Until this summer, Largo was a small nightclub in a primarily Jewish district of Los Angeles. Nestled amid shoe stores and across the street from a deli, it opened in 1992, and soon enough, its diminutive stage became a regular spot for musicians such as Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, Elliott Smith, and Rickie Lee Jones. Owner and Belfast, Northern Ireland, native Mark Flanagan later added comedians to the mix, including Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, and Patton Oswalt.
With so much talent available to him, Flanagan began filming the performances for the Largo website. While he might have been adept in running a nightclub and forging tight relationships with performers, he wasn't a cameraman. Instead, he turned to Andrew Van Baal, the boyfriend of a regular. "I didn't know Andrew that well," says Flanagan, "but I knew his girlfriend, and I knew he could hold a camera."
Flanagan and Van Baal shot one show with a small camera, and he wasn't pleased with the initial results. "The color was awful, and I asked him to switch it to black and white, and then I thought, 'God, now it looks really good, better than I expected.'" He happened to show the footage to another Largo regular, filmmaker P.T. Anderson, who told him that he definitely needed to do something more with it, which is how the documentary/concert film Largo was born.
Van Baal and Flanagan worked together over two years, filming more than 120 hours of performances and finally editing it together into what is meant to capture a "dream team" evening at the club. Flanagan never wanted to make a traditional, talking-head kind of documentary. "My model for this, if there was one, was Jazz on a Summer's Day, which is a fantastic film [set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival], where Bert Stern went down and he filmed Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson and all these people, and it just goes from one song to the other."
"The first conception of the film was that we wanted to structure it like a single night at the club," Van Baal recalls. "For a while, we were calling it A Night Out. The idea was that you would see it being set up, then it would open, and we'd have this progression of performers, and then you'd see it close. It still basically has that structure." Instead, the only framing device left in the film is watching comedian Dave "Gruber" Allen on his bus ride to the club, entering through the kitchen, greeting people, and then taking the stage in his guise as Todd Carlin, who warms up audiences professionally.
It's a bit disappointing that Flanagan decided to pull himself out of the limelight, because he's as much a part of the history of Largo as Clifford Antone was of Antone's, and you want to know a bit about the personality who helped bring this talent together. Still, the final product works beautifully as a concert film and as a tribute to what Largo used to be (Flanagan has since closed the location and opened a larger club nearby, called New Largo). Even if you've never stepped foot inside, it's hard not to feel someone plucking at your heartstrings as Flanagan turns out the lights at the end of the film while an Elliott Smith song plays mournfully on the piano. It's a fitting end for both the club and the film, which is 112 minutes' worth of some of the most intimate musical performances you're likely to see captured on film.
Saturday, Oct. 18, 2:30pm, Dobie; Monday, Oct. 20, 7pm, Alamo Lake Creek.
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