Saturday Matinee: Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

By JPRoscoe

Source: Basement Rejects

Launching in 1974, the Z Channel became one of the first pay cable channels.  The channel eventually morphed into a movie channel highlighting directors, art films, and championing original visions portrayed on the screen.  One of the people behind this transformation and the decisions made on the channel was the program director Jerry Harvey.  Harvey (with his team) brought many films to the Z Channel that were never seen anywhere in America and created a world for film lovers…but Harvey had his own demons.

Directed by Xan Cassavetes, Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession is a documentary about the rise and fall of the California based Z Channel which broadcast from 1974 to 1989.  The documentary premiered at Cannes in 2004 and was released to positive reviews.

I grew up without cable so dreams of HBO were just dreams.  At the time, I wouldn’t have appreciated Z Channel and would have much rather stayed with something like HBO or Cinemax.  Watching the Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession, I dream about the Z Channel still being around.

There are a lot of viewing options now.  The difference between something like FilmStruck and the Z Channel is that idea of chance.  You don’t know what you are going to get and you don’t know when you’ll get to see it again.  That is something that current TV watchers (or streamers) forget…you had to wait to see the movies you wanted and a video store might not have them.  The idea of someone so diligently trying to seek out and collect these films for viewers is admirable.

The documentary of course takes a dark turn in that Jerry Harvey really was someone who seemed lost.  The documentary does struggle with the ideas of its three themes at points in trying to decide if it is about Z Channel, Jerry Harvey, or the films…and it is understandable because it is hard to separate the three because they were so bound together.  Like a lot of documentaries, I wish there was a better way to establish more of a timeline of events through the course of the movie.

The documentary features a lot of great performers and great film clips.  Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, James Wood, and Jacqueline Bisset are among some of the people interviewed, but it is the immense outpouring of these people for what Z Channel did for them that shows its importance on modern film.  Harvey’s personal acquaintances provide the most insight to him and what was going on at Z Channel and really help round out the documentary…plus, it becomes a film watcher’s guide for movies that should be sought out.

Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession is an interesting documentary, but it also is a documentary that feels like it needed a little tweaking to become a great documentary.  It is a film for film lovers and a specific kind of film lover.  The movies highlighted appeal to a certain viewer and the true crime aspect of the story probably isn’t intense enough for people interested in the true crime genre.  Still, Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession is a worthy documentary that should be sought out.

Watch Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession on Hoopla here:

This entry was posted in Art, culture, Film, Saturday Matinee, Video and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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