Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Setting the scene for Z Channel is important, especially because here in the U.K we didn’t have access to cable TV until the mid 80’s, and some places (like where I live) still doesn’t have it.

‘Z’ was a cable tv channel in California that ran from ’74 to ’88, the main selling point being, they would show films uninterrupted and uncut. In a time before VHS tapes and video recorders, Z Channel was the only access outside of cinemas people had to these films. The channel was a movie nerd’s wet dream.

The film focuses on the channel’s head of programming, Jerry Harvey. Harvey was obviously the driving force behind the popularity of the channel and the integrity it held. Despite his success, Jerry Harvey was a troubled man. Told through the eyes of his friends, family and the people he inspired, the film chronicles his career, his eventual suicide and the death of Z Channel.

Directed by Xan Cassevetes (daughter of John Cassevetes), who obviously has a great appreciation for ‘Z’, but also for how ahead of it’s time it was. Interviews with famous faces pepper the film; Robert Altman, Jim Jarmusch, Alexander Payne and Quentin Tarantino to name just a few. Talking directly to camera, discussing the kinds of things they used to watch on this fantastic channel, and how it was so different to anything else at the time.

Xan paints a favorable view of Harvey showing him as the risk-taker and obvious fanboy that he was. Through interviews with his friends and co-workers, its revealed programming the channel was a complete obsession for Harvey and the lengths he would go to, to get the films he wanted to show were limitless. Putting on seasons, and showcasing a specific director’s entire body of work. At one point Altman talks about how Jerry contacted him to get hold of a print of ‘images’ a film he had shot in Ireland in ’72, and Altman gave him his own personal print of the film.

Stories like that are numerous throughout ‘A Magnificent Obsession’; Tarantino talks about how the owner of the video store he worked at would lend him VHS copies of rare Sam Fuller films they had shown on ‘Z’, or F.X.Feeney, An eve.

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