the book cover, with a still of John Cusack in High Fidelity above white and black text on an orange background
Credit: Applause Books

High Fidelity did not exactly do Barbie numbers when it was released in 2000. It brought in $47 million at the box office worldwide. Nor does it enjoy basic cable perennial status along such ubiquitously broadcast films as The Shawshank Redemption, Happy Gilmore, and Road House.

But especially here in Chicago, where it is set, High Fidelity has a fiercely devoted cult following who get this movie to their very souls, which is what compelled Chicago native and writer Andrew Buss to revisit the film on the occasion of its 20th anniversary and write an oral history on the making of the film and its cultural legacy for Consequence of Sound. That oral history has been expanded into a book, Top Five: How High Fidelity Found Its Rhythm and Became a Cult Movie Classic, to be released October 31 (Applause Books).

Buss, 30, recently made the move to Los Angeles. He dedicated Top Five to his mentor, legendary local hero Bill Zehme, whom the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan called “one of the most successful and influential magazine writers and biographers of his generation.” (Zehme died earlier this year at age 64.)

Buss’s off-center comedy worldview is reflected in the films he’s previously given the oral history treatment, including Airheads, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Zoolander, and Superbad. But High Fidelity, he says, has a special resonance for him, from its Chicago neighborhood locations and Jack Black’s star-making clowning to its fraught love story.

For Top Five, he spoke with, among others, John Cusack and coscreenwriters D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink, director Stephen Frears, Black, Todd Louiso, Sara Gilbert, Fred Armisen, and Scott Rosenberg, whose original, scrubbed screenplay for the film sparked an accreditation battle with the WGA.

Buss spoke with the Reader about why High Fidelity tops his list of Chicago movies.

Donald Liebenson: I looked it up: High Fidelity was the 89th biggest box-office hit of 2000 between Love & Basketball and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.

Andrew Buss: When I talked to D.V. DeVincentis, I said that what made me laugh is that in its opening week, it came in at number five, so the movie made it into the top five.

But 20 years later, it’s got this passionate cult following. You write that High Fidelity has a little something for everyone because there are so many working parts to it. What about the film resonates most for you and makes it oral history-worthy?

It’s cliche, but it was just a love for that movie, a connection with the source material, including Nick Hornby’s book. It was a more everyday portrayal of Chicago you didn’t get in more commercial films, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But I really love the fact that there’s a movie with a deep love of pop culture; that’s something I can relate to. I can relate to the collector standpoint, someone who is really obsessing [over] the nitty-gritty detail of things. And, of course, you’ve got the universal story—everyone’s been through a breakup, everyone’s had that internal monologue. I have not gone to the extremes that John Cusack’s Rob has. That’s a whole other level.

What do you consider your top five films made in Chicago?

  1. High Fidelity (2000)
  2. Thief (1981)
  3. The Fugitive (1993)
  4. The Blues Brothers (1980)
  5. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987).

When did you first see High Fidelity?

They would have been cool parents if they took me to it when I was six [when the film came out]. I saw it when I was in college [Flashpoint Chicago, the now-shuttered campus of Columbia College Hollywood].

Top Five: How High Fidelity Found Its Rhythm and Became a Cult Movie Classic by Andrew Buss
Applause Books, paperback, 232 pp., $24.95,

Does the film speak differently to you as you’ve grown up?

Absolutely. When I was younger, it was all about the Jack Black material. The broader and more comedic stuff gets ya. As I’ve become an adult [Laughs] and gone through relationships and all the shit you go through in your 20s, I relate more to the film’s introspective moments. We’ve all been there, trying to figure out where something went wrong.

Speaking of Jack Black, High Fidelity put him on the map, and his appreciation for the film really comes through in his contributions to your oral history. I can’t imagine the film—or the book—without him.

Jack was so helpful. Jack’s people initially told me he was unavailable, but for some reason, I was weirdly confident I would talk to him. I set up an interview with Todd Louiso. I get on the phone with him, and he drops the bomb, which is, “By the way, you’re talking to me and Jack Black.” And I’m like, “You and who?” For a split second, I thought Todd was using an old-school Jack Black soundboard, like they do on Howard Stern. It was such a great surprise, and I’m so happy it played out that way.

I’ve got one more Jack Black story. Jack asked me to let him know once the book came out, so he could buy a copy. When I told him I’d send him one, he said, “That’s very kind of you, but I like to support the arts.”