Sunday, November 04, 2012

DOC NYC ’12: Gypsy Davy

Rachel Leah Jones has issues with her father.  She is not the only one.  Flamenco guitarist David Serva [Jones] is only good at playing music and reproducing.  Disingenuous apologies come in a distant third when Jones takes on her more or less absentee father in Gypsy Davy (trailer here), her documentary profile-slash-examination of family dysfunction, which screens during the still on-schedule 2012 DOC NYC at the IFC Center.

Born the blond David Jones of Alabama, Serva transformed himself into the first American flamenco guitarist accepted by the Spanish old guard.  He did it by abandoning his wife and two children (the director-co-producer-co-everything and an older brother from a previous marriage).  Serva is a self-absorbed creep, who displays almost no redeeming virtues throughout Davy.  For obvious reasons, Jones openly questions whether she should be documenting her irresponsible father, yet persists, clearly hoping the exercise will have a therapeutic effect.

Shockingly inarticulate, Serva Jones only buries himself deeper as the film continues.  Nonetheless, it is fascinating to trace the five women and five children (that he knows of) whose fates would become intertwined with his.  There is some stylish flamenco and Roma-influenced guitar music as well, but Serva Jones’ undeniable musical gifts are not impressive enough to compensate for his boorishness.

It is impossible to turn away from the uncomfortable messiness of Gypsy Davy, just like traffic accident or a Joe Biden stump speech.  Jones raises family disorder to the level of performance art, but there is never any question where the blame lies.  The only real surprise is the relative emotional health displayed by many of Serva’s grown children.

Gypsy Davy is almost unique among music-related documentaries because it leaves viewers less kindly disposed to its subject after a full viewing.  However, many critics and programmers will probably play up the Counting Crows hook.  Yes, David Serva Jones is the inspiration for that Mr. Jones.  In fact, his son Martin co-founded the band, but walked away from a career in music out of fear he would become like his father. 

While it looks rather DIY, Gypsy Davy is scathingly honest and quite shrewdly constructed.  Recommended for viewers in the mood for an anti-musical doc, Gypsy Davy screens this Friday (11/9) and the following Monday (11/12) as part of this year’s DOC NYC, which is still proceeding on course.