The quirky documentary that will steal hearts at the 40th Denver Film Festival
Sometimes, a documentary can give you anxiety because the subject matter is so heavy. Other times, you find yourself becoming anxious because you want so badly for it to end on a happy note. Stefan Avalos’ “Strad Style” is a part of the latter, making you sincerely hope for the success of its subject, Daniel Houck.
Houck lives in the middle of nowhere in Laurelville, Ohio, making violins for a wide range of clients. The particular violin he’s crafting during the documentary is a replica of one of the most famous instruments ever made: “Il Cannone,” or The Cannon. The original violin was made by Giuseppe Guarneri in 1743 and was named by its user, the seminal Niccolò Paganini.
The violin is being made for Razvan Stoica, one of the most talented soloists playing today. They met on Facebook and started talking. When Stoica said he wished could play on Il Cannone, Houck told him he could make one, which made Stoica very excited. And so the foundation of the story is laid, but the violin only serves as a point of conflict, because the real story is about Houck.
Houck is an incredibly interesting person, even if you’re not quite sure how you feel about him in the beginning, which is one thing that makes the documentary so compelling. At times you feel like you’re watching a male version of “Grey Gardens,” complete with a large, eccentrically decorated house, a head scarf, quotable moments, and a slight melancholy. Because Houck is such a recluse, you get the sense that he doesn’t talk to a lot of people, so when he does start talking, he has a lot to say. As his personality opens up, you get more attached and invested in his success. But you’re also not quite sure if he’s delusional about being able to recreate such a specific violin. That’s what makes this documentary so entertaining: Are we watching a comedy or a tragedy?
Despite its “Grey Gardens” appearance, there are certainly major differences. First, you know that Houck doesn’t come from an upper-class background or have a famous relative he can point to and talk about the good times. He’s very open about the fact that he’s living in poverty. He’s also much more candid about his past and that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His quirky and open nature makes him endearing, and explains why Avalos is heard talking to him throughout the film. Avalos basically became friends with Houck, and you feel like you want to be his friend also.
A quick explanation of the title: this documentary has almost nothing to do with the other renowned violin maker Antonio Stradivari. However, Houck eventually picked up the nickname “Strad Style” after he found some success making violins for others because of his reverence for Stradivari. His nickname is so appropriate, you’ll see it again and again in the film.
Without giving too much away, you are glad that “Strad Style” is not a tragedy. This documentary will hopefully inspire you to pursue your dreams no matter how many setbacks you encounter along the way. In a sense, we’re all chasing the Strad lifestyle.
Showtimes: Friday, November 3 at 4:00 p.m., Saturday, November 4 at 9:15 p.m., Sunday, November 5 at 6:15 p.m. All screenings will be at the UA Denver Pavilions, located at 500 16th Street, on the third floor. For ticket information, click here.