I went to watch Lost in Translation last night because I was in a Lost in Translation sort of mood, but in some unfortunate way the DVD was missing from its case, so I watched High Fidelity instead. It sort of fit the mood anyway.
Now the original book of High Fidelity would have to be one of my favourites. It was one of those rare books that made me laugh out loud – or LOL if you prefer (I don’t). When the movie came out I was a sceptic in the way you always are when a dearly loved classic finds its way into the hands of a dastardly and philistine Hollywood producer. My fear quotient was doubled when I learned they were relocating it from Camden Town in London to Chicago, Illinois. In some way, it seemed so quintessentially English – and so by extension somewhat Australian (we may flog the Poms at most sports but we do have much in common) that I couldn’t possibly imagine it in an American setting.
As it turned out the movie was actually quite good – so good, in fact, that I ended up owning a copy of it. One of the things that made it work was the casting – there is no better American actor for this role than John Cusack, who has a flawed everyman quality to him – by that I mean most of us blokes can relate to him, and reckon we could happily go a night on the piss with him. He’s one of my favourite second-tier actors going around (others: Bill Murray, of course, Christopher Walken, um, that’s all I can think of. Can’t think of any first-tier actors).
I reckon I’ve seen the movie about 4-5 times, and read the book twice, with a third reading pending. The movie is good, but the book is a classic. What makes it so good? It captures almost exactly a particular male zeitgeist. Look, not every bloke will get it, but most will because the central themes are almost universal. For me, I get every bit of it – from the list-making to the fanatical passion for music even at its most obscure, too, of course, the relations with women. He nails it there, for me anyway.
I have a particular view about the book certainly, and by extension the movie also. It’s my thesis that much can be learnt about the male psyche by a close reading of a few crucial movies.
Certainly for guys of my generation The Godfather would have to be one of them – if memory serves there is actually something in the book of High Fidelity about this very fact. The Godfather is a seminal movie for many men, and there are few men of my vintage who have not at some point done their own Marlon Brando-with-cheeks-stuffed-with-cotton-wool imitation. There is something about this series of very great movies that men respond to. On a superficial level you could claim it was because of the violence, and the arcane detail shown on the Mafia. I might argue it is because of the particular code on display – it may be kinda warped and a tad violent at times, but it’s powerful.
The second movie would be When Harry Met Sally. This articulated quite famously a question men have been scratching their head over since Eve handed Adam a Golden Delicious: can men and women be just friends? Or does sex get in the way? I always said no. I agreed that the sex thing was something you couldn’t ignore. Fact of the matter is there are few women you get friendly with that you’re not going to at least wonder about at some stage. Sex is awkward, let me tell you. As it happens I now have a number of female friends, some of which I’ve never had ‘relations’ with. I’ve mellowed a little, and no longer have the burning desire to jump every woman I meet, and so I might add a sub-clause to this finding: it is possible for men and women to be just friends under particular circumstances.
The other notable moment in this movie is the fake orgasm scene. It was the scene that convinced many men that maybe women could fake orgasms. Just not with them.
The last movie, of course, is High Fidelity, which sort of shows up men in their boyishly pathetic but endearing mode. You could tick off a million things in this. Music is the obvious one, but it could easily be sport/cars/books or a combination of these and many others. Basically it is obscure obsession – and we all have those, all have those unusual passions we could rattle on about for hours to some poor sod. Then there are lists. I don’t know if you actually have to make a list to be a listmaker. I’ve made a few lists, but a lot more are in my head and in constant revision. It’s what half the conversations down the pub are about. Adding to all this are the women bits: the obsession with sex, of any ilk; the need to categorise and rationalise; the deep despair and jealousy: “have you done it?”
There are probably a dozen more movies that fit just as well, these are just off the top of my head: my list of the 3 movies that reveal most about men.