If you were to bring up the name John Cusack, it’s likely the name Rob Gordon would quickly follow. Perhaps Cusack’s quintessential character in 35 years of unforgettable roles, Rob Gordon was the jaded, unlucky-in-love audiophile who led the 2000 cult classic flick “High Fidelity,” which was shot entirely in Chicago and focused on a fictitious record store in Wicker Park called Championship Vinyl.
‘HIGH FIDELITY SCREENING
WITH: JOHN CUSACK LIVE
When: 7:30 p.m. May 4
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
Gordon’s quirky character traits included philosophical warnings about life and love — “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” was the great zinger that opened the film — and creating monotonous top 5 lists as if his life was one big mix tape.
“I’m not as OCD as Rob,” Cusack jokes in a recent phone conversation, queuing up for a special fan event at the Chicago Theatre on May 4, which will put the film back on the big screen again and include a Q&A with Cusack about his memories of making the movie.
“I really loved being able to create that record store in Wicker Park on Honore Street and shooting in all the great Chicago locations, like the Green Mill, Double Door and Rainbo Club,” he recalls. In many ways “High Fidelity” remains a time capsule of the heyday of Chicago’s bustling music scene with visual postcards from the now-closed Lounge Ax, where Gordon and his music geek employees Dick (played by Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black) see a concert by the enigmatic Marie De Salle (Lisa Bonet), as well as the shuttered Double Door, which acted as the site of the record release party for the Kinky Wizards, former shoplifters who Gordon takes under his wing as the first act on his new label. “It’s sad that there’s a different vibe there than when we shot it,” says Cusack.
In fact, in 2015, Esquire magazine named “High Fidelity” the “truest Chicago movie ever,” thanks to its focus on “real Chicago characters” and its use of constant city scenery.
“It’ll take that compliment,” says Cusack, whose company New Crime Productions was diligently behind the making of the film; the screenplay was also written by Cusack and high school friends D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink. Cusack was adamant about having “High Fidelity” filmed in Chicago even though the movie is based on a book by Nick Hornby originally set in London.
“I really wanted it to have the record store culture that I grew up with here [in Chicago]. The only thing different is that the Brits were obsessed with more American R&B and soul, while Americans were obsessed with British new wave punk stuff, so I wanted to switch those and re-create the same record store guys I grew up with. I talked to Nick [Hornby] and asked, ‘What if we set this in Chicago,’ and he thought it was a great idea.”
Spending his formative years in Evanston and Chicago, Cusack most loved “waltzing around back in the ’80s and ’90s and visiting all the old blues clubs and finding some window or scene where you could explore great music going on,” he says. “I used to wander right into it.” He also recalls seeing great performances at the former Chicago Stadium and the Aragon Ballroom, and still tries to find the opportunity to take in the local scene, like seeing indie pop act Lucius (who also sang backup for Roger Waters) at Thalia Hall in March.
Cusack made headlines in April for his opinion on Disney’s plan to reboot “High Fidelity” into a family-friendly TV series with a female lead character replacing Rob Gordon. He responded on Twitter saying that “they’ll f— it up,” obviously still very protective over the dynamic of the movie that made it into a fan favorite.
To do it right, “Hornby would have to be involved, since he wrote the book. I really hope they would keep Hornby’s vision; it’s really about sourcing the original material. And I do like the idea of a different gender,” he says, cautioning, “But if they’re just trying to rebrand something that was done well and turn it into something else — well, that would be like turning Wicker Park into one big chain store.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.