That’s The Way Of The World (1975, directed by Sig Shore)


Welcome to the down and dirty world of the music industry in the 1970s.

Coleman Buckmaster (Harvey Keitel) is a record producer who is known as the “Golden Ear,” because of his success at discovering new talent.  Coleman is the son of a jazz pianist (to whom he brings a birthday present of cocaine) and he is convinced that consumers are not as dumb as music execs assume that they are.  He believes that his latest group, known simply as The Group (but played by Earth, Wind, & Fire), have what it takes to become a big success despite not having a conventionally commercial image.

Coleman’s boss, Carlton James (Ed Nelson), disagrees.  Carlton orders Coleman to spend less time working with The Group and to instead devote his energy to producing a single for a new band called The Pages.  Led by Franklyn Page (Bert Parks), the Pages present themselves as being a clean-cut and wholesome family band.  Carlton is sure that their innocuous style and feel-good harmonies are going to be “the sound of the 70s.”  Coleman disagrees but he tries to balance working with both groups.  While he tries to make The Group into a success, he also tries to find something worthwhile in The Pages’ new single, “Joy Joy Joy.”  Complicating matters is that, against his better instincts, Coleman has fallen into a relationship with Velour Page (Cynthia Bostick), who is not as innocent as the band’s image makers makes her out to be.

Written by journalist Robert Lipsyte and directed by producer Sig Shore (he did Superfly), That’s The Way Of The World is an interesting look at what was going on behind the scenes of the music industry in the 70s.  It’s not the first film to suggest that the recording industry was run by unethical and corrupt record labels (nor would it be the last) but it feels authentic in a way that a lot of other music industry films don’t.  That’s The Way Of The World emphasizes just how manufactured most popular music is.  Insisting on trying to do something different, as the Group does, will only lead to you being snubbed by the industry.  Play ball and record music that means nothing — like the Pages — and you’ll become a star overnight.  Having a hit has less to do with the work you put into it and more with how many people your label is willing to pay off.  As one exec puts it, getting your record played on the radio (in those days before YouTube and Soundcloud) means resorting “payola, layola, and drugola.”  Harvey Keitel performs his role with his trademark intensity and Bert Parks is brilliantly cast as the thoroughly fake Franklyn Page.

Today, The Way Of The World is best-known for its soundtrack, which was also one of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s best-selling albums.  Though the film was a bomb at the box office, the album was not.  The Group may have struggled to get anyone to listen but Earth, Wind, and Fire became the first black group to top both the Billboard album and singles charts.

Beware The Pages

The Things You Find On Netflix: Sergio (dir by Greg Barker)


Sergio, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, is a biopic of the Brazilian diplomat, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.  Sergio spent 34 years as a diplomat with the United Nations, going to some of the most dangerous places in the world and trying to negotiate with people who were determined to kill one another.  Sergio was so respected within the UN that he was seen as a likely candidate for Secretary-General.  Instead, in 2003, Sergio was killed in a terrorist attack while he was in Baghdad, observing the American occupation of Iraq.

Starring Wagner Moura in the title role, Sergio opens with Sergio arriving in Baghdad.  For the majority of the film, he’s buried in the rubble of his blown-up office, thinking about his past life while an American soldier (played, with quiet authority, by Garret Dillahunt) tries to dig him and his assistant, Gil (Brian F. O’Byrne) out.  Through the use of flashbacks, we watch as Sergio negotiates peace in East Timor and argues against the occupation of the Iraq.  We also watch as he meets and falls in love with Carolina (Ana de Armas), pursuing a passionate affair with her despite being married.

Sergio is a rather staid biopic.  If you’re expecting to see an Adam McKay-style screed about international diplomacy and American war crimes, that is not what this film is and we should be happy for that because, seriously, have you tried to watch The Big Short or Vice lately?  Instead, Sergio is more like a Jay Roach film without the attempts at humor.  It’s a blandly liberal biopic that is conventionally structured and a bit too convinced that the audience is going to automatically agree with its points.  Indeed, one of the film’s most glaring flaws is that it assumes that we’re all as enamored with the UN as it is.  Instead of making a case for why the UN should be taken seriously, Sergio just assumes that it is.

The other big problem with the film is that it’s just boring.  There’s nothing interesting about the film’s structure and, as portrayed in the rather bland script, both Sergio and Carolina come across as being ciphers.  We’re constantly told that Sergio is charismatic and controversial but we really don’t see much evidence of it.  The film itself doesn’t seem to know what made Sergio tick but what’s even worse is that it doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in finding out.  There’s not much interest in digging into Sergio’s mind or his motives,  The film forgets that you can portray someone as a hero and celebrate their accomplishments without necessarily idealizing them.  With the exception of one or two scenes (and there is an effective moment where one of Sergio’s assistants does call him out for putting everyone’s life in danger by refusing to accept protection from the U.S. army), Sergio is portrayed in such an idealized that he comes across as being a bit dull.  Wagner Moura is an appealing actor but there’s no depth to his performance.  Meanwhile, Ana de Armas is reduced to playing the stock girlfriend with a social conscience role.

All that said, I almost feel guilty about not liking Sergio.  The film was made with good intentions but good intentions don’t necessarily translate to compelling storytelling.