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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » That's the Way of the World
That's the Way of the World
BCI Eclipse // PG // July 18, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted July 18, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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"That's the Way of the World" is an angry, bitter film that laments the record industry's decisions to support financial, not artistic, means. Released in 1975, it's a movie that could have been made thirty years earlier or thirty years later without losing an ounce of its relevancy.

Best remembered these days as a starring vehicle for Earth, Wind & Fire, whose "Shining Star" and "That's the Way of the World" become hit singles off the soundtrack, the film concerns itself more with Harvey Keitel, who holds the lead role as ace record producer Coleman "Buck" Buckmaster. Buck's been working for months to drum up label support for The Group (Earth, Wind & Fire), a dynamite band Buck knows deserves to go huge. But the company honchos instead want Buck to ditch The Group and get with The Pages, a white-bread family act (think The Carpenters by way of Anne Murray) the execs think are bound to be the Next Big Thing. Why? "We're all going back to apple pie," the label head explains.

Worse, it becomes clear that The Pages are being manufactured for stardom not because they're any good (they're really, really not), but because the suits like them, and they can make anybody a star. ("They believe money and muscle can sell anything," Buck explains.) It says a lot about the suits that they fail to see what The Group has to offer - not only as talented musicians, but as deliverers of the very same positive messages The Pages sing in their moronic ditty about "joy, joy, joy!" The suits hear The Group's "black sound" and automatically toss them in the pile with bands who sing about "drugs and revolution," failing to bother with the lyrics (which offer far more depth and complexity than acts like The Pages ever could) or even take a look at their live act (which swarms with energy and enthusiasm). To the minds of such folks as label chief Carlton James (Ed Nelson), they're nothing more than a black band who could only be sold to black listeners. The Pages, meanwhile, have more mass - read: white - appeal.

Heck, The Pages' manager's name is Mr. Lemongello - pronounced "lemon Jell-o." And the lead singer is named Velour, after a type of fake material. The script holds nothing back in its obvious symbolism.)

The screenplay, by journalist Robert Lipsyte, contains long, spiteful tirades against the industry, making the film a bit of a primer on what's wrong with corporate-driven music. The movie has no problem stopping - repeatedly - to reinforce its teachings on how company goons, lazy DJs, art-ignorant executives, and even the mafia all work together to force-feed a public on pop music they don't realize they don't need.

And yet the movie is not entirely speechifying; if it were, it'd become rather dull rather quickly. What Lipsyte and director/producer Sig Shore (the producer behind "Superfly") have done here is pepper their film with the ugly truth of life itself. Buck's father is a renowned jazz pianist, yet he relies on his son to bring him some blow every week. The Pages, white-bread as they may seem, are all too eager to enjoy the vulgarities of fame, be it sex, drugs, or corruption. As Buck gets sucked into playing the corporate game, he becomes less and less a likeable figure, ultimately losing his innocence and resorting to the very same backhanded techniques he's been fighting. "That's the way of the world" becomes the mantra for the film, repeated whenever something very lousy happens; you can't avoid injustice, this world will tear you down, and even if you win, you lose.

Through all of this, however, the film never loses its love and respect for music itself. One can find magic, the movie seems to tell us, even in the artistic salvaging of a mediocre pop tune. There's a terrific scene midway through the movie where we watch the evolution of The Pages' song as it goes from dopey to dopey-with-a-sound. We watch as layers upon layers of sounds (horns, strings, background vocals, etc.) get placed in one by one, and even with this idiotic song, we can see this scene forming a love letter to the mere idea of the making of a record. It's a beautiful moment.

Of course, the irony of this scene - that so much talent is going into such crap - is never lost on the filmmakers, and no matter how joyous this moment (or the moments we get to see The Group perform live) may be, everything is underscored by the grimness of a bitter reality. As such, "That's the Way of the World" is a sinister time capsule that has yet to age.


"That's the Way of the World" finally arrives on DVD courtesy BCI Eclipse. An HD-DVD release is scheduled for late August.


The DVD cover boasts a brand new high-definition transfer, but there's only so much that can be done with a film shot on a low budget with less-than-desirable film stock. Plenty of grain and softness remain. Presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen format, with anamorphic enhancement.


The video might be iffy, but at least BCI knows you have to do it right on the soundtrack if Earth, Wind & Fire is involved. In addition to a perfectly decent Dolby mono track for the purists among us, we get upgraded 5.1 mixes in both Dolby and DTS. Both surround tracks make the odd decision to put the dialogue on both front and back speakers, giving a full, slightly echo-y sound when it's not needed. But it's not too distracting, and once the music kicks in, you'll be quite happy. No subtitles are offered.


The commentary track from Verdine White and Ralph Johnson of Earth, Wind & Fire is enjoyable whenever they're in a nostalgic mood, or when they start chatting about things from a musicians' point of view. But all too often, they're left trying to fill the gaps of when The Group is out of the picture (which is quite a lot), and so they simply talk about what's happening on screen, or even not bother talking at all. I'd recommend checking in on them only whenever The Group is on screen.

A trailer and two TV spots are included (all in anamorphic widescreen, although I'm not sure why the TV spots are wide), as is a brief photo gallery highlighting posters and lobby cards.

The package also includes a booklet featuring a very solid essay on the film by Roger Thompson, a professor and writer who also contributes for the Earth, Wind & Fire fan club website. The booklet also features two of the movie's eye-catching posters, which I really wish would have been used for the DVD cover art, instead of the ugly, generic Photoshop mess we get instead.

Final Thoughts

The mere presence of Earth, Wind & Fire should be enough to perk a few ears and land this long-forgotten film some overdue renewed notice. And once they hook you in, you'll be treated to a thoroughly engrossing drama about the sad lack of artistic variety in American culture. It's heavy, it's wild, and it's Recommended.
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