Illustration by Charlotte Muth
Segment 2: High Fidelity (2000)

Charlotte Muth
25 June 2018

I knew the soundtrack to High Fidelity before ever watching the film.  To explain: it is one of many CDs that occupy a sizable drawer in my house to this day.  The CD is an opalescent mirror; the case is clear crystal plastic; the cover art is bright orange with a grid of John Cusacks.  Growing up, my family were avid iTunes users.  Explore my iTunes library today and you’ll see songs that came to inhabit the space in two ways.

The first group of songs I purchased with iTunes gift cards (entities I never bought, but always seemed to have); these songs are mostly junior high hits I cringe to name, but on which I happily spent $0.99 a pop.  Think “Viva La Vida” and “Right Round.”  The second group of songs were burned onto the computer from our CD collection.  Most of my musical exploration happened within this finite, but sizable library.  In this manner, I found songs that define my music taste to this day – songs from the High Fidelity soundtrack.

To name a few: “Who Loves the Sun” by the Velvet Underground, “Shipbuilding” by Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and “Everybody’s Gonna be Happy” by the Kinks.

The first time I remember watching the movie was in high school – sophomore year, I believe.  I instantly fell in love.  That shit spoke to me.  Its sarcastic anti-heroes, its pretentious music snobbery, its melodramatic malaise – food for a ravenous fifteen-year-old attending Catholic all-girls high school scrounging for her identity in music and pop culture.

The movie was not enough: I wanted to eat this apple to its core.  I purchased and read the book.  The Hornby novel quite resembles the movie – indeed, verbatim lines are pulled from its pages.  The striking differences were its location (London, not Chicago) the depth of its music references (I was probably acquainted with one fourth of the references at maximum), and its emphasis on lists.  Put simply, the protagonist, Rob, is a man who makes lists.  I suppose a list is more salient in-text than on-screen.  Like Rob, I am a list maker: I love to rank things, to organize the world into comprehensible entities.  Opinions are abstract until I convert them to language, scrawled on a sticky note.  While this practice may seem like a quest for understanding, I concede to its pointlessness and temporary nature.  The Great Pyramid of Khufu may be standing after 5,000 years of wear-and-tear, but my fickle opinions change with the slightest breeze.  All the more reason to make a new list.

Indeed, the influence of this movie on my life was far from finished.  Eventually, the time rolled around for me to apply to college; I needed to write a personal statement.  Tortured, without a clue of what to write about, I spotted High Fidelity nestled in my mom’s bookshelf.  I snatched up the novel to reminisce.  Inspiration struck.  In the better part of one sitting, I wrote my personal statement about the evolution of my music taste, and how that corresponded with the development of my self-expression.

I began the essay with a quote from the novel: “Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”

Doubtless, this movie has impacted my thoughts, my tastes, even my direction.  I should add, however, that although I remain proud of my personal statement, it did not lead to my college of choice.  Indeed, nary a word from High Fidelity was included in my essays submitted to UC Berkeley.  I perceived Cal as a school interested with my actions rather than my inner-workings.  I guess some things are too personal.

High Fidelity popped into my head the morning of April 20th, for no particular reason.  An image or line from the film drifted into my subconscious, and I had the urge to watch it.  Later that day, I ran into a friend on campus.  In the course of our brief conversation, he asked me, for no particular reason, “Have you seen High Fidelity?”  It was a sign.  It was time to revisit the film.  As extra incentive, my boyfriend had never seen it, so I dragged him to the screen to watch it.  It’s not easy to share a movie you care about with a person you care about.  I would describe the experience as a mixture of making sure that they’re noticing every excellent detail that they should be noticing, while verifying that the movie really is as good as you thought it was.

Of course, the movie was delightful, but this time around, it was just a movie.  At this stage of my life, it is simply not my soundtrack.  Revisiting this film granted me some clarity about why I re-watch things: it’s all about nostalgia.  You can love a movie for the way it looks or for the things it says, but at the end of the day, movies make you feel a certain way.  Although you remember a film for its content, the act of watching a movie marks a temporal event in your life, a number on your list of memories.  I’ve always had a certain fondness for the past; High Fidelity has the acute power to take me back somewhere.  I excitedly anticipate the next film to take me forward.