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Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (Xan Cassavetes, USA)
This is a terrific documentary for film buffs, a chronicle of the rise and tragic fall of Jerry Harvey. Harvey was a smart if troubled man (apparently largely due to an abusive family dynamic) who loved film. I mean he frippin' loved it and devoted almost every waking second to his love. Initially in the early '70s this manifested itself when he got the job programming a Los Angeles theater, and through his infectious passion was able to highlight movies by filmmakers like Altman and Peckinpah that had been dismissed by critics and audiences on first pass, which got him a reputation among other film lovers and the filmmakers he was showcasing, many of whom he befriended. In the late '70s he and a pal even got a screenplay produced, the decent Spaghetti Western China 9, Liberty 37 starring friend Warren Oates directed by friend Monte Hellman. But all of that was a precursor to his true legacy.

By the very early '80s Harvey had gotten a couple jobs in cable television in L.A., a field that was still brand new. When he wound up at the Z Channel as chief programmer given free reign to make deals with studios and show whatever he wanted uncut and commercial free, Jerry was in heaven. His great taste and extremely eclectic choices in EVERYthing from the Altmans and Peckinpahs to the Henry Jalgoms and Nic Roegs to Kurosawa and Fellini to Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller to silents and European soft-core porn and abosultely everything in between made the cable channel and Harvey himself a force in Los Angeles. He even had some real power to save films, not just in showing obscure stuff, but by tracking down uncut fully restored prints of Heaven's Gate, 1900, The Leopard and Once Upon A Time in America after the U.S. studios could give a *****, saving the director's visions before all the prints were destroyed. Not only did he save these butchered films, but he proved to the Studios that there was a market for them. Oh yeah, and he also ran movies letterboxed whenever he could find the transfers. Z Channel was so unique and beloved in L.A. that even national powerhouses HBO and Showtime couldn't take it down as the '80s progressed. Harvey's programming was so good and so incredibly different than the mainstream that there wasn't anything being offered to replace it in town. In the later '80s when Z Channel planned on going nationwide, the personal problems in Jerry's life escelated leading eventually to the murder of his wife and his own suicide. Z Channel essentially died with Harvey. The film is full of interviews with friends who worked with him as well as his first wife and first serious girl friend and tons of filmmakers and actors from the '70s and '80s like Bob Altman, Alan Rudolph, Paul Verhoeven, Jim Jarmusch, Vilmos Zsigmond, Jacqi Bisset, Theresa Russell, James Woods and current-day filmmakers who were fans like Alexander Payne and Quentin Tarantino. It's a great story of a love of film, and a sad look at a seriously depressed man who couldn't be saved. Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is directed by Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes' daughter Alexandra.