High Fidelity

High Fidelity is a book written by Nick Hornby and also a movie starring John Cusack.

The book is set in London and the movie is set in Chicago. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on the movie. It’s not for artistic reasons, I genuinely prefer the book, but I can find my copy of the movie whilst the book resolutely escapes me. Also, this segment is Music in Film so my hands are a little tied.

So John Cusack plays the protagonist Rob Gordon. An absolute asshole of the highest order. He owns Championship Vinyl, a record store that will be familiar to anyone that has been in a music shop not owned by a massive corporation. Rounding out the staff are Barry and Dick played by Jack Black and Todd Luiso. Barry is basically Jack Black. This will surprise no one who has ever seen Jack Black in anything. I’m not saying it’s a negative thing per se, but now you have an idea of what role Barry plays in the film. He even, spoiler alert, sings later on in the movie. Dick looks like Michael Stipe and is a hipster music nerd. There’s not a huge amount of depth to either of these characters, and they serve, like all the other characters in the film, as props and interactions for Rob Gordon.

So, why is Rob an asshole? Well, he’s so self-centered it’s beyond a character flaw. Rob distills this down into a pure expression of need, narcissism, and negativity. He’s going through a midlife crisis after the break up with Laura, his most recent girlfriend, and starts to analyze all the other breakups in his past life to see why he’s so unloveable. His analysis in no way ascribes any blame to himself. Even when he admits what he did to foster the breakup with Laura he does it in such a way that it comes across as inevitable or somehow Laura’s fault. 

His journey finally gives him some semblance of self-awareness and perhaps even an ounce of redemption but I’ll not blow the ending. One could read into his introspection in a number of ways but he does exhibit the tendency to lash out that a recent breakup causes and his distance from that do increase as the time passes by. Maybe I’m being hard on him but when the daylight dawns and he finally comes up with a Top Five of why he misses Laura, he backhands women as a whole. He claims that his top five things he hates would be the “garden variety women schizo stuff” which highlights his rather negative approach to women at best and his complete and utter misogyny at worst. This isn’t necessarily a mystery as all of his dealings with his ex’s paint him pretty badly, and that’s before he attempts to reconnect with them all to massage his bruised ego.

Musically there’s not much to get in touch with. It’s not a soundtrack heavy film or featuring an artist in a documentary or biopic but it does hold a special intrinsic value. There is plenty of discussion and the occasional background snippets to catch. It’ll also give you a major desire to start crafting your own Top Fives which basically form the core of the film.

The film also highlights the world most of us on the periphery of music inhabit. The nonplaying just listening crowd that encompasses most people’s interactions with the music industry as a whole. Rob symbolizes the guy looking through the window into the world he most wants to inhabit, but like most of us don’t have the talent to inhabit. Instead, he becomes a DJ, a record store owner, and more importantly, a sneering snob of music who looks down on anyone who knows less about music than he does. Which are most people?

The film isn’t as heavy as the portrayal of such an odious character would suggest and it carries humor throughout the story and John Cusack shows exactly why so many directors cast him during the late 90s/ early 00s. You probably should enjoy watching him though as most of the dialogue is delivered breaking the fourth wall with Rob as the narrator speaking directly to the camera. Unsurprisingly the credits show Cusack helped write the screenplay so whilst it does seem a little self-indulgent it does mirror the book so it holds some artistic merit. Cusack was also credited as a musical supervisor so maybe the tracks featured throughout have more of a connection with him than would be normal in this kind of film. I only have the loosest sense of what a musical supervisor does though so let’s not read too much into that!

Rob’s endless quest for validation is seen against the backdrop of Dick and Barry getting somewhere in their own lives. Barry finally gets into a band whilst Dick finally gets into a relationship. Rob being Rob, this infuriates him rather than being happy for people that despite his often expressed hatred, are clearly his only friends.

As a journey, it goes from the relatively chaotic life threads of the main characters and ends happily. It’s not a film you grind through for some sort of intrinsic lesson or for some betterment of your soul. You leave it with a smile on your face and maybe with the naive hope that stuff does work out. Also, you don’t have to be a perfect soul for things to go right. Maybe.

Give it a whirl and see if it gets into a Top Five music film based on a book starring John Cusack.

Article by James Clinch

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