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March 22, 2010

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

by Franz Patrick


Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

I have to admit that I’ve never heard of the Z Channel until I started looking for documentaries similar to “Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!” for movie recommendations. “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” directed by Alexandra Cassavetes, was about Jerry Harvey, the man who selected the films that were shown on the first pay cable channel that featured only movies. While it was about his accomplishments and movies that gained fans from his influences, the picture started off with the fact that he had murdered his wife and killed himself afterwards. His friends and the people he worked with recalled how his personality was volatile, how he was brought up, and all of the major events that ended up in the tragedy. Since I’m a fan of HBO and Showtime (Z Channel’s former competitors) I was interested in what the Z Channel was all about and the kinds of movies it showed. What worked for me was the fact that I had the chance to note several films that caught my interest: “Images” (1975), “Overlord” (1972) , “Heaven’s Gate” (1980), “The Decline of Western Civilization” (1981), “L’important c’est d’aimer” (1975) and a whole lot more. The interviewees discussed each one and told us why Harvey decided to show it on the channel. It was fascinating to me how each film didn’t do well commercially upon initial release but after being shown on the Z Channel, they received so much critical acclaim and gained cult status. What’s more impressive is that the “director’s cut” movies (longer running time) fared better than the studio versions (much shorter running time). It really showed me that not only did Harvey have great taste in picking which ones would appeal to the masses but also the fact that he really had the passion for movies; instead of waiting for them to fall on his lap, he actively searched for them and shared to the world what he loved. What didn’t work for me, unfortunately, was the fact that the people being interviewed sometimes said the same exact thing (only using different words) about Harvey: he was moody, aggressive and sometimes cold. I just wished that they featured him under another light. Nevertheless, the positives outweigh the negatives. This documentary made me wish that the Z Channel still existed because I was so fascinated with the strange (and sometimes I’ve never heard of) movies it featured.

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