This movie is slick. It manages to reference a wide range of pop references from GBH to Belle and Sebastian, contextualizing the lamentable modern male's love of romance and sex, and fear of normalacy/commitment. Sound like a sap do I? Au contraire. Hope/despair/anger/envy/elation/creativity. All are tied together in many, but not all, males' minds. Bound by the balls, as they say. This movie reminded me not to be jaded.

And is has a great few lines, which I wish I could give justice too. Let me know if you want me to make you a tape B-)

Alright, i've just finished the book. I admit, I saw the film, then had to read the book. They're both very good. The quick no-spoilers summary might be that it's about a man called Rob Fleming who breaks up with his girlfriend Laura, and how he deals with the separation, and all of his other separations. Rob owns a record shop called Championship Vinyl, inhabited by two music snobs named Dick and Barry. The story is a personal history of Rob. After all, nearly the first thing he does when Laura leaves him is to reorganise his record collection in autobiographical order. This is an excellent, in the sense that it excels, book.

The first sentence actually reads,

My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:
  1. Alison Ashworth
  2. Penny Hardwick
  3. Jackie Allen
  4. Charlie Nicholson
  5. Sarah Kendrew

Notes on differences between the book and the film:

  • John Cusack is actually fairly close to the description of Rob Fleming, the central character.
  • Most of the women he interacts with are different in appearance from their descriptions in the book, but that just emphasises that it's really not a story about how you look.
  • This one's really obvious. The novel is set in London. The film puts the story in Chicago. It works. Both places. Very well.
  • There are embellishments to the story for the film which are good (the skater kids), and there are things which were left out or modified for the film, too.
  • There are some phenomenally good passages. This is a book which it is a joy to read. It can also be painful. I don't think i've been as much of an arse as Rob Fleming is, but it can still make me wince.

Alright, another fave quote:

``Have you got any soul?'' a woman asks the next afternoon. That depends, I feel like saying; some days yes, some days no. A few days ago I was right out; now I've got loads, too much, more than I can handle. I wish I could spread it a bit more evenly, I want to tell her, get a better balance, but I can't seem to get it sorted. I can see she wouldn't be interested in my internal stock control problems though, so I simply point to where I keep the soul I have, right by the exit, just next to the blues.

Nick Hornby, High Fidelity, Riverhead Books, New York, 1996. Page 75.

I think it's sad that this node is so much about the movie, not the fantastic book by Nick Hornby. There's so much more to the book than the film, although I really enjoyed that too; it was very true to the book. This is thanks to Nick Hornbys involvment in the movie.

Things that are not in the film, or are different in the film:

A novel by Nick Hornby, turned into a movie starring the ever lovely John Cusack. I saw the movie first and enjoyed it, and just started reading the book. I'm sick, though, so I'm halfway through it in less than a day.

The lovely thing I'm seeing now is that the movie stayed almost completely and perfectly faithful to the spirit of the book. Not all of the facts and not all of the details. But the voice is the same, the self-deprecating humor, and the reams and reams of names of old recording acts no one has ever heard of.

And the strange little bits of poignancy that make the hairs stand up on your neck because they're so goddam true, thrown in helter-skelter amongst the silly bits, so you never, ever expect them:

"It seems to me that if you place music (and books, probably, and films, and plays, and anything else that makes you feel) at the centre of your being , then you can't afford to sort out your love life, start to think of it as the finished product. You've got to pick at it and unravel it all until it comes apart and you're compelled to start all over again. Maybe we all live at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as a consequence we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship. Maybe Al Green is directly responsible for more than I ever realized."

Nick Hornby, High Fidelity, Riverhead Books, New York, 1996. Page 138-9.

If you liked the movie, go get the book. It's fun. And British. Everybody loves British slang.

I've read the book, haven't seen the movie, and this is what I have to say. (Number 6 is sort of a spoiler, so look out!)

1. The music fandom rings a little hollow at times. I don't think there's any part of the book where Rob (the narrator) describes a piece of music, rather than just giving the title, artist, label, and bits of trivia. But perhaps that's the intention - he can't see the wood for the trees as it were.

2. A large early section of the book is supposed (as far as I can make out) to make male readers identify with the main character. Unfortunately, this section paints the picture of a smug, cocky bastard with bad taste in everything but music. Maybe I'll understand it better when I'm thirty.

3. Some parts of it are very sharp and well observed. The story is organised in short bursts of activity interspersed with ponderings on the aging male condition. When reading it I gradually got the impression that the callous bastard exterior (point 1.) was a means of defence for a rather more likeable, but unhappy, character.

4. The downside of this is that the plot (non-navel-gazing) parts tend to be marginalised. In particular, Rob's friends and girlfriends are really only very scantly introduced before the book wraps up. The record shop scenes seem like they should be the preamble for more substantial stuff, but end up being a bit superficial.

5. There aren't as many bits of trivia and lists in the book as I was expecting.

6. The ending is rather cheesy. I mean, there's making a book Hollywood friendly, but actually having the supporting characters pairing off to a triumphal musical number at the end is a bit much.

I would highly recommend this book, as most of the complaints here are probably just me nitpicking and having too high expectations. It's quite a quick read, and there are a number of chortle-worthy jokes in it too.

I definitely want to see the film soon.

Update: I've now seen the movie. Pretty cool. You will, I expect, hate it if you hate John Cusack effectively playing himself as he does in all his movies.

High Fidelity - 2000 - Directed by Stephen Frears

Running Time: 114 Minutes. Rated R by the MPAA for language and some sexuality.

Special Features:

Technical Features:

A good film, an OK DVD. Hardly any extras really, although the deleted scenes are pretty funny, and good quality. The interviews are very simplistic and divided into very short chunks, usually only a few minutes each. It was worth the money though because I really like the film.

More DVD Reviews

OK, my writeup is looking a bit sparse, so The following is a complete list of songs from the movie.

"You're Gonna Miss Me"
Written by Roky Erickson
Performed by The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

"I Want Candy"
Written by Gerald Goldstein, Robert Feldman,
Richard Gottehrer and Bert Berns
Performed by Bow Wow Wow

"Crocodile Rock"
Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Performed by Elton John

"Crimson and Clover"
Written by Thomas Jackson and Peter Lucia
Performed by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

"Seymour Stein"
Written by Isobel Campbell, Roy Moller,
Richard Colburn, Christopher Geddes,
Sarah Martin, Stuart Murdoch,
Stuart David and Stephen Jackson
Performed by Belle & Sebastian

"Jacob's Ladder"
Written by Neil Peart, Gary Weinrib and Alex Zivojinovich

"Walking On Sunshine"
Written by Kimberley Rew
Performed by Katrina And The Waves

"Baby Got Going"
Written by Liz Phair and Scott Litt
Performed by Liz Phair

"Little Did I Know"
Written by John Ferlesky
Performed by Brother JT3

"I'm Wrong About Everything"
Written and Performed by John Wesley Harding

"I Can't Stand The Rain"
Written by Ann Peebles,
Donald Bryant, and Bernard Miller
Performed by Ann Peebles

"The River"
Written and Performed by Bruce Springsteen

"Baby, I Love Your Way"
Written by Peter Frampton
Rob:Is that Peter Fuckin' Frampton?
Rob:I always hated this song
Barry & Dick:Yeah..
Rob:Now I kinda like it
Barry & Dick:Yeah..

"Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam"
Written by Eugene Kelly and Francis McKee
Performed by The Vaselines

"Cold Blooded Old Times"
Written by Bill Callahan
Performed by Smog

"On Hold"
Written and Performed by Edith Frost

"Hyena 1"
Written by Clifford Price and Mark Sayfritz
Performed by Goldie

"I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Babe"
Written and Performed by Barry White

"Always See Your Face"
Written By Arthur Lee
Performed by Love

"Soaring and Boring"
Written by Liam Hayes
Performed by Plush

"Leave Home"
Written by Thomas Rowlands,
Edmund Simons, and Blake Baxter
Performed by The Chemical Brothers

"Four to the Floor"
Written and Performed by John Etkin-Bell

Written and Performed by
Toby Bricneno and Jay Cryka

"Who Loves The Sun"
Written by Lou Reed
Performed by The Velvet Underground

"Robbin's Nest"
Written by Illinois Jacquet and
Sir Charles Thompson
Performed by Illinois Jacquet

"Rock Steady"
Written and Performed by Aretha Franklin

"Suspect Device"
Written by Jake Burns and Gordon Ogilvie
Performed by Stiff Little Fingers

"Dry The Rain"
Written by Stephen Mason, John Maclean and Robin Jones
Performed by The Beta Band

"We Are The Champions"
Written by Freddie Mercury
Performed by Queen

"I'm Glad You're Mine"
Written and Performed by Al Green

"Your Friend and Mine"
Written by Arthur Lee
Performed by Love

Written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer
Performed by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You"
Written and Performed by Bob Dylan

"Get It Together"
Written by Mark Farner
Performed by Grand Funk Railroad

"Fallen For You"
Written and performed by Sheila Nicholls

"Soul Surfer"
Written and Performed by
James Cooperthwaite and Oliver Vessey

"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'"
Written by Lou Reed
Performed by The Velvet Underground

"This India"
Written and Performed by
Harbhajhn Singh and Navinder Pal Singh

"Tread Water"
Written by Paul Huston, David Jolicoeur,
Vincent Mason and Kelvin Mercer
Performed by De La Soul

"The Moonbeam Song"
Written and Performed by
Harry Nilsson

"Juice (Know the Ledge)"
Written by Eric Barrier and Griffin
Performed by Eric B. and Rakim

"Doing It Anyway"
Written and Performed by Apartment 26

"What's On Your Mind"
Written by Eric Barrier and William Griffin
Performed by Eric B. and Rakim

"Where Did You Get Those Pants"
Written by Norwood Fisher, Angelo Moore,
Steve Lindsey and Allee Willis
Performed by Fishbone

"Good and Strong"
Written by Sy Smith and Eddie Stokes
Performed by Sy Smith

Written by Doug Sahm
Performed by Sir Douglas Quintet

"The Inside Game"
Written by Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema
Performed by Royal Trux

"The Night Chicago Died"
Written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander

"Chapel of Rest"
Written and Performed by Dick Walter

"Most of the Time"
Written and Performed by Bob Dylan

"La Boob Oscillator"
Written by Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier
Performed by Stereolab

"The Anti-Circle"
Written by Tariq Trotter, Ahmir Thompson and Joshua Abrhams
Performed by The Roots

"Everybody's Gonna Be Happy"
Written by Ray Davies
Performed by The Kinks

"Homespin Rerun" (Cornelius Remix)
Written by Sean O'Hagan
Performed by High Llamas

"Hit the Street"
Written and Performed by
Rupert Gregson-Williams

"I Get The Sweetest Feeling"
Written by Carolyn Evelyn and Van McCoy
Performed by Jackie Wilson

"Let's Get It On"
Written by Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend

"I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)"
Written by Stevie Wonder and Yvonne Wright
Performed by Stevie Wonder

"My Little Red Book"
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (II)
Performed by Love

"Shooting Star"
Written and Performed by Bob Dylan

Sources:IMDB, High Fidelity (Credits)

f o r m u l a

There's a formula to these things. If you want to write a pop novel, a pop culture novel, you need to bury the narrative inside some serious thematic element—like the fashion magazine in Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters, the geek tech in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, or in the case of High Fidelity popular music and top five lists. Your narrator, he's neurotic and direct and accidentally witty, your supporting cast is eccentric and well-drawn, your slang is novel enough to be interesting. You write only in the present tense and in the first or second person. You name it something appropriate, some sort of a cultural reference (maybe a song title, maybe even an Elvis Costello song—like with Bret Easton Ellis and Less Than Zero).

Now when you make a breakup movie, the first thing you need is rain. Lots of rain. And you need music to go, well, mostly with the rain. You cast a bitter man-hater as the girl's best friend, the comedic type inclined toward good-natured ribbings as the guy's best friend, the overly-verbose neurotic as the guy, and the generally-idealized woman as the girl. You spend about seventy minutes on the breakup, and about twenty on the getting-back-together. The credits roll atop a romantic embrace, and a guitar ballad kicks in as the theater empties.

High Fidelity is the debut novel of Nick Hornby, as well as a very good film directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack (who also co-wrote and co-produced the film). Named for an Elvis Costello song about infidelity (and communication), and also in reference to Hi-fi recordings, it is a story of sequential breakups, told through the streaming monologue of a thirtyish depressive named Rob Fleming (Rob Gordon in the film). Rob is an independent record-store owner, former DJ, and all-around neurotic. His most recent girlfriend, Laura, has just left him, and his response is to compile a top-five list of his most painful breakups—mostly just to make it clear to Laura that she doesn't quite make that list. It's with this list that the story starts, a list of breakups that we soon find weren't really all that horrific.

t h e   m a l e   e g o

What High Fidelity is about, really, is the male sexual ego. It's about these ingrained obsessions, these potentially insignificant details that we treat as fundamental. There's a point in this story where Rob asks Laura if the sex with her new boyfriend is better than it was with him. "Jesus Christ, Rob," she responds. "Is that really what's bothering you?" Of course it is. And of course she can't understand why that is—neither can he. It just is.

As he searches through his past, searches through himself, Rob does come to certain insights. Nothing really new, but rather the standard urge toward growing up that all characters in fiction who are immature at their introduction are forced to attempt. This is called "character development," and it is mandatory. This is not important. The plot line is not important. There's the beginning, the middle, the end, and the character arcs passing through them, and none of this really means anything beyond formula.

The saving grace to this book, and this film, is the establishment of character. Rob is very much an honest male narrator, in a way that few writers have been able to capture. Women may find the narrative a little alien, a little obtuse, a little exaggerated; men will simply nod their heads. John Cusack, who plays Rob in the film, is a bit younger and smarter than the character I imagined while reading the novel, but he captures the essential quirks and weaknesses of the character, and his narration is excellent. Rob's two subordinates, Dick and Barry, are drawn from the pool of specialty-store clerks that I think most of us will recognize. Dick is the frantically-shy young man who buries himself in records to shield himself from people (much like the Steve Buschemi character in Ghost World), and he is played in probably the best-acted role in the film, by Todd Louiso. Barry is the blowhard elitist, the man who pretends to know everything about his chosen field, who bitterly resents anyone who shows any possibility of knowing more than him, and who relentlessly abuses anyone who appears to know less. He is played, very well, by Jack Black. Laura, played by Iben Hjejle, is a fairly whole character, although a bit too neat and unencumbered (especially considering her past with Rob). Unfortunately, the character of Ian (played, as well as it could be, by Tim Robbins), the rebound boyfriend for Laura, is an inhuman cliché, a horrible New Age, actualized male whom only a man more immature and clueless than Rob (who is, I hope, far more clueless and immature than Hornby) would believe a woman with any respect would date, much less live with.

a d a p t a t i o n

This film and this book are very similar, so similar in fact that I couldn't see any reason to review them separately. The story has been transplanted from London to Chicago for the film, a few notable sections have been dropped (one of the top-five breakups, for example, and a good deal of Rob's sexual self-reflection). The main difference, however, is that the film is a bit better than the book. Hornby writes quite adequately, and in a style that is interesting and current. He's comfortable talking in a general monologue directed, at times, at Laura, and at other times directed squarely at the reader. He presents lists on the page (top five lists, of course) as if his manuscript were a journal for his narrator rather than one long monologue. His narrator cuts between flashbacks and the present, his own internal world and the external one he attempts to describe, quite abruptly, as if reality has cut in on his session of daydreaming. He writes, in other words, in a very contemporary style. But beyond being an enjoyable read, this book has very little real depth. It is a light read, and it does not stay with the reader once completed. Hornby writes scenes that are almost all more effective visually, and it is due to his influence (and the superb cast) that this film is as good as it is. Conversations and juxtapositions of characters hold more weight in the film than they do (or could) in Hornby's words. The viewer holds more empathy for Rob, for Laura, and a better understanding of Dick and Barry, than the reader possibly can.

The film plays with past conventions—the rain, the girls-best-friend, the resolution, accepting and then undercutting them. Liz (played by John Cusack's perennial co-star, his sister Joan), storms into Rob's record store at one point, calls him an "asshole," and then storms back out. This is to be expected. But, later on, she gives him a bit of advice to help him win Laura back. She's not the man-hating sister in Jerry Maguire, she's not icy and she's not one-dimensional. The resolution of the story is supposed to be, always, "do they or don't they"—do they get back together or not. That's what we're expecting, followed by credits and rushing out of the theater with the girl who dragged us along (and who damned well better be grateful). But "do they or don't they" isn't really important in this one. The resolution is really about a decision, on the part of Rob, about himself and his own life. This film, this isn't the sort that the girl's going to drag you to, this is the one you go to see on your own good judgment.

     High Fidelity (2000)

          Directed by:               Stephen Frears
          Written by:                Nick Hornby (book)
                                     D.V. DeVincentis
                                     Steve Pink
                                     John Cusack
                                     Scott Rosenberg

          Rob Gordon:                John Cusack
          Laura Lydon:               Iben Hjejle
          Dick:                      Scott Louiso
          Barry:                     Jack Black
          Ian Raymond:               Tim Robbins
          Liz Gordon:                Joan Cusack
          Marie DeSalle:             Lisa Bonet
          Sarah Kendrew:             Lili Taylor
          Charlie Nicholson:         Catherine Zeta-Jones


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
321 pages, copyright © 1995 by Nick Hornby
Riverhead Books
ISBN: 1-57322-016-7
ISBN: 1-57322-551-7 (trade paperback)

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