Until I saw Max Montalvo’s documentary on the life of David Phillips, I had no idea that the most influential flamenco guitarist in Canada was a guy from Kirkland Lake. In fact, I had no idea that Canada had any influence on flamenco guitar at all, so there you go.
Those who follow flamenco culture more closely will surely enjoy El Payo, constructed as a loving homage to a much-admired cult figure. The title means “the non-Gypsy”, Phillips’s nickname among the Spanish flamenco community.
Phillips, who died in 2002, was a sort of focal point for Canadian guitarists he was taught by the revered guitarist Eli Kassner and he arranged pieces for Liona Boyd.
Phillips never achieved the same level of fame he’s barely known beyond the world of flamenco enthusiasts, and Montalvo had to scramble to find archival audio and video of Phillips in performance. (One of the few clips he includes comes from an appearance on Breakfast Television.)
Composed primarily of interviews with Phillips’s friends, colleagues and surviving family, El Payo is an appealing ramble through the life of a man whose career never quite achieved the heights it deserved – partly due to the music culture of his era, which relegated flamenco to niche status, and partly due to personal issues that Montalvo addresses only glancingly.
The movie’s a little bit messy – Montalvo’s constantly letting his subjects distract him with peripheral anecdotes that a more objective filmmaker would cut for focus – but it succeeds in creating a reverent portrait of a man who deserved a lot more reverence while he was alive.
El Payo screens at 8pm tonight (Friday) at the Royal, 608 College Street.[rssbreak]