If I asked you to make a copy of one of the most infamous violins in the world for one of the top violinist in the world, would you do it? Oh, did I also mention that you had to deliver it in five months for an important concert in Amsterdam? Strad Style is a documentary by Stefan Avalos as he follows the reclusive Daniel Houck and his journey to do just that.
Who is Daniel Houck? He’s just this guy, you know. Houck lives in a small rural community in Ohio and he has two loves: classical music and woodworking. After spending years battling depression, Houck is somewhat of a loner. Victorious of his past, Houck has come to a serious crossroad in his life. What is he going to do? What kind of impact will he have on the world around him? At one point, he wonder what he’d do, if my the age of thirty-five, he’s done nothing worthy with his life.
“Strad Style is about the impossible journey to perfection and the unlikely people who get there.”
Daniel Houck is a huge fan of a world-class violinist, Razvan Stoica. After defending Stoica online against a troll, Daniel and Stoica become Facebook friends. Over an online chat, Stoica says that it would be his dream to have a replica of Giuseppe Guarneri’s rare and beautiful violin the Del Gesu “Cannon”—a close competitor to the famed Stradivarius violin. Seizing the opportunity, Houck tells him he can do it. Overjoyed by the offer, Stoica asks him if he can deliver it in five months for a concert in June 2016. Without hesitation, Houck says it’s no problem.
Already armed with advanced woodworking skills, Houck starts meticulously researching the “Cannon.” The project begins with the right wood and cutting the frame from a paper stencil of the original. Watching the process, I feel like I’m watching some DIY classical violin show on cable. Even if he finishes the violin, it can’t sound like the original.
As the documentary progresses, I couldn’t help but think, “Is Houck insane?” Houck’s faith in himself rivals even the most devout Christian’s belief in God. Throughout the film, you’ll marvel at the large set of balls on Houck as he commits to every deadline without flinching. After every conversation, it’s clear Stoica has no clue the obstacles facing Houck.
“Sometimes reaching big goals have a way of paralyzing us.”
Nothing about this job is easy. Murphy’s law applies to Houck every step of the way. Not to spoil the ending, the answer to whether Daniel completes the replica comes the day before he has to fly to Amsterdam to meet his idol.
Strad Style is a documentary about the average guy doing the impossible. I’m sure PBS has plenty of documentaries about master violin makers in Italy, but those documentaries are artistic and educational. Strad Style is all that with a high dose of drama. Houck himself is a likable person, and he is flawed. Early on, he lacked the motivation to start working knowing that the looming deadline was not far away. Procrastinators know that big goals have a way of paralyzing us. Houck must fight through the paralysis.
Houck is also incredibly introspective about art, music, and life. He speaks with the insight of an eternal optimist and a student just learning the tough lessons of life. Lessons about being alone and living a life with meaning.
I can’t say anything about the ending, but Stefan Avalos successfully draws you into the mystery to its conclusion. The final reveal and reactions from Houck and Stoica are worth the price of admission. The phrase “Strad Style” is about perfection. For Houck, “Strad Style” is about the impossible journey to perfection and the unlikely people who get there.
Strad Style (2017) Directed by Stefan Avalos. Starring Daniel Houck and Razvan Stoica.
4 out of 5