Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

"Very Good"

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession Review


Z Channel was one of the first pay cable stations ever. It's "magnificent obsession" was movies, as Z Channel became known for being the definitive place to go for those obsessed with film -- snobs, cineastes, and plain old cinema junkies.

And then its programming chief killed his wife and himself.

In the late-1970s, Z Channel ruled the Los Angeles cable networks -- not even HBO or Showtime could gain a foothold when they launched there. Showing an eclectic and nonstop mix of foreign, independent, rare, uncut, classic, and the occasional mainstream movie, Z Channel's programming was second to none. That's thanks to Jerry Harvey, an obsessed film fan who would go to any lengths necessary to obtain prints for the station. His achievements had a profound impact on Hollywood -- director Alexandra Cassavetes (here reinvented as the mildly hubristic "Xan" Cassavetes) documents its effects on some of L.A.'s big guns: Altman, Tarantino, Payne, Verhoeven... the list goes on.

The fawning over Z Channel and its ability to bring cinema's gems to its viewers is endless, but this documentary actually spends more time dissecting a selection of the films the station played rather than talking about the station itself. (That's not a bad thing: Who wants to see a two hour movie about a TV station?) And while the film's rampant boosterism of Michael Cimino -- and particularly, Heaven's Gate -- is riotously indefensible, the impact the channel had on films like Salvador (which before airing on Z Channel barely got a release at all) are critical moments in film history. James Woods notes that Z Channel showing Salvador essentially earned him his Oscar nomination and changed his life.

But then there's this cryptic coda about Harvey's murder/suicide, which has left a sour taste in the mouth of many of his former supporters. By 1987, the stock market crash took with it hopes of a national expansion, and in 1988 the network began showing Dodger games, outraging fans who didn't care about sports. Harvey shot himself and his wife later that year, and the channel was gone for good in 1989.

Cassavetes doesn't offer much explanation for the end of Harvey's life; presumably he was just insane.

Nonetheless, Harvey the man doesn't make for much of a film anyway. How Z Channel affected the development and release of movies is more interesting, namely in pioneering the "director's cut" and opening the door for those six-hour versions of Das Boot and Once Upon a Time in America we don't really want to see but sit through anyway. Well, let's just thank God that Cassavetes didn't take that bit to heart: This documentary clocks in at less than two hours.

A woman obsessed.



Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Facts and Figures

Run time: 120 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 16th August 2007

Production compaines: Maja Films, Fresh Produce Films, Independent Film Channel (IFC)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 13

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Alexandra Cassavetes

Starring: as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself

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