Toward the end of Rachel Leah Jones’ film Gypsy Davy, screening at the True/False Film Festival, the filmmaker alludes to a classic lyric by concluding that her estranged father “was not strumming [her] pain, but his own.” The same could be said of her own film, which strums her own pain without the grace provided by her father’s gift.
The standard story on David Serva (aka David Jones) is a starry one: from humble American roots, he followed his muse in the 1960s from Berkeley, California to Moron de la Frontera, Spain, where he became a respected virtuoso guitarist in the Flamenco tradition, considered as a native and a master of the style. His glamorous performing career came at a cost, though, which his daughter seeks to expose.
Jones was also something of a serial monogamist, which Rachel reveals by peeling away layers of domesticity, interviewing five different children with five (or so) different women. It’s hard not to see the film as motivated by disappointment, which colors all the discarded women in Jones’ past, his children, and also, perhaps unsurprisingly, Jones himself. But Rachel’s own disappointment has been channeled more into anger than the others – so much so that even her conciliatory coda is punctuated by nastily passive-aggressive phrases.
The most meaningful scenes are the ones between David and Rachel. Rachel channels her radical political past: confrontational, direct, almost unable to control the pointedness of her questioning. But her father is diffident, disarming, and almost at ease in acknowledging the pain he has caused and that he still feels. One only needs to see the progression from David’s dashingly ambivalent young man to the smirking face and worried brow of the present day to see that it flows through him as strongly as Rachel resists it. In their final onscreen meeting, in Spain, David asks Rachel what she wants, and she doesn’t know what to do with the question, having lost her gusto.
Although David Jones is right to acknowledge his extreme domestic shortcomings, the younger Jones seems to gloss over her father’s abundant artistry, indicting him as a man and letting his music speak for itself. Her film is so clouded by bitterness that it’s hard to tell what that means, but for the dazzling beauty of the musical interludes.