WHEN: 3:55pm EST, December 7th, 2012

WHERE: In my room in my apartment in Portland, ME (Alderaan)

FORMAT: DVD on a 19″ computer monitor

COMPANY: None.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Tired, despite the early hour, due to a new work schedule. Had just watched the interviews included on the DVD’s special features.

INTERVIEWS WITH CUSACK AND FREARS:

These short interviews are the closest thing we have to a making-of documentary on High Fidelity. While they contain nothing mind-blowing, they do give you a better feel for two of the most influential forces behind the film. Nick Hornby may have written the story, but it was John Cusack and Stephen Frears who brought it to life on the screen.

STEPHEN FREARS:

These interviews paint a picture of a man who directs without ego. When Stephen Frears makes a film, the focus is on the film, not on Stephen Frears. He started his career as a director more by accident than by design, directing projects to get a paycheck. Over time, he has concluded that the most important thing is to give audiences enjoyment, not to focus on a theme running through his own body of work. Maybe this is why I’ve never heard anyone say, “I can’t wait to see the new Stephen Frears film,” as they might with some better-known director. But sometimes you don’t need to impose your own personal style. As Frears says, “If you’re sensible, you just follow where the writer takes you.”

“Just go with it.” -Not an actual Frears quote

Cusack describes him as an actor’s director, not in the sense of having long conversations about motivation and subtext, but in knowing when to step in and assist, and when to stand back and let the actors do their work. He even let the writers choose the music for the film. “I’m much older, so I kept out of all that business,” he says. He is precise when needed, but doesn’t feel the need to micromanage every element.

JOHN CUSACK:

High Fidelity was John Cusack’s baby. According to Frears, there was no real need to rehearse with John Cusack, because he knew the character inside out, before he ever stepped on set. He handpicked his co-writers. He got his friends to play many of the parts. He inserted bars and nightclubs from his own life into the movie, because he could imagine Rob Gordon frequenting them.

But sometimes it is hard to follow what Cusack is trying to say. A sentence will start well enough but then devolve into confusion.

“I’ll find myself putting in a certain kind of music and I’ll just say, enough of this Bob Dylan song about death, I want to, you know, go to the circus.” -An actual Cusack quote

For all his passion, Cusack probably may not have the focus needed to bring home a coherent product. In one of the clips, we see Cusack just going nuts, in an outtake of the scene where Rob finds out about Ian. One gets the impression that Frears was the perfect choice to reign in Cusack’s crazy moments, while still allowing him to guide the project with his passion.

THOUGHTS ON THE VIEWING:

Watching the movie with these interviews in mind, it is overwhelmingly clear that it was made without egotism getting in the way. High Fidelity isn’t about Stephen Frears. It is about Rob Gordon. In a world of Wes Andersons, Quentin Tarentinos, and J.J. Abramses, it’s sometimes refreshing to see a film that focuses on itself, not its director.

Having now seen the Portuguese version of the film, I can better appreciate how well the playing of different ages is handled. Everything seems natural. Joelle Carter can play a teenager in one scene, an adult in another, and we never bat an eye.

Both Cusack and Frears praise Todd Luiso’s acting, and it’s nice to have the reminder.  Given the mousy character he plays, he is, not surprising, often eclipsed by Jack Black. Never the less, in every frame his reactions are simultaneously entertaining and completely natural. Todd Louiso is, as Stephen Frears says, “an adorable man.”

The interviews reveal that the role of Charlie was shot in three days. The other entries in the all-time top five were probably short shoots as well. It is a testament to the script, the actors, and the direction, that such small parts can leave such a strong impression. In some movies, characters can be on screen for much larger portions of the run time, and still not leave a dent in our memory.

The script was written collaboratively. The three writers made a list of scenes, and just volunteered to cover certain segments, and then sewed the various scenes together. It makes me wonder which writers were responsible for which segments. Would there be one whose scenes I like better or less than the others?

For the first time, I realized that the end credit sequence is a nice little homage to the book. In said novel, Rob talks about how he has always meant to create an art exhibit out of photographs of band flyers. Well, lo and behold:

Good call, whoever made that call.