While watching Strad Style, I couldn’t help wondering about the equivalent between the subject matter and the film itself. The documentary follows violin maker Danny Houck, an eccentric man with bipolar disorder living alone and jobless in an old farmhouse in Ohio. He reaches out to famous violinist Razvan Stoica on social media about crafting a replica of the Il Cannone Guarnerius, one of the most famous violins in history. Despite Houck’s obscurity, Stoica appears to trust Houck and his promised project, even after delays in its delivery.
What makes a great performance? Is it the violinist, the violin, or the composition being performed? It’s a combination, to be sure, but there’s a lot of emphasis on the instrument. We don’t really get to know Stoica at all, nor is there any focus on what he will be playing with the result of Houck’s handiwork — if there will be any result at all. Strad Style is all about the maker and the performance tool being created by him. There’s some suspense to the story that follows, as we continue to doubt Houck isn’t just ambition and talk but incapable of what achieving his task.
What makes a great documentary? Is it the filmmaker, the subject, or the story being told? It’s a combination, as well, but here the emphasis is on the subject. Strad Style is the sort of doc where the main character is interesting enough to hold our attention regardless of how well made the film is. It’s not really a bad film, though there are a number of shots where I wasn’t sure what the cameraperson was doing. Fortunately, Houck’s an intriguing person to watch through all the distracting zooms in and out while he’s talking. He’s fascinating for his quirks and his psychological ups and downs, though, which may be argued as somewhat exploitative.
There is a degree to where director Stefan Avalos is the least significant element to his own film, in the same way Stoica may be seen as the least significant element of his performances. Documentaries like Strad Style don’t work with an existing composition or script, though this one had a slightly clear narrative ahead of time, only the ending wasn’t known going in. So Avalos is benefited from having an interesting subject and story. He’s able to get by more passably than Stoica would if he weren’t also a great talent as a violinist. The film would be better if Avalos was a great talent, too, but it’s not as essential to enjoying his performance with Houck as his instrument.