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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