Director: Sig Shore
BCI Eclipse

In-between a series of intense performances for director Martin Scorsese, Harvey Keitel starred in this forgotten fight-the-system look at the immoral doings of the popular music industry. Keitel is Coleman Buckmaster, a brilliant, young record producer working for Mob-owned A-Kord Records. Buckmaster sees great potential in The Group, an inner-city soul group struggling to make it. But he finds himself saddled with The Pages, a small town family group with no talent and given carte blanche by the label, and helps to create a monster as he applies his unique production style in an effort to make their maudlin single listenable. The squeaky-clean image of The Pages hides their true vices: Velour is a heavy-drinking bitch intent on using everyone in her path to become a superstar; stepdad Franklyn is a horny pedophile who molested Velour as a teenager; and brother Gary is an obnoxious drug addict making his way from reefer to coke to heroin. Before Buckmaster knows it, he’s drawn into their sordid little world and forced to make a decision regarding his career and the future of The Group.

Where NETWORK attacks the television industry and its exploitation for profits, THAT’S THE WAY OF THE WORLD makes an equally ahead-of-its-time assault on the commercialism of the music industry and its manipulation of the American public. It’s one of those movies where you find yourself yelling at the screen, outraged at the way the drama unfolds. You don’t learn much about The Group, the black multi-member band creating inventive soul songs to be enjoyed by everyone, but by examining the cracking façade of the Pages and their completely hollow image and sound, it’s easy to see how they pale in comparison to their competition for Buckmaster’s attention. The danger presented in the form of this family group is deceiving consumers with a sweetened sound, in other words, dishonesty. Falseness is the problem to be faced down here, and that’s a message that rings just as true today. How else do you explain how Britney Spears’ electronically altered voice sounds fine on records, but she’s flat and boring when performing live (if ever)? Or sexy dancers like Shakira and The Pussycat Dolls somehow getting record contracts despite an obvious lack of talent?

The Group plays its own instruments, sings songs from the heart, and unites people with a great sound and, above all, honesty. Not only are the Pages selling something completely untrue, but A-Kord Records is far too interested in selling a product, an image, instead of the music itself, what the public actually buys. Velour is marketed as a beautiful girl-next-door, an “Aw, shucks” innocent in the big city, when she in fact is a calculating bitch, setting her sights on Buckmaster, destroying his personal and professional relationships, and demanding he become her exclusive producer, working for no one but her. Label president Carlton James bumps The Group off a popular TV show to make room for the presentable Pages, preferring their button-down, safe image to a group of black men. A radio interview with Velour hides the fact that the DJ (played by Murray the K) is lewdly feeling her up as their discussion goes out live over the air. It’s all presented in such a well-done documentary-like fashion that you can’t help but believe every single second of it. That’s a tribute to director Sig Shore and writer Robert Lipsyte (in reality a journalist and sports columnist!), taking a pretty big risk exposing the clockwork behind pop chart successes. This is a smart, modern parable that belongs on your shelf next to NETWORK and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, a 1970s film with a contemporary sensibility.

Despite the star billing and being the reason for the soundtrack album reaching #1, Earth, Wind and Fire is barely in the film. Their contributions to the soundtrack, namely the popular songs “That’s the Way of the World” and “Shining Star”, are just as wonderful as they were when the group was making it big, but don’t go into this one expecting the group to be the primary focus. Other than a few awkwardly acted moments and two stage performances (one under the closing credits), the stars of the movie are the fictional members of The Pages, the completely banal singing trio whiter than Wonder Bread and even less hip. By the 50 minute mark, you’ve heard their terrible tune “Joy, Joy, Joy Every Day” at least 7 or 8 times, and considering it’s painful enough the first time, it’s hard to believe the record-buying public would buy this disposable trash!

Harvey Keitel is celebrated for his violent-tempered performances, but he’s pretty relaxed in this one, and does a fine job with a very compelling character. However, as good as Keitel is, Cynthia Bostick acts circles around him! As the self-absorbed Velour, her icky false charm and constant smirk as all the cards fall her way make her the stand out in this cast. For some reason, Bostick’s career never took off. Interesting story: she appeared in the Broadway play “Something Old, Something New”, which opened and closed the same night, and later married one of the play’s understudies, Ken Sherber! Bostick’s final comeuppance come the closing credits is so delicious you’ll want to replay it! Go ahead, rewind and watch that slow burn! Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that the label’s janitor is played by Charles McGregor, from ANDY WARHOL’S BAD, SUPERFLY, BLAZING SADDLES, and THREE THE HARD WAY!

Presented anamorphic in a new Hi-Def master from what looks like a 35mm theatrical print, THAT’S THE WAY OF THE WORLD unfortunately doesn’t look as good as the movie is. Considering the rocky distribution history of the film (Bryanston Films picked this up after United Artists dropped it after an unsuccessful theatrical run, and as everyone knows, the Mob-owned company went out of business; somehow BCI licensed it from them), it’s surprising that it’s here in presentable shape. A sheet of grain appears over the entire movie, and some scenes are darker than they look like they should be, but skintones are accurate, the 1.85:1 framing looks to be the correct aspect ratio, and the image still manages to look cleaner and more polished than its various gray market incarnations. All in all, it’s a serviceable transfer.

It’s too bad that neither director Sig Shore and writer Robert Lipsyte were asked to be a part of this DVD, as they are the true movers and shakers behind the film. Shore was recently interviewed for Shock Cinema Magazine, and Lipsyte still appears on ESPN. In their place are two members of Earth, Wind and Fire, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. It’s nice to have both of them contribute to this release, but unfortunately because the group is barely in the film, they don’t have much to say. There is discussion of the soundtrack album, and working with Keitel, but this is mostly a missed opportunity. A theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a stills gallery, and an excellent liner notes booklet by Roger Thompson rounds out one of the best DVD surprises of the year. (Casey Scott)