Bradshaw Watch Classic – ‘High Fidelity’ (2000)

Roughly a decade ago, there was a film critic called Peter Bradshaw whose reviews for The Guardian crackled with opinionated passion and carefully-worded analysis. His full archive is available to read online, and it’s a genuine pleasure. His review of Stephen Frears’ screen version of High Fidelity (2000) contained the following insights – leaving out basic details of the plot:

– Peter gives an ambiguous reading of Nick Hornby’s original novel, as at once a “modern classic,” and a “mawkish novel of male self-pity and self-forgiveness”

– The sort of music snobbery at the heart of the novel and its adaptation is a way of avoiding interaction with women, for men who hate and fear them but are “neither wicked nor virile enough for out-and-out misogyny”

– An apt, though now dated, reference to the “illicit delights of napster.com”

– Peter perceives a small attempt to update the book, which rings false – the hero’s record shop specialises in blues, country, vintage soul and new wave, with “trip-hop” tacked on just for the film

– The film’s core nostalgia makes it feel older than its setting – “although it is notionally set in the present, High Fidelity gestures backwards 10 or 20 years”.

– Peter recognises a knowing reference in the film to a famous NME job ad from the 70’s, which called for two “hip young gunslingers” to join its editorial staff

– John Cusack not only starred in the film, but was “involved in this project from the outset,” earning a credit of co-producer and co-writer

– Peter assures us that the speeches Cusack makes to-camera throughout are taken “almost word for word” from Hornby’s novel. He also dismisses them as “an uneasy, self-conscious and pedantic gimmick,” which the film abandons as it gains confidence and “fluency”

– Peter notes the similarity of Bruce Springsteen’s cameo appearance to the spectre of Humphrey Bogart in Play it Again, Sam (1972). He also notes that the film does not handle its brief fantasy sequences very well, making them “a diversion from the more satisfactory comedy of real life”

– Bradshaw takes a moment to single out the female performers (Iben Hjelje, Lili Taylor, and Catherine Zeta-Jones) for praise, suggesting that emphasising their roles could have helped to clear away “the humid bachelor atmosphere of Hornby’s novel”. However, he considers the film a failure in this regard – the female characters are two-dimensional compared to the men, “with whose hurt and pain we are always invited to identify more strongly”

– Peter suggests that the film’s only real failings come from Hornby’s novel, and that translating it into acceptable Hollywood fare merely “accelerates the tempo refreshingly”

DO NOT BE FOOLED. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COUNTERFEIT FILM CRITICISM, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL POLICE STATION – OR LEAVE A TESTIMONIAL ON FLICKBOOK.WORDPRESS.COM

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