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Empire List #446: High Fidelity

Here’s the thing about us guys: we love our toys. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about cars, guns, comic books, video games, or vinyl records, we just love to collect stuff and talk about it with other guys. In Stephen Frear’s “High Fidelity” John Cusack plays Rob Gordon, a man who owns a records store in Chicago, talks about music with his friends, and constantly makes “top 5 lists.” Like most guys, he is good at his job; he excels at his hobby, but can’t seem to get it right when it comes to women.

I bought this movie late in the summer of 2009 and watched in an off-campus residence next to the University of Sherbrooke. This is one of those movies that I feel speaks directly to me. It’s filled with characters who have encyclopaedic knowledge of things they like and who use “Evil Dead II” as a metaphor. I actually met a few guys on campus who would have been perfectly at home working in Rob’s store.

The movie begins after Rob’s girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) breaks up with him following a string of bad decisions on Rob’s part. This is all explained to the viewers by Rob who constantly breaks the fourth wall by looking at the camera and explaining his point of view on the whole situation. Bruce Springsteen even shows up during one of his monologues to support his latest decision.

Rob plans to go through his list of “top 5 breakups” by visiting five ex-girlfriends from various points of his life. The idea is if he figures out where he went wrong in the past he just might avoid making the same the mistakes in the future and get his love life back on track in the present.

Things get complicated when Rob learns through his sister (Joan Cusack) that Laura is now dating a neighbour in her building called Ian Raymond (Tim Robbins). This horrifies Rob when he realizes this is the same Ian they used to hear having sex in the apartment above. Even worse, Ian is the sort of guy who has a ponytail, wears sunglasses indoors, and seems to be some sort of Zen Buddhist. This is the sort of situation that can drive a guy from ex-boyfriend to stalker.

When Rob isn’t chasing old flames, he is trying to make a living at his store, Championship Vinyl. Rob has two employees, Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black) who are not interested in selling records to customers so much as convincing them they should have better musical taste. They believe when it comes to music they are right and everybody else is wrong. Fortunately, they actually know what they are talking about. Dick makes a connection with a customer when he explains how two bands influenced Green Day: The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. I did not know that before Dick explained it. My apologies to all Green Day fans.

This is a movie that knows good music and knows people who are passionate about their musical tastes. Rob spends a lot of time discussing artists such as The Velvet Underground, Gordon Lightfoot, Nirvana, The Roots, and Queen. The film came out in 2000, which makes me wonder if Rob and his fellow vinyl enthusiasts would have survived the world of digital download. I hope so. His apartment is overflowing with records that each has a special significance to him. I find that more poetic than a computer filled with random songs on an iTunes library.

Wikipedia informs me 2.8 million vinyl records were sold in 2010. Anybody wants to make a top 5 list of reasons why that’s a good thing?

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