The music is nearly everything in “Largo,” an admirably disciplined documentary that simply and elegantly records many of the prime musicians who graced the stage of Largo, a now-legendary Los Angeles nightclub. Made by co-helmers Mark Flanagan (who founded the club in 1994) and Andrew van Baal as a way of memorializing the place before it shuttered this year, the film captures a nocturnal music culture that’s the city’s unique creation, and a fine corrective to L.A.’s ridiculous Tinseltown image. Festivals will demand encores, and DVD biz is assured.
Though the filmmakers chose to provide no explanatory onscreen or voiceover narration to place Largo in context, it’s worth noting that Flanagan built the club out of a seldom-occupied storefront space in the traditionally Jewish quarter of the Fairfax district. Flanagan was inspired by music/variety clubs in his native Belfast, Northern Ireland, which typically put musicians and standup comics on the same bill. L.A.’s rich community of musicians and stars were welcome to drop by and come onstage, generating a constant mood that anything could and probably would happen.
Doc captures this in a few spots, as when actor John C. Reilly appears to spontaneously recount a funny story about Burt Reynolds trying — and failing — to adopt an Irish accent during the making of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” At another point, surprise guest Jackson Browne, whose folk-rock sound can be seen as a precursor to the creative, personal style Largo fostered, is seen in fine voice with several of the club’s regular players on “These Days.”
The film’s spine, though, is a lineup of Largo regulars, who collectively fall into the music industry’s catch-all label — “alternative” –for artists who don’t fit in a neat commercial category. Core group includes two singer-songwriters tapped by Anderson for “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love,” Jon Brion and Aimee Mann, whose beautifully delivered “Save Me” could serve as the club’s anthem.
Even more remarkable is solo performer Andrew Bird delivering “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” — a title that perfectly captures Bird’s utterly original musical sensibility. Whether by good fortune or judicious editing or both, van Baal catches a number of other artists in excellent form, including Fiona Apple, the hilarious duo Flight of the Conchords, contempo bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, Michael Penn, Bic Runga and Grant-Lee Phillips.
Though the standup acts have always been a part of the Largo mix, the comic insertions here (such as the Sarah Silverman’s perpetually dig-me tone and the acrid stylings of Greg Proops) tend to intrude harshly on the more dominant music flow.
An oddity about Largo was the club’s nod to jazz (via photos and art works on the walls), but its aversion to booking many jazz acts. This persists in the film, which is jazz-free, though Van Ball’s gorgeous black-and-white lensing, using available light, suggests William Claxton’s renowned work in 1950s jazz clubs. Single-camera shots (sometimes with selective, slow zooms) allow for a steady concentration on the acts, and sound is aces.
To travel to fests and venues abroad where auds don’t know the club and its rep, pic will require a few more, albeit minimal, explanatory notes. Not least among these is the factoid that Largo has moved to a space on nearby La Cienega Boulevard formerly occupied by the Coronet Theater.