Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Directed by Xan Cassavetes, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is the story about the seminal cable channel that showed eclectic movies ranging from art films, mainstreams films, silent films, and B-movies as it was programmed by the obsessive film buff Jerry Harvey. The documentary is an exploration into the cable channel that founded in 1974 that was present solely in Los Angeles and nearby towns as it would end in 1989 just one year after Harvey killed himself and his second wife Deri Rudolph in a murder-suicide. It was a channel that broke a lot of ground and exposed people who loved films the chance to see films uncut, uncensored, and letterboxed whenever possible. The result is a very fascinating and engrossing documentary from Xan Cassavetes.

Before HBO, Showtime, Starz, Turner Classic Movies, and other cable channels that showed films without commercial interruption, there was a groundbreaking channel based solely in areas around Los Angeles which showcased films uncut, uncensored, and without commercials. In the late 1970s, a man named Jerry Harvey became its programmer as he would showcase a plethora of films ranging form B-movies, westerns, silent films, European art-house cinema, Italian softcore porn films, commercial fare, and all sorts of things. With the help of a few other programmers in Andrea Grossman and Tim Ryerson as well as a local critic in F.X. Feeney who would write reviews for the channel magazine, Harvey would create a programming that was beyond the idea of what can be shown.

What director Xan Cassavetes does is showcase not just the channel’s impact and contribution to the world of cinema but also how it can give films that were either lost or re-cut by studio politics the chance to be seen in a new light. Especially as it relates to films like Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America which were shown in their director’s cut version to great acclaim after being re-cut and botched by studios. All of which through the desire of Jerry Harvey who wanted to show these films to an audience and give them a fairer judgment. Harvey would also expose obscure directors like Stuart Cooper through Z Channel as it became a platform to showcase films that most channels would never show.

The narrative would move back-and-forth not just in Z Channel’s impact but also Harvey’s personal life that was often turbulent from the suicides of his sisters as well as his relationships with women including his first wife Vera Anderson which ended in divorce in 1984 as he would marry his landlord Deri Rudolph some time later. Feeney and friends of Harvey would talk about his eccentric behavior as well as his obsession towards cinema and showing all sorts of films as he was a workaholic. While emerging channels like HBO and Showtime would do very well nationally, they would have a hard time competing with Z Channel in Los Angeles as subscribers would stick to the channel instead of what HBO and Showtime were offering at the time. Yet, HBO and Showtime would eventually do whatever to buy whatever rights to what they can show as it would lead to the channel’s demise in the late 80s as well as all sorts of business things and some setbacks that would eventually contribute to Harvey’s death and the death of the channel.

Among the filmmakers such as Cooper who are interviewed for the documentary are Henry Jaglom, Alan Rudolph, Robert Altman, Paul Verhoeven, Penelope Spheeris, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, and Alexander Payne who would wear his old Z Channel shirt for the doc. Altman, Verhoeven, Rudolph, Spheeris, and Jaglom talk about Harvey’s contributions into raising their profile while Jarmusch, Payne, and Tarantino were among the filmmakers who were avid watchers of the channel as they talked about the films they saw. Actors like James Woods, Jacqueline Bisset, and Theresa Russell also take part in the interview as they reveal what the channel did for them while cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond praises Harvey for showing the reconstructed version of Heaven’s Gate following the critical scorn the film had received.

With the help of cinematographer John Pirozzi, editor Iain Kennedy, and sound editor Frank Gaeta, Cassavetes would show various film clips of the kind of films that were shown by the channel as well as use super-8 footage of Los Angeles to display a moment in time when the channel was in its prime with an audio recording of the words of Jerry Harvey. The film’s music by Steven Hufsteter is only presented minimally in the opening and closing credits as it is this soft, electronic-based score to play into the impact of the channel.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is a phenomenal film from Xan Cassavetes. It’s a documentary that explored not just the channel’s influence as well as the impact that Jerry Harvey did for cinema. It’s also a film that showcased what a channel can be under the control of a film-loving programmer that would exposes all kinds of films that will probably make an impact on someone. In the end, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is an incredible film from Xan Cassavetes.

© thevoid99 2014

No comments: