Pardon me for being the unwashed heathen that I am, but I had not heard about the nearly priceless Lipinski Stradivarius violin being stolen in 2014 from Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Frank Almond. Not until seeing Joel Van Haren’s documentary Plucked yesterday, that is. Despite my lack of knowledge on violin thefts, however, I do know how pristine and valuable Stradivarius’ are. This particular one, however, is one of the most valuable. It is said to be linked to the devil as it’s first owner (circa 1713) was Giuseppe Tartini, who wrote the Faustian “Devil’s Trill Sonata” which is based upon a dream he had where the devil played his violin.
About four or five owners later, it ended up at the Milwaukee Symphony and Frank Almond most typically played it. He was very protective of the violin, considering it is worth $6 million dollars and has significant historical value. One night after a concert, he is tazed, and this artifact is stolen from him. He was unable to see who took it.
Plucked takes us into great detail as to what actually happened, but the way it is presented is fantastic. It reveals itself in peeling layers and eventually by the end we know exactly what happened, but for a while, we are tricked into thinking certain people aren’t who they seem to be. For example, we are first introduced to Salah Saludyn as an art collector, and technically that’s what he is…however he’s much more than that.
“One night after a concert, he is tazed, and this artifact is stolen from him. He was unable to see who took it.”
The story behind this real-life crime is actually pretty hilarious, and I don’t feel bad saying this because at the end of the day the violin ends up in the rightful owners’ hands. The city of Milwaukee has its best homicide detectives on the case, and even the FBI gets involved. It takes them a while to find the three perpetrators, one of whom refers to himself as a “street Sotheby’s” since he has stolen art and sold it back to people before.
The story of this theft is interesting and something that really couldn’t be made up. Plucked is another documentary that uses a different story to make a commentary about the racial and economic divide between the rich and poor in an American city. For example, there really isn’t too much in common between a black barber and a white violinist, but this story brings those people together and asks us the question…why does one fare better than the other?
I suggest checking out this documentary if only because it falls into the truth-is-definitely-stranger-than-fiction category, as well as just how most of these people are total characters. It could be a season of the FX show Fargo, that’s how ridiculous and hilarious the story is. So check it out and see if you can figure out who stole the violin earlier than I did. And don’t cheat by reading about it first!
Plucked (2019) Produced and Directed by Joel Van Haren. Plucked screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars