Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival.
On a postage-stamp-size stage in a room drenched in barely penetrable candlelit darkness, Largo has hosted music and comedy shows of exceptional intimacy for more than a decade. This documentary valentine to the tiny Los Angeles club has the feel of a handmade curio, an artifact shot in warm black and white. Distilled from two years of filmed performances into 112 minutes featuring 25 acts, the film received its world premiere Sunday at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
There’s something necessarily frustrating about the anthology format, with one song or routine for each performer. But those one-shots include such homey high-wire acts as multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird’s dazzling eccentricity, Zach Galifianakis’ bracingly confrontational comedy and John C. Reilly’s revelatory off-the-cuff anecdote about the making of “Boogie Nights.” “Largo” should find a warm welcome among fans of the kind of glitz-free, work-in-progress artistry it showcases.
A valedictory sense is implied; Largo closed its Canter’s-adjacent doors in May and moved from its longtime Fairfax Avenue location to the larger Coronet Theatre on La Cienega. But none of this is explained within the film, just as no onscreen titles identify the performers, until an end-credits roll. The docu provides no backstage “moments,” no talking heads explaining the club’s refusal to kowtow to industry insiders. For the backstory, a recent New Yorker feature should suffice; “Largo” is concerned only with the evidence, the comfort of the performers as they take chances in a stripped-down setting.
First-time directors Mark Flanagan (Largo’s owner and creative force) and Andrew van Baal (who provides the outstanding DV cinematography) offer an impressionistic glimpse of the neighborhood -- the Hasidim, street musicians and skateboarders -- before turning their unwavering focus to the shows themselves. The sound is crystalline. Many of the faces are familiar, and it’s a kick to see them in such close quarters, where they don’t have to reach to a distant back row. Jackson Browne, huddled center stage with his band, sings “These Days”; Fiona Apple delivers a fevered ballad, accompanying herself on Largo’s vintage upright piano.
It’s not surprising that performers who cut their comedy teeth at Largo -- Sarah Silverman, Greg Proops, Fred Armisen -- still show up to try out new material. If there’s something precious and self-congratulatory about “Largo,” that’s forgivable. Its rare independence from an increasingly corporate entertainment industry is something to celebrate.