Status: Unreleased (premiered 6/22/08)
Directed By: Mark Flanagan & Andrew van Baal
Cinematographer: Andrew van Baal
Starring: Dave Allen, Jon Brion, Grant-Lee Phillips, Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, and many others
At dinner with his parents the night before the world premiere of his first movie, Largo co-director, editor, and cinematographer Andrew van Baal warned them once again that the film he had made would likely only serve to alternately bore and offend them. He informed them of the fact that he had hoped to capture a depiction of the performances at this trendy Los Angeles club, where the sublime meets the profane. The film vacillates between the two, mixing emotional musical performances with biting and edgy comedy routines, sandwiched within a visual chronicle of the last days of the old Largo on Fairfax, which closed its doors for the last time prior to the film’s completion (the club has since reopened at a new, larger location). Shots of the club and its ambiance are intercut with the performances to form what amounts to a “best-of”-style concert film; Largo has hosted a lot of special performances over the years, and this movie aims to assemble a sampling of the best of them into a cohesive whole.
The directors have presented the film in a manner very befitting of the club itself: the black-and-white photography helps convey the feeling of the dimly-lit interior, and tight shots of the performers bring the club’s intimate setting to the moviehouse audience. The first several performances are what co-director Mark Flanagan described at the post-screening Q&A as maudlin, with tight steady perspectives and softly-focused and -lit faces of the artists (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, and others) pouring their hearts out on the club’s small stage. The selection of songs follows a naturally building arc, and by the end a crescendo is reached featuring rocking performances by Andrew Bird, Largo’s long-time musician-in-residence Jon Brion, and Grant-Lee Phillips, with wider angles, freer camera movements, and more frequent cuts to go along with them. In between there are several hilarious comedy pieces by the likes of Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, and Patton Oswalt. John C. Reilly stops by to share a story that makes one wonder if he hasn’t done stand-up before, and Flight of the Conchords ably bridge the music and the comedy in their now-famously unique way.
I found myself at times wishing that the movie was either all musical performances or all comedy; going back and forth between the two, it’s easy to get into one mindset or the other and find yourself wanting to stay there. The film transitions between performances smoothly, though, and after a few context switches they become easier to take; in fact, I’d say that it achieves a point where the comedy provides a nice respite from the music, and vice versa. The way the film subtly shifts styles to match the various performances further helps to entrench the audience in each one, in addition to serving as a testament to both the care that was put into its assembly as well as the talent behind it.
That this is not a movie for everybody should be patently obvious on the surface. The opening-night crowd was largely comprised of Largo regulars and existing fans, which made for a perfect first screening, but I do wonder along with the LA Times reviewer who asked, “Whom will they be rocking beyond the film festival audiences?” Largo is not only well put together, but it is also admirable in the way it allows the performances it documents to speak for themselves. There are no titles, there is no narration, and there is no commentary; it is simply a collection of supremely talented artists, sampled while at their most exposed in the most intimate of settings. By nature it’ll only appeal to a niche audience, but it’s a niche that exists and was out in full on Sunday night at the Crest theater. Where it goes from here I’m not sure, but I’ll provide updates as always. I’d like to see it get bought by an HBO or a Showtime (the “profane” parts would necessitate it), where I think it could get some airtime and attract some viewers.
Until then, I just want to publicly congratulate Andy and Flanny for producing a movie that is beautiful, funny, moving, and at times very touching. It’s always special to be able to see a film’s premiere exhibition, but this one was particularly so for me because of my personal relationship to the primary creative force behind it. I’m extremely proud of and happy for my friend for what he’s accomplished, and looking forward to seeing what it leads to for him next.