Swiss art duo build an elaborate Rube Goldberg narrative as experimental concept art

Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss (1946-2012) collaborated on a body of work through their art combining and manipulated their daily experiences into something new and unexpected. The Way Things Go (Der Lauf der Dinge in the original German) is their experimental art film from 1987, a short 30-minute concept feature with no narration or context. Filmed in an empty warehouse, it is one continuous showing of cause-and-effect in a crazily elaborate Rube Goldberg device made from common household items. I know some will run screaming from the words ‘experimental’ and ‘art’ previously mentioned but this piece transcends worthless contemporary art, turning The Way Things Go into a mesmerizing visual narrative.

The Way Things Go is the Swiss duo’s best known and best loved piece of concept art. The feature unfolds almost magically as a series of improbable events work in a non-stop chain of cause-and-effect. Tires, candles, pots, bottles, fireworks, soda cans, and whatever else the artists could find in their studio – these ordinary items become the driving force in this visual tale. There is no human presence in the continuous sequence of motion. Outside of the camera walking along with the objects as they move in a connected kinetic chain, the sterile warehouse is empty. The only sounds heard are the ignition of chemical reactions and physical movements of the objects themselves.

The Way Things Go is filmed in an unobtrusive manner. Aside from a few camera zooms on chemicals congealing together as they prepare to do their thing and push an object along its path, the documentary style stays out of the way as much as possible. Coming from the art world, this is a piece of visually moving art that would have been more entertaining with a score of some kind to guide and shape its narrative. The artists clearly wanted the piece to speak for itself and allow the viewer to shape their own conclusions. They left very little context for viewers to latch onto, forcing the audience to simply go along for the ride.

The Way Things Go is a hypnotic experience at times that will leave even the most jaded viewer with a sense of wonder

This feature is an amusing diversion. The Rube Goldberg-like nature of its design is ingenious, leaving one guessing when and if the piece has been carefully cut to conceal edits. If one follows closely enough and knows the warehouse where it was filmed was only 100 feet long, the edits become a little more apparent. The Way Things Go is a hypnotic experience at times that will leave even the most jaded viewer with a sense of wonder. The amount of trial-and-error it must have taken to conceive its wonderfully intricate sequence of ordinary items going from one step in the chain to the next must have been painstaking.

Honda actually ripped this visual art piece off for a commercial, borrowing its ideas to advertise Accords in 2003. I think The Way Things Go works best in an academic setting for school children. They will love seeing the ordinary things move unnaturally in unexpected ways, a starting point for the various forces at work from chemistry to physics. Adults will enjoy it as well but this is not rental material for mainstream movie watchers.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Obviously you can't tell that from stills @ 12:12

There isn’t much to The Way Things Go. This is not a movie production per se. The simple documentary was shot on what appears to be 16mm film by Swiss cinematographer Pio Corradi. The 31-minute features gets an entire BD-25 to itself. The AVC video encode averages 26.81 Mbps. The 1987 concept art piece was not shot as eye candy; it is a grainy, fuzzy picture with soft definition. Distributor Icarus Films has recently restored the video to its original state, giving the original film elements a new transfer.

The video encode is fairly transparent at replicating the film’s rough grain structure. This is definitely a newer film scan that hasn’t been filtered. The film elements are in clean, presentable condition without damage. The 1080P video is presented at a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Resolution is definitely HD in nature but older film productions of this budget aren’t brimming with Hi-Def clarity. Colors are washed out to a degree and its black levels are fuzzy, mildly over-exposed. Contrast isn’t really an issue but this is simply not crisp Blu-ray video. It’s a solid transfer of crude film elements with all that entails.

Video ★★☆☆☆

The only included audio is a 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack. This is a coarse field recording, capturing the objects’ environmental sounds with some limitations in the fidelity. Hiss and phasing are minor problems. The loudest objects are probably the fireworks when they light up and push attached objects to their next step.


Icarus Films has included The Way Things Are on a region-free Blu-ray and a region-free DVD. Brief liner notes are on the reverse of the cover, inside the packaging.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.



Click on the images below for full-resolution 1080P screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. The images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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