Rachel Leah Jones’ Gypsy Davy is a documentary about finding her father, David Serva, who left her and her mother to pursue flamenco guitar in Spain decades earlier.
The day I was to see this film, only an early morning screening was available. With the flu, I did not want to get up and go (in twenty-something weather, no less). However, once the movie began, I was very glad I had left my bed. That said, Gypsy Davy does a very good job at luring the viewer into the narrative.
In Jones’ case, she is one of five children Serva fathered. Through the film, which she made over ten years, she interviews her half-siblings about their dad as well as asks their mothers what drew them to Serva. Through old pictures and video clips of him playing guitar, we get to see the charming man these women fell in love with. However, in present day, we also see the pain he left behind.
The structure of the film works well; Jones divides up the movie with title cards introducing various sibling and loves of her father’s life. (And if you were not a Flamenco aficionado before you walked into the theater, you will certainly be one when you leave.) Jones’ voiceover works, too. It is engaging and succinct, with some humor and a steady backdrop of beautiful, energizing flamenco music thrown in as well as black-and-white photographs and footage. However, at times, certain lines about her father seem a bit accusatory (though we certainly understand why Jones would feel that way).
Film-goers seeking a more commercial tale will probably not be pulled to this documentary as much as people looking for a simple movie about a complicated man. I found the story very relatable, as I grew up in a fatherless household, too. I think many people who grew up in single-parent homes and always yearned to go find and confront the missing parent will relate to it.
Though I liked Jones’ idea of retracing her father’s evasive steps – and exes – I found it difficult to like Serva and understand his motivation for fathering child after child, breaking heart after heart. I am not sure I would have made a movie about him, though I am glad Jones did to remind us that no family is perfect, but it is what you make it.
As an aside, in the film, we learn that the Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” was about Serva, who changed his last name from Jones at some point.
“I was down at the New Amsterdam staring at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation with this black-haired flamenco dancer
She dances while his father plays guitar
She's suddenly beautiful
We all want something beautiful…
We all want to be big stars, but we don't know why and we don't know how
But when everybody loves me, I'm going to be just about as happy as can be
Mr. Jones and me, we're gonna be big stars.”
In the flamenco world, Mr. Jones – Serva – did become a decent-sized star. I just hope it’s not too late for him to become a big one to his family.