Schubert. On Film.

Review – Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION

Posted in 2000s, Reviews by schubertonfilm on February 5, 2010

Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (2004)  ****

Directed by: XAN CASSAVETES

Interviewed: F.X. FEENEY, ROBERT ALTMAN, JAMES WOODS, QUENTIN TARANTINO, STUART COOPER, JIM JARMUSCH, ALEXANDER PAYNE

Before I viewed this documentary, I had no clue what Z Channel was. It was on television so long before my time I could never have known. Z Channel was one of the first cable subscription movie channels, predating both HBO and Showtime, but available only in Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. But the fact it was only available in Los Angeles did not hinder Z Channel’s success. It actually boosted its profile, as all of the film industry juggernauts watched Z Channel and scouted for talent. The groundbreaking and original thing about Z Channel was that it was the first of its kind to play uncut versions of its movies, some of which had never been shown in public before. And the other groundbreaking thing was that the majority of the programming was not done by market research or a team of programmers, but the brainchild of one, some might say crazy, film lover by the name of Jerry Harvey.

Harvey was a struggling screenwriter with the right connections. A friend of filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, he was a well-known movie nut when asked to head up programming for the fledgling Z Channel. He made it his mandate to seek out unknown, underground films that were under appreciated, barely seen and/or mostly ignored. He saved movies from extinction. He was the first to show the box office flop Heaven’s Gate in its full, uncut 4 hour glory and the first to play the studio-chopped version of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America on a double bill alongside it’s newly found 4 hour director’s cut. In this documentary, James Woods states that Oliver Stone’s 1986 film Salvador would never have received the Oscar nominations it did if not for Z Channel stirring up attention. Robert Altman gives Harvey full credit for rescuing lost gems like McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Images. It’s easy to forget that in the early 80’s, VHS rental stores were uncommon and the only way of seeing movies like these uncut were cable channels like Z.

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Review – WILD COMBINATION: A PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR RUSSELL

Posted in 2000s, Reviews by schubertonfilm on February 3, 2010

WILD COMBINATION: A PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR RUSSELL (2008)  ***1/2

Directed by: MATT WOLF

Interviewed: PHILIP GLASS, TOM LEE, ERNIE BROOKS, CHUCK RUSSELL, EMILY RUSSELL, ALLEN GINSBURG

Arthur Russell lived out his life as a virtual unknown. A staple of the underground 70’s and 80’s NYC scene, he released few albums and even fewer under his real name. He wrote some disco hits in the late 70’s, but his true genius came in the 80’s, when he began bridging the gap between classical and popular music, creating atmospheric and experimental tunes with his prized cello. His albums were barely released and only now, with the advent of the web, is he experiencing the kind of popularity he so richly deserved.

In Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, director Matt Wolf mostly chooses to concentrate on Russell’s complex personal life and eccentricities rather than his music, which is fine because he is such a fascinating character. Interviews with his normal, straight-laced parents plot out his beginnings, an Iowa farmboy who moves to the city and hooks up with luminaries like Philip Glass and Allen Ginsburg, who are both interviewed here. He jammed with the Modern Lovers and the Talking Heads before getting caught up in the whirlwind of disco, writing and producing songs under the guises Dinosaur L and Indian Ocean, before finally going under his own name in the mid eighties. Though critically acclaimed, his albums did not sell well, a result of being ahead misunderstood and ahead of his time. He spent most of his life in virtual obscurity until his tragic death of AIDS in 1992.

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