High Fidelity in three great scenes
I think about High Fidelity a lot.
High Fidelity is a movie that came out in 2000. It stars John Cusack (who you’ve heard of), Iben Hjejle (who you haven’t heard of) and Lisa Bonet (who you’ve probably heard of). Jack Black is also in the movie; more on that later.
The movie, which is based on a book by British author Nick Hornby, follows Cusack’s Rob Gordon, a failed architect and successful DJ-turned record store owner, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Hjejle). Rob decides to look back at his most painful breakups in order to determine whether he’s to blame for the fact that his relationships never last (he definitely is).
Rob isn’t a particularly fascinating character. He breaks the fourth wall constantly, which was more fun in 2000 than it is now; he mopes around a lot and somehow manages to attract women portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bonet despite wearing baggy brown sweaters. He also owns his own record store, but it’s 2000, so it’s after people stopped listening to records and before hipsters started buying them, so I think his sluggishness is warranted despite routinely punching above his weight class in his love life.
The movie has odd pacing and is about 15 minutes too long. But I think about it a lot because High Fidelity has three of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. Period. Consequently, another thing I love about High Fidelity is Rob and his two employees, Barry (Black)) and Dick (Todd Louiso) are always creating Top 5 lists, usually revolving around music, like Top 5 Side 1, Track 1’s; Top 5 Songs You Want Played At Your Funeral, etc. It demonstrates that these characters know a ton about music and enjoy showing off how much they know. They’re nerds, they’re snobs, and I love them.
Anyway, my point is that it would be thematic if High Fidelity had 5 of my favorite scenes of all time, but it doesn’t.
3. Peter Fucking Frampton
Gordon goes to meet up with Barry and Dick, who have invited him to listen to musician Marie DeSalle (Bonet). Gordon doesn’t want to go, but he doesn’t have anything better to do, so he shows up and as he’s walking up to the bar, he hears the Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way” and he stops, looks at the bouncer and asks “Is that Peter Fucking Frampton?” before slumping inside.
The timing is perfect, and Gordon almost immediately admits to Barry and Dick that he actually really enjoys DeSalle’s Frampton cover, which they both acknowledge without even glancing at Gordon, they’re so mesmerized. Because it’s a really good cover, and it’s a pretty great song to start with. You don’t need to be aware of Frampton or how incredibly popular his arena rock live album “Frampton Comes Alive!” was to appreciate the scene, but it helps.
2. Getting Back to Work
Some back story: I worked at a newspaper in Norman, Oklahoma, and my news editor there was a man named Mack. Mack is an extraordinarily talented writer and and equally talented musician, so he is contractually obligated to like High Fidelity. We would spend hours discussing politics, sports, movies, and generally anything to avoid doing what we were actually in the office to do. Eventually, our own consciences/our ever-mounting avalanche of work would bring the conversation to a standstill, and Mack would say “I never thought I’d say this, but can I go work now?”
That’s a line from my second favorite High Fidelity scene, where Rob has learned that Laura moved in with his former upstairs neighbor Ian (a terrible character portrayed perfectly by Tim Robbins). Rob asked Laura if she’d had sex with Ian, and she said they hadn’t yet… which initially elates Rob and gives him enough mojo to go immediately have sex with DeSalle. But after an early morning discussion between Rob and DeSalle about having casual sex with strangers is totally cool, Rob crumples back into a ball of insecurity on his way to the record store. He’s obsessed with Laura’s inclusion of the word “yet,” and he tries to get Barry to confirm his suspicions that Laura was intending to have sex with Ian by asking Barry a set of hypothetical questions while he’s trying to shelve albums, which confuses and angers Barry to the point that Barry says to Rob “I never thought I’d say this, but can I go work now?”
Okay, I promised I was going to write about Jack Black, and here it is. Jack Black is flat out amazing in this movie. When he’s on screen, all the other characters get lost in his glow. It was his first really memorable film role (unless you count the hacker Fielder in Enemy of the State, which is fair but wrong) and before Shallow Hal, Orange County and School of Rock catapulted him into stardom. It’s an example of what happens when you really cast a character well, and it’s Black’s second most brilliant role (behind Dewey Finn in School of Rock, which is up there with Marlon Brando in The Godfather as the most perfect casting of all time. I’m not saying School of Rock is as good as The Godfather, arguably the best movie ever made. But if you take Jack Black out of School of Rock, it falls apart the same way The Godfather would if Brando wasn’t in it. That’s my point. Other examples of this include Gary Oldman in Léon: The Professional and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada but not, for instance, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale).
Three other great scenes are when we first meet Barry, and he calls Dick’s Belle & Sebastian album “sad bastard music” and when he arrogantly mocks a middle-aged man after the man asks if the store sells “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. He also corrects a minor error Dick makes when discussing an album name and responds to Dick’s “I could be wrong” with “You can be, and are wrong.” Make no mistake, Barry is an asshole.
- Killing Tim Robbins
The best scene in the movie and one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever is when Ian comes to the record store to talk with Rob, who has been hanging outside of Ian’s apartment and calling Laura from a payphone outside the apartment building in what can only be described as very early 2000s stalker, red flag kind of behavior (Rob is the sixth or seventh most interesting character in this movie, behind Barry, Dick, Laura, DeSalle, his sister Liz [played by Cusack’s sister Joan] and the skater punks whose record Rob produces. Although there is a moment after Rob calls his most painful breakup, a girl he dated for six hours in the ninth grade named Allison Ashmore, and finds out from her mother that she married the boy she broke up with Rob for, and he looks a the camera and shouts “Allison married Kevin!” and does this little head shake that is fantastic).
Ian is awful. He’s got this long gray hair (which Robbins said was inspired by Steven Seagal. Terrible) and wears rings on his fingers and cooks odd smelling food and listens to a random assortment of whatever “world” music is popular at the moment. He’s in conflict mediation, so he goes to Rob to basically get Rob to leave Laura alone, which is a good thing, but he does it in such a haughty way that Rob imagines not one, but three different scenarios, and we get to experience all of them as if they really happened. They’re basically just escalations of the same interaction: Rob imagines he tells Ian off, then he imagines that he lunges at Ian and is barely held back by Barry and Dick as Ian stumbles out of the store, and finally he imagines that he, Barry and Dick violently attack Ian.
It’s the third and final scenario which is just hilarious. It’s perfectly timed — Dick hits Ian with a phone, the three gleefully kick him while he’s on the ground and finally Dick pulls a window unit out of the wall, there’s an electric spark as the cord is pulled loose, and the camera gives us Ian’s point of view as Rob gleefully tells Dick to smash Ian’s head with the window unit. The scene comes out of nowhere, it’s unexpected and funny and violent and when I showed my parents this movie, my mom almost died laughing at this scene, which reinforces to me how good it is.
It’s also extremely relatable. We’ve all wanted to respond differently to people, to be able to go back in time and stand up for ourselves, to tell someone what we really think about them.
There are other reasons High Fidelity is amazing: Rob discussing how to make a perfect mixtape; Dick developing a relationship with someone after discussing how Green Day was influenced by The Stiff Little Fingers, which subsequently got me into 1970s punk; Barry talking about how amazing Evil Dead 2 was (it wasn’t, but long live Bruce Campbell); Liz walking into a room and just screaming “Asshole!” at Rob, pausing, and leaving; Rob realizing Charlie (Zeta-Jones) isn’t this other-wordly goddess, but a boring, vapid person; and Rob’s mom crying and berating him when Rob tells her Laura broke up with him.
But these are my top three.
Like I said, I think about High Fidelity a lot.