Yes, really. Doing the 1999 MTV VMAs in the Madonna Drag Queens segment; I represented the frozen video, that’s a story! I COULD go on! 

The theremin. You have mastered it, and yet I’ve never heard of it.
The theremin is the first electronic instrument ever. Invented by Russian Physicist Leon Theremin around 1920, it is the only instrument that is played without touching, and one of the most difficult to play. Many people use it as a sound effect. I play it as a classical instrument and a voice. My theremin has an eight-octave range, so she is like the ultimate opera singer. She sounds like Maris Callas from beyond. The theremin was used in many sci-fi and horror movies in the background. I think it fell into obscurity because it was difficult to play properly and was not easily accessible. My intention is to bring this instrument to the foreground where it belongs. It has taken me all over the world and onto some of the greatest stages. The sound affects people, it brings out emotion, and touches the heart like a beautiful voice does.

What is the film about?
The film is channeling sadness and horror into beauty, and music is the alchemy. It’s about being clear enough to receive. We are in THE LAST WEEK of our Indigogo crowd-funding campaign. We’re asking anyone who is interested in seeing this fabulous film made properly to please help support us by making donations and/or especially spreading the word about the film and the campaign. We are working very hard to create a meaningful, beautiful, high-quality work of art. Any and all support is welcomed and much appreciated.

And thank you, Steve. You helped me when I first started working in clubs by believing in me and giving me work of all kinds, and you continue to support what I am doing. I really appreciate it. You’re a real gentleman.

‘Argo’ Continues to Piss Off the Rest of the World

Sure, Iran might be suing Hollywood over how much they hated Argo, but that makes sense as Iran doesn’t really come across as cool guys in the movie. But now New Zealand is pissed off. Yes, New Zealand, as a whole, is so angry about Argo!

Now, you may be thinking, "Wait, did New Zealand have anything to do with Argo?" That is what I thought! And that is part of the problem, it seems. You see, New Zealand is mentioned once in the movie—CIA agent Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) tells Tony Mendez (played by the film’s director, Ben Affleck) that "the Kiwis" turned the American refugees away, forcing them to shack up with the Canadians. (The Canadians, by the way, are also mad about Argo.)

Naturally, the New Zealand Parliament has passed a motion claiming that Ben Affleck ""saw fit to mislead the world about what actually happened":

The strong reaction in New Zealand indicates the country remains insecure about its own culture, said Steve Matthewman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Auckland. People are prone to bouts of unwarranted outrage when somebody from abroad says something bad about the country, he said, and simpering enjoyment when they say something good.

"It’s touched a really raw nerve," Matthewman said. "We do seem in New Zealand to be oversensitive to how the rest of the world perceives us."

The movie’s New Zealand reference may not be totally fair but has an element of truth.

Some in New Zealand have taken those words – "Kiwis turned them away" – as implying the country did nothing to help. Published interviews indicate that diplomats from Britain and New Zealand did help by briefly sheltering the Americans, visiting them and bringing them food, even driving them to the airport when they left.

Yet those interviews also indicate that both countries considered it too risky to shelter the Americans for long. That left the Canadians shouldering the biggest risk by taking them in.

Lawmaker Winston Peters, who brought last week’s uncontested motion before Parliament, said New Zealanders are unfairly portrayed as "a bunch of cowards," an impression that would be given to millions who watch the movie.

"It’s a diabolical misrepresentation of the acts of courage and bravery, done at significant risk to themselves, by New Zealand diplomats," he said.

Soon, Austria will file a suit against everyone associated with Argo because it beat Amour for the Best Picture Oscar. And New Orleans will cecede from the nation, claiming Beasts of the Southern Wild was robbed. Afghanistan will be all, "Hey guys, can y’all just stop bombing us? Make movies, not bombs!" Switzerland will stay neutral, obviously, but will probably enjoy all of this.

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Iran Threatens to Sue Over ‘Argo’

Even the Iranians didn’t think Argo should have won Best Picture last month. French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is currently visiting Iran to explore the possibilities of a lawsuit against the United States, as cultural officials in Iran claim that the Oscar-winning film is CIA propaganda against the country. What do you think was the biggest offense? Did they just roll their eyes at the gratuitious shot of a shirtless Ben Affleck (are we really surprised he didn’t get a Best Director nomination?), or was that enough to make then want to burn Affleck in effigy? I assume Coutant-Peyre is interested in the case because Amour didn’t win Best Picture, whereas the Iranians, I bet, thought Beasts of the Southern Wild was a real tear-jerker and that Quvenzhané Wallis was the cuuuuuutesssssssttttttt

[Via Washington Times]

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Jon Stewart Preparing Directorial Debut, ‘Rosewater’

Comedy Central will be missing one central figure for much of the summer—The Daily Show host Jon Stewart (or as your mother knows him, “Jon Daily”) will be taking a hiatus to film his directorial debut. (Regular correspondent John Oliver will host in the interim.)

The film, a drama called Rosewater, will be an adaptation of Canadian-Iranian journalist Mazir Bahari’s memoir, Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival, in which he and Aimee Molloy chronicle his trip to Iran to cover the elections and subsequent four-month stint in a Tehran prison.

Lest we forget, before Jon Stewart became one of America’s finest news sources, he actually had something of an acting career—he was in the lesser Adam Sandler picture, Big Daddy, and stoner comedy Half-Baked. And, let’s not forget, he was in Death to Smoochy. Rosewater should be much heavier fare, though.

Stewart interviewed Bahari, from whose memoir Stewart’s work derives, on an episode of The Daily Show. As a matter of fact, Bahari’s captors in Iran used the interview as evidence against him for his and the other guests’ criticisms of Iran. Watch that interview below. 

 

[via the L.A. Times]

Accused Thief to Get Hand Chopped Off in Iran

Remember when our mothers always warned us that punishment for thievery in other cultures resulted in the dismemberment of fingers or, gulp, the entire hand? We always thought it was an urban legend but it still kept us away from the cookie jar. This past weekend, that myth became a reality after a 21-year-old man was ordered to have his hand amputated in Iran after stealing candy. This is one hand job he’ll never forget.

Though amputations are rare as punishment, the thief is making history. Iranian authorities occasionally issue harsh rulings in an effort to stem the spread of corruption and disorder. Not his lucky day. In addition to the amputation, he will serve a year in prison and was ordered to return the large amount of chocolate and $900 he stole to the candy store. Critics believe amputations, public executions or flogging hurts Iran’s international image and reflects badly on Islam. But their opinions may have no effect on changing Iran’s strict laws, which, you might remember, were responsible for the decision to publicly stone the woman who confessed to cheating on her husband back in 2006. Just recently, two German reporters were arrested last week, suspected of trying to interview the woman. Sounds like a fun place, this Iran.

Immodest Ladies to Blame for Earthquakes, Obviously

From Haiti to Chili to China, there have been a lot of earthquakes of late. Thankfully, an Iranian cleric has been able to explain why. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, one of Iran’s senior clerics, says women who dress immodestly are the reason the earth shakes, literally.

Sedighi told Iranian media that “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes.” The cleric’s reasoning follows a prediction by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad two weeks ago that Iran’s capital, Tehran, would soon be hit by a quake and that many of its 12 million residents should evacuate. Tehran is quite earthquake prone, though that’s more likely due to the two fault lines the city straddles, not its young woman wearing tighter clothes and more revealing headscarves. Seismologists have warned for decades that a catastrophic quake is on the horizon, some even suggested that Iran move its capital. That’s good stuff, Iran.