The Way Things Go: it sounds intriguing as a title, but as it turns out, it is slightly misleading. In my mind, "the way things go" implies some explanation, some insight into why machines function or why reactions happen the way they do. However, that's not the case: this short film would more aptly have been titled "Things Happen Without Explanation."
The Way Things Go (original title: Der Lauf der Dinge) is a thirty-minute piece that presents a series of Rube Goldberg contraptions involving simple items like chairs, tires, balloons, bottles, and ropes, in which a single initial impetus leads to some effect that in turn causes another effect, and so on down the line. The sequence of events isn't quite random; rather, the film progresses through demonstrating various types of reactions. We start with kinetic reactions: objects spinning, falling, rolling, and pushing other objects on down the line. Another reaction set involves gases, others progress through the gaseous, liquid, and frozen states of water, and several others involve combustion reactions.
The film's editing rather clumsily attempts to make it appear that the entire piece is one long reaction, rather than a set of several shorter ones. At the end of a sequence, the camera will focus on the ending element, such as a trash bag rotating or a pan of foam bubbling, and then the image will switch over to the start of a new sequence in which a similar trash bag or pan of foam provide the initial impulse. It's fairly clear that it's not exactly the same bag or pan that we saw at the end of the previous sequence, so I'm not sure why there's the attempted sleight-of-hand here; it simply cheapens the effect.
Watching this piece, I felt very keenly the absence of any kind of narration. What is it supposed to be? As a piece of performance art, it leaves me utterly cold; I'm not a big modern art fan to begin with, and at the minimum I need some context to make sense of whatever message the artists are trying to convey. As a demonstration of physics and chemistry, it has a lot of potential, but again the lack of context kills it. What's going on? Some of the cause-effect reactions are obvious, but others are not, particularly the ones based on chemical reactions. Even text subtitles would have added tremendously to the experience, but alas, the visual element is left to stand (or fall) on its own.
The Way Things Go is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which looks to be the original. This is not the kind of presentation that really requires great image quality: we're looking at grubby household items inside a grungy industrial warehouse, after all. Even so, the image quality is lacking. The main flaw in the image is that it's quite grainy, and rather murky-looking as well.
Like the video, the soundtrack of The Way Things Go doesn't need to go to any great lengths to do what it needs to do, but it still lags a bit behind. There's no music or narrative portion to the film, so the only sounds on the soundtrack are the incidental effects from the objects as they roll, bump, smash, or burn up. These generally come across adequately, but I noticed that there was a bit of distortion in the sound at times, and at other times the overall sound was muffled.
There's a short text piece on the artists, and another on the film itself. Neither offers much by way of illumination, however.
The menu screen looks straightforward enough, but navigating the DVD is a bit of an odd experience; at certain points, pressing the "enter" key is read as pressing the "stop" key.
I honestly can't really recommend picking up this DVD even as a rental. It does have a certain odd interest to it, a glimmer of potential that is frustratingly not exploited. If it were shown on TV, it would be worth tuning in to for ten or fifteen minutes or so just to check it out, and teachers might be able to make use of it as part of a lesson. As a stand-alone film, though, it doesn't quite make the cut.