Dr. Tom Picks “High Fidelity”

Let me recommend “High Fidelity” if you want to learn and laugh about love and music. I have loved movies all my life. When I watch a great movie again after many years it has an enormous impact on my life now (and I recall how it has affected me in the past.) So I will post my own summary for you that include: pix, dialogue, reviews, and trivia. You really will find this 2000 movie has many lessons – among the laughs. It does a great job of showing how music is intimately connected to our personal and social lives. See more about my music at the above tab. Add some comments about this movie or others that you love.



(Selected from Review in Rolling Stone)

Top Five qualities that make High Fidelity a good movie:

  1. It hits all the laugh bases, from grins to guffaws. Cusack and his Chicago friends — D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink — have rewritten Scott Rosenberg’s script to catch Hornby’s spirit without losing the sick comic twists they gave 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank.
  2. The music kicks ass and keeps on kicking. Rob floods his store with sounds, from the Clash to Beta Band, from his gargantuan collection of LPs.
  3. The women are definite hotties, starting with Hjejle. Lili Taylor, Lisa Bonet, Joelle Carter and Natasha Gregson Wagner make vivid impressions. And get a load of Catherine Zeta-Jones as the killer babe who leaves Rob for a megadork, hilariously caricatured by Cusack’s real-life pal Tim Robbins. The priceless Joan Cusack, John’s sister, contributes a scene-stealing cameo.
  4. Stephen Frears directs. Excellent choice – he’s a Brit who knows how to navigate the sexual byways of England (My Beautiful Laundrette) and America (The Grifters, in which Cusack starred)
  5. All the pieces hang together. You can’t say that about many movies.

Top Five MVPs in High Fidelity:


  1. Cusack. He’s note-perfect as this obsessive commitmentphobe. You can practically see him fire up while searching his memory for his desert-island, all-time, Top Five split-ups and the songs that went with them. Think “I Hate You (But Call Me),” by the Monks.
  2. Jack Black. He spins comic bile as Barry, the loudmouth who works in Rob’s store and insults any ass-muncher customer who doesn’t share his musical taste.
  3. Todd Louiso. He’s a sweet joy as Dick, the shy-guy clerk.
  4. Hjejle. The Danish actress anchors the film in emotional reality.
  5. Hornby. No Nick, no movie.


John Cusack stars as Rob, who owns a used-record store in Chicago and has just broken up with Laura, his latest girlfriend. He breaks up a lot. Still hurting, he makes a list of the top five girls he has broken up with and cackles that Laura didn’t make it. Later he stands forlornly on a bridge overlooking the Chicago River and makes lists of the top five reasons that he misses her.

The key design elements in Rob’s apartment are the lumber bookshelves for his alphabetized vinyl albums. He has two guys working for him in his store. Each was hired for three days a week, but both come in six days a week, maybe because they have no place else to go. These guys are the shy, sideways Dick (Todd Louiso) and the ultra-confident Barry (Jack Black). They are both experts on everything, brains stocked with info-nuggets about popular culture.

Rob is the movie’s narrator, guiding us through his world, talking directly to the camera, soliloquizing on his plight–which is that he seems unable to connect permanently with a girl, maybe because his attention is elsewhere. But on what? He isn’t obsessed with his business, he isn’t as crazy about music as Dick and Barry, and he isn’t thinking about his next girl–he’s usually moping about the last one. He seems stuck in the role of rejected lover and never likes a girl quite as much when she’s with him as after she’s left.

Laura (Iben Hjejle) was kind of special. Now she has taken up with an unbearably supercilious ponytailed brainiac named Ian (Tim Robbins), who comes into the store to “talk things over” and inspires fantasies in which Rob, Dick and Barry dream of kicking him senseless. “Conflict resolution is my job,” he offers helpfully. Whether Ian is nice or not is of no consequence to Rob; he simply wants Laura back. …

“High Fidelity” is based on a 1995 novel by Nick Hornby, a London-based writer, and is directed by Stephen Frears, also British. Frears and his screenwriters (D.V. Devincentis, Steve Pink, Cusack and Scott Rosenberg) have transplanted the story to Chicago so successfully that it feels like it grew organically out of the funky soil of Lincoln Avenue and North Halsted, Old Town and New Town, Rogers Park and Hyde Park, and Wicker Park, where it was shot–those neighborhoods where the workers in the alternative-lifestyle industry live, love and labor.

This is a film about — and also for — not only obsessed clerks in record stores, but the video store clerks who have seen all the movies, and the bookstore employees who have read all the books. Also for bartenders, waitresses, greengrocers in health food stores, kitchen slaves at vegetarian restaurants, the people at GNC who know all the herbs, writers for alternative weeklies, disc jockeys on college stations, salespeople in retro clothing shops, tattoo artists and those they tattoo, poets, artists, musicians, novelists, and the hip, the pierced and the lonely. They may not see themselves but they will recognize people they know. …



“High Fidelity,” like the book it’s based on, is essentially a story about the overwhelming power of pop culture — not just the way it can illuminate every element of our existence but also the way it can cloud our judgment. Pop music can be like a prism hanging in the window, a gorgeous little thing through which everything in life is filtered. But it can also be an excuse for never leaving the couch to actually live, and Frears, like Hornby, is acutely aware of that

… Every single actor here rises to the occasion. Joan Cusack, as a friend of Rob and Laura’s who’s caught in their crossfire, shows off her usual whip-smart timing. Black is almost too painfully accurate as the most annoying species of record-store geek, the kind who’s sure he knows everything and who’ll cut you down for inaccuracy if you happen to wrongly (or even rightly) add “the” to a song title. Hjejle’s Laura is supremely likable: She’s so matter-of-fact and grounded that it’s perfectly clear why she’d become exasperated with a guy like Rob, who perpetually refuses to grow up, but you can also see how her patience and calm are exactly the things he needs. Louiso’s Dick, as the kind of timid, soft-spoken music nerd who’d take a sword through the heart in defending a Belle & Sebastian record, practically creeps away on his plimsolls with the whole movie. Prematurely bald, he resembles the old comic-strip character Henry, only with tons more charisma. His walk is like an understated, tentative march: Just watching him stride, his shoulders hunched, his arms dangling haplessly out of his short, thrift-shop shirtsleeves, you feel you’re seeing a marvel of subtle characterization. (And at the risk of giving too much away, I nonetheless find it imperative to mention that he finds a nice girlfriend.)…

“High Fidelity” has plenty going for it: The acting is great, the jokes are funny, but oh! the music. The songs are so well chosen — never the most obvious choices, but always interesting ones — that they sometimes catch you up short. … Rob, Dick and Barry’s obsessiveness is the movie’s constant gag, and yet it’s never in doubt how much pleasure they get from the music. You can’t blame them for wanting to have a soundtrack for their lives; life would be way too quiet without it. But it may be the constant presence of music, more than the actual thing itself, that gives “High Fidelity” its real shape. The store (which was built lovingly on a soundstage, and includes albums from DeVincentis’ own collection) looks like a veritable Candyland for pop-music addicts; given the choice between visiting either of two mythical lands, I’d take Championship Vinyl over Oz any day.



Some trivia first about me – I lived in Chicago and suburbs until mid-70s. During that time I worked in several record stores and even a hippie head-shop in Chicago’s “Old Town.” Found this at IMDB which has tons of cool stuff


  • Part of the movie was filmed outside of Lane Technical High School. This occurred during a regular school day and the students were not allowed onto the portion of the lawn where filming occurred. They were also not allowed near the windows of the rooms looking out onto the lawn.
  • The hero shares his name with an obscure ’70s recording artist whose records would undoubtedly be found in the store: Robert Gordon.
  • After his vision of Bruce Springsteen, Rob says the words “Good luck, goodbye” which is the last line of the Springsteen song “Bobby Jean”.
  • Barry says that Rob is wearing a “Cosby” sweater, imitating Bill Cosby’s voice as he says this. Star Lisa Bonet starred in “The Cosby Show” (1984).
  • “Vintage Vinyl”, another record store mentioned in the film, is a real store in Evanston, John Cusack’s hometown.
  • The Chinese characters on Rob’s No. 6 jersey say “Hong Kong”.
  • In several scenes, Rob is wearing a Wax Trax! Records t-shirt. The lot in Chicago that houses Rob’s record store, Championship Vinyl, was once a Wax Trax! Records store.
  • This is the seventh film in which John Cusack and Joan Cusack have appeared together. The others are Class (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984), Grandview, U.S.A. (1984), Say Anything… (1989), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) and Cradle Will Rock (1999)
  • In the flashback when Rob and Laura are listening to Ian have sex upstairs, the book Laura is reading is entitled “Love Thy Neighbor”.
  • John Cusack and the screenwriters wrote the script with Jack Black in mind for the role of Barry, who nearly turned the role down but reconsidered.
  • The movie poster and DVD cover are an homage to the ‘Beatles’ album cover for A Hard Days Night.
  • Rob’s sticker-covered “little black book” is a Chandler’s assignment notebook, a required item for every student at Evanston Township High School, John Cusack’s alma mater.
  • The closing track “I believe” was originally preformed by Stevie Wonder and was later covered by Art Garfunkel and Peter Frampton. All three are artists that Rob, Dick, and Barry make fun of in the movie.
  • The writers decided to change the book’s setting from London to Chicago because they were more familiar with the city and it also had a “great alternative music scene.”





Rob: [first lines] What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

Rob: I can’t fire them. I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up every day. That was four years ago.

Rob: Hey, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I’ve read books like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Love in the Time of Colera”, and I think I’ve understood them. They’re about girls, right? Just kidding. But I have to say my all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash’s autobiography “Cash” by Johnny Cash.

Rob: The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway… I’ve started to make a tape… in my head… for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done….

Rob: Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.

Laura: [preparing to have sex with Rob in a car] I knew there was a reason I wore a skirt today.
Laura: Listen, Rob, would you have sex with me? Because I want to feel something else than this. It either that, or I go home and put my hand in the fire. Unless you want to stub cigarettes out on my arm.
Rob: No. I only have a few left, I’ve been saving them for later.
Laura: Right. It’ll have to be sex, then.
Rob: Right. Right.

Barry: I wanna date a musician.
Rob: I wanna live with a musician. She’d write songs at home and ask me what I thought of them, and maybe even include one of our little private jokes in the liner notes.
Barry: Maybe a little picture of me in the liner notes.
Dick: Just in the background somewhere.





Cusack and the other writers thought of the idea to have Rob have a conversation with Bruce Springsteen in his head, inspired by a reference in Hornby’s book where the narrator wishes he could handle his past girlfriends as well as the musician does in the song, “Bobby Jean” on Born in the U.S.A. They never thought that they’d actually get the musician to be in the film but that putting him in the script would get the studio excited about it. Cusack knew Springsteen socially and called the musician up and pitched the idea. Springsteen asked for a copy of the script and afterwards agreed to do it.

Rob: I want more, I wanna see the others on the big top-five. I want to see Penny and Charlie and Sarah, all of them. You know? Just see ’em and talk to ’em. You know, like a Bruce Springsteen song.

Bruce Springsteen: You call, you ask them how they are and see if they’ve forgiven you.

Rob: Yeah, and then I feel good. And they feel good.

Bruce Springsteen: They’d feel good, maybe. But you feel better.

Rob: I’d feel clean and calm.

Bruce Springsteen: That’s what you’re looking for, you know, get ready to start again. It’d be good for you.

Rob: Great, even.

Bruce Springsteen: Give that big final good luck and goodbye to your all time top-five and just move on down the road.

Rob: Good luck, Goodbye. Thanks, Boss.

Categories: Musician Tributes | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Dr. Tom Picks “High Fidelity”

  1. i remember reading the book. it was great 😀

  2. kmccoy

    shadows grow so long before my eyes
    and they’re movin across the page
    suddenly the day turns into night
    far away from the city
    but don’t hesitate ‘cuz your love won’t wait
    ooh baby, i love your way, every day
    I want to tell you I love your way, every way
    I want to be with you night and day, ooh yeah.

  3. kmccoy

    the moon appears to shine and light the sky
    with the help of some big glitter’s
    wonder how they have the power to shine, shine, shine
    I can see them under the pine
    but don’t hesitate ‘cuz your love won’t wait

  4. kmccoy

    i can see the sunset in your eyes
    brown and gray and blue besides
    clouds are stalking islands in the sun
    wish i dould buy one out of season
    but don’t hesitate ‘cuz your love won’t wait
    ooh baby I love your way every day
    i want to tell you i love your way
    i wanna be with you night and day, yeah..

  5. Pingback: The Agronomist Educates and Enlightens about Haitian Society « Help to Build a New and Better Haiti

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