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Z Channel - A Magnificent Obsession
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IN 1974 LOS ANGELES, Z CHANNEL WAS LAUNCHED AS ONE OF THE COUNTRY'S 1ST PAY CABLE CHANNELS. WHEN JERRY HARVEY TOOK OVER AS AS HEAD OF PROGRAMMING IN 1980, THEIR PROMINENCE WAS SOLIDIFIED. THIS CHRONICLES HARVEY'S EMOTIONAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL DESCENT WHICH RESULTED IN A SHOCKING MURDER/SUICIDE & THE DEMISE OF CHANNEL Z.
Director Xan (daughter of actor John) Cassavetes' Z Channel - A Magnificent Obsession harkens back to a time when a single pay cable TV outlet could offer more quality and variety than all the HBOs and Showtimes of the world combined. Beginning in 1974, Los Angeles' Z Channel, driven by chief programmer Jerry Harvey, presented an astonishingly eclectic array of fare to its subscribers, from mega-hits like Star Wars to obscure classics by directors like Kurosawa, Fellini, Antonioni, Peckinpah, and others. In championing movies like Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, and Oliver Stone's Salvador, especially the uncut versions, Harvey earned the respect of countless filmmakers, a good many of whom (like Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Alexander Payne, and Robert Altman) are on hand to sing his praises. There are also lots of clips, as well as recollections about the making of those films; in fact, Z Channel - A Magnificent Obsession is more about movies than it is about Harvey and his channel. That's good, because despite his lurid denouement (he killed his wife, then himself, in 1988), Harvey was not an especially interesting man, but rather a single-minded film freak, a guy who used movie dialogue for his own wedding vows. Cassavetes' film is likely to appeal mostly to those who share his passion, if not his mental problems; if nothing else, it will certainly pique your interest in some of the wonderful movies celebrated here. --Sam Graham
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : R (Restricted)
- Product Dimensions : 7.5 x 5.5 x 0.53 inches; 6.4 Ounces
- Item model number : 2268181
- Director : Xan Cassavetes
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
- Run time : 2 hours
- Release date : October 11, 2005
- Actors : Robert Altman, Vera Carlisle Anderson, C.L. Batten, Jacqueline Bisset, Ernest Borgnine
- Subtitles: : English
- Producers : Alison Palmer Bourke, Ed Carroll, F.X. Feeney, Jonathan Montepare, Leslie Lowell
- Language : English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
- Studio : Virgil Films
- ASIN : B000AQKV0I
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #53,133 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
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It's a documentary that serves many different functions. First and foremost it tells the little-known tragedy of Jerry Harvey, a guy who did some great and wonderful things during his life, but also, near his end, committed two horrible acts.
Harvey was the programming director for Z-Channel which, during the late 70s and 80s, broadcast films so ecclectic, it's hard to believe they were actually aired anywhere: Sam Fuller films, the complete "1900," the complete "Das Boot," the complete "Heaven's Gate," both versions of "Once Upon a Time in America," Altman movies, obscure foreign films, mainstream fare, soft core porn, etc, etc, etc....
Even in an era when most people have hundreds of television viewing options, Z Channel remains impressive. That it existed during the early days of pay cable is mindboggling, and the movie also does a great job of explaining those early days, and what it took to keep a channel running and how that channel eventually failed, which is another fascinating branch of the film's narrative.
But the main function of the movie is to run through a thick cross-section of the films that were shown on the channel, and why these films were important to the people behind the scenes (including Z Critic F.X. Feeney, former Fox head Bill Mechanic and Harvey himself), to the people who made the movies that were shown (Paul Verhoeven, James Woods and Robert Altman, who gets the movie's best, most poingnant line, "I like him!") and to the channel's old audience itself (we see great, bubbly interviews with guys like Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino, who gets a fine line too: "And then they didn't go in the bedroom.... And I was pissed!").
It all coagulates into a dizzying, complex story that's both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. If you have any interest at all in film, this is a documentary that's right in the league with "Visions of Light," "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" and Martin Scorsese's "Journey" and "Voyage" films -- which is to say, "essential."
The commentary, with all the key production figures, including director Xan Cassavetes is excellent: A big, talky, messy swirl of details that somehow explains how everything was done, from the licensing of the clips shown to the dreamy interludes of scenes from around L.A.
Deleted scenes include solid asides about "3 Women," "Touch of Evil" and other films, portions that didn't make the final cut.
There's also some expendable footage from an AFI tribute.
Particularly good is the complete "Castaway's Choice" interview with Jerry Harvey, though listening to it somewhat diminishes the otherworldly effect Cassavettes sought (and got) when she used snippets of it in the finished film.
Some reviewers have complained that there should be more material from Z Channel itself -- complete pages from the program guide, cover galleries, old commercials. And they're 100% right, and the scrolling supplement that shows a few, old, terribly copy-edited reviews is just enough to whet one's appetite for more. But the movie is such a huge buffet, that's almost like gorging yourself on a gourmet meal and then being disappointed with the dessert.
From some of the more 'adult' features(wink, wink), to one of my favorite movies, "Once Upon a Time in America," Jerry Harvey had his thumb in a lot of pies... He wasn't a director, hell, he wasn't even a producer... But judging from this film, he was very important in independant film!
When no one would show "Heaven's Gate," he was there... Plus "Silver Streak!"