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A documentary on the Z Channel, one of the first pay cable stations in the US, and its programming chief, Jerry Harvey. Debuting in 1974, the LA-based channel's eclectic slate of movies became a prime example of the untapped power of cable television. Written by
For those of you reading this who are not from Los Angeles or are not yet 30, you do not know what you missed. Imagine a late 60's, early 70's FM eclectic station that mixed Marvin Gaye, Frank Zappa, Charlie Parker, Parisian Ballads, The Rolling Stones and Parliment Funkadelic into their play list. Now, imagine the same kind of eclectic mix applied to movies. Oh yeah, add to that some late night Euro soft-core sex movies and a monthly magazine that provided the kind of insight you now find on IMDb with full cast lists and turkey alerts, 20 years before the internet.
The Z Channel got behind previously unheralded directors, actors and screenwriters and presented them to Hollywood power brokers in their Hollywood Hills living rooms. As much as any other factor, Z is responsible for the development of independent cinema in the USA. I know, I know, the Sundance festival is where it broke out. However, the Z Channel took the Raging Bulls of New York and Hollywood, mixed them with the best of world cinema, and presented them all in a single place where all the people responsible for making movies could watch them. Often times before or during their theatrical run! The imaginations ignited.
Nowadays, you have the segregation of radio and movies into distinct market niches (HBO = top 40; Black Starz = R&B; IFC = Alt rock; etc.) Z Channel broke the mold because the rules weren't in place. The credit for this diversity hangs on a cinephile programmer named Jerry Harvey.
And therein lies the tragedy. Much like an artist who borders on madness, Mr. Harvey's demons were almost always with him. The only escape he seemed to find was in a screening room and obsessively chasing down obscure, forgotten, interesting films. He must have been quite a character. Even the people who felt his wrath stand up for him in this film and accept his cruelness for what it was; a mental illness.
That is a long way to get around to an opinion but here goes:
The interviews are great. The film clips are terrific. The story is worth telling to a wider audience. (Though, as much as I would like to believe there is a theatrical market for this film, its subject may be too narrow.)
However, the film is not completely successful merging the parallel stories presented. The first story is the rise and eventual collapse of Z Channel itself. The second is the life of Mr. Harvey and his eventual crimes. The documentary drops hints that the fall of Z Channel parallels the demise of Mr. Harvey. The financial machinations that went on in the boardroom (five owners in ten years) probably had more to do with it than is presented. I suppose it is too much to ask that back room financing be presented as an interesting story arc but there you are.
Overall, the documentary works. The story presented is not one where all the pieces fall into place like a script. Instead it is a Hollywood tragedy played played out with all the blemishes. If it comes your way, do yourself a favor and see what we have lost.
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