movies, music and everything else

This blog is about pretty much what the title implies... movies, music and everything else.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

R.I.P. channel Z

Growing up outside of Los Angeles, I had never heard of the groundbreaking pay cable channel in the 70’s and 80’s that specialized in obscure films from around the world. The Z channel is like nothing that came before it and nothing since its cancellation in 1989. It was before the age of the VCR and brought movies to the subscribers that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. A treat for filmgoers and a dream for cinefiles, Z gave a chance to films that would have been forgotten otherwise.

Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION is a documentary by filmmaker Xan Cassavetes that looks at the Z channel, but looks more in detail at the brains behind the station and the head programmer, Jerry Harvey. In 1988, Harvey killed his wife and then turned the gun on himself. That is how this film begins. The rest is the story of his life and what he accomplished for the world of cinema, past, present and future.

What could a pay cable channel do for cinema? You first must remember the time period and think back to how things were. Fewer theaters. No market for art house and foreign films. No movie channels on television. If a movie opened even in a few theaters and did not have immediate success, it was taken out of the theater and lost to the public forever. What Harvey did as a lover of film is find these movies and give them a stage to play on and exposed the public to their potential brilliance. Many, many films would not be what they are today had it not been for Harvey and his passion for cinema.

When SALVIDOR opened in the spring of 1986, it was barely released and received mediocre reviews from the few critics that bothered to see it. Harvey saw this film and saw its importance and relevance and decided to do something about getting it noticed. What he did was acquire the rights and air the film behind an add campaign in his affiliated magazine promoting the brilliance of the film. The result of the campaign was overwhelming. The film was now seen, well reviewed and received Oscar nominations for its lead actor (James Woods) and writer (Oliver Stone).

One of the other things that Jerry Harvey was responsible for was the release of the “director’s cut” of films. In the age of DVDs, the idea of the extended cut and the chance to see the director’s original vision is taken for granted. It was not so in the 80’s, when Harvey was responsible for the release of the director’s cut of THE WILD BUNCH, 1900, PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, HEAVEN’S GATE, and many others. For this feat alone, all film lovers and filmmakers owe him a great debt.

While the Z channel and the films programmed on it was a focus of the film, the other focus is the man behind it all. While watching Jerry Harvey display his passion and his devotion, you can’t help but like admire and respect him, but at the same time, you also can’t forget the horrible and sudden conclusion to his life. He murdered his wife in cold blood, sat on the bed for an hour and then fired a shot into his temple. Harvey was a brilliant but severely damaged man who was haunted by his demons throughout his life.

Interjected throughout the film are interviews from prominent filmmakers like Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne, James Woods, Jim Jarmusch, and Paul Verhoeven. Harvey and his contribution to the world of film impacted every one of these people. This is a great story and an extremely well handled documentary. As a film lover, I imagine that I like Z CHANNEL more than most would, but anyone who likes movies would be fascinated by this story of a man overcome by passion and the need to share it.

The loss of Harvey and the Z channel is a loss for film. There will never be another Jerry Harvey, but the work that he did and the contributions to the art form that he loved will never be forgotten.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Det. Carlumbo said...

"A human life remains of consequence not because of what we leave behind, but because we act and ispire others to action, inspiration and enjoyment" - (not sure. A quote from the doc, possibly from Luis Brookes)

It took me about three hours to watch this documentary because I felt compelled to freeze it every time a movie was cited and write it down. It's too bad some of them are extremely rare.

It really says something that the Z channel was the only one in history with a zero percent service cancelation.

12:02 AM  

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