Color, 1975, 97/100m.
Directed by Sig Shore
Starring Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, Cynthia Bostick, Earth Wind and Fire, Bert Parks, Jimmy Boyd
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), BCI/Eclipse (DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
One of the few genuinely good cinematic portrayals of the rocky music business, That's the Way of the World is perhaps best known today for its successful soundtrack by Earth, Wind and Fire, who also appear in the film as a thinly disguised version of themselves. It was also an unusual vehicle for producer/director Sig Shore, who had recently scored a mammoth hit with Superfly in 1972, and the canny choice to cast Mean Streets star Harvey Keitel in the lead turned out to be a major boost when he became a major critical darling one year later in Taxi Driver.
At an outfit called A-Kord Records, one of the hottest rising producers is Coleman Buckmaster (Keitel), whose dad was a jazz legend. He has his eye on developing a funk act called The Group (Earth Wind and Fire), but the powers that be instead want him to make stars out of The Pages, a wholesome trio somewhere in between Debbie Boone and The Carpenters. Coleman becomes involved with The Pages' lead singer, Velour (Bostick), and using the mantra "If I lose my freedom, I lose my reputation," he decides to navigate the industrial waters from swanky parties to recording sessions to work to his ultimate advantage.
Of course, the main reason to watch this film is the participation of EWF, who only appear in front of the camera for a few minutes but goose up the soundtrack with some fantastic tunes, most notably the radio staple "Shining Star." It's also a pretty amusing attack on white bread AM radio music at the time with the syrupy Pages single "Joy Joy Joy" appropriately giving Keitel a major headache. If you want to see how the biz operated in the '70s (and in a different form still functions), this one can't be missed.
Barely shown in theaters and dumped off by United Artists to the notorious crime-linked distribution company Bryanston, That's the Way of the World was touted as a lost film when it finally surfaced on home video in 2006 courtesy of a DVD from BCI/Eclipse with a negligible audio commentary from EWF members Verdine White and Ralph Johnson, who don't have much to say for most of the running time. The transfer was taken from a very dark, virtually colorless print, but considering the scarcity of the film, it was still a welcome release.
Like other BCI titles, that one went out of print fairly quickly and left the door open for a reissue in 2013 from Scorpion on both Blu-ray and DVD. The most interesting aspect here is the fact that the HD presentation (a major upgrade across the board) is slightly shorter than the previous DVD, losing a bit under three minutes compared to the BCI print (which is still included here in SD for completists). It's hard to imagine anyone will watch the longer cut more than once given the drop in A/V quality, but it's a nice touch to include both. In any case, the Blu-ray looks and sounds great with rich colors and a much crisper, brighter appearance, which makes it easier to savor those great New York City location shots. An isolated music track is included, too, in a welcome touch. Also included are the theatrical trailer, a pair of Bryanston TV spots focused entirely on Keitel's recent success, a poster and stills gallery, and bonus trailers for Tower of Evil, Grizzly, Death Ship, and Day of the Animals, which makes sense because... uh, they were all made within a decade of each other.
Reviewed on December 14, 2013.