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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
All I Ever Wanted to Do Was Work For the Z Channel
What anyone looking at this documentary needs to know first is .... although the "Z" channel was a Los Angeles based subscription service, almost everything you see now on premium cable and on DVD benefited from this channel's existence.
I came to Los Angeles actually in the late middle to the end of Z's reign. Who knew at that time how important a little channel like this would be and what an impact it would make on the film industry actors, actresses, directors, producers careers?!?! I had no idea it began in the 70's. I had no idea how many films got Academy Award notice because of the showings...but most importantly, I never knew exactly what kind of a person Jerry Harvey was....except I thought he was brilliant.
This film was made by the daughter of a man who's films were shown on this channel - and honestly if I never saw "Z", I NEVER would have known John Cassevettes was one heck of a director as well as actor. That's the beauty of this documentary. That's what Zan wants everyone to understand and she does get that across.
But, as a subscriber of "Z" and not in the "inner workings" of "Z", I have quite the romanticism toward the channel, I've written many reviews on IMDb for foreign films I saw on "Z" and never anywhere else...and in many cases have never seen these films again. I can't even REMEMBER who did what film or the name of them and I wish I could...and I wish there was a running listing in this documentary so folks could see just how influential this channel was. You see, when I arrived in Los Angeles there were only a few cable networks: "ON", "Select" "HBO" "Showtime" and "Z". I HAD to have "Z". I was a "Z" junkie.
Although this documentary seemed heavy on the life of troubled programmer Jerry Harvey, I watched it to see the impact of "Z" on many directors, films, edit and film releases to the masses. This was the beginning of what we have today on DVD's "Directors Cuts" and "Extra Footage Not Seen in Theaters" and "Interview/Extras". Yes, it was Jerry Harvey who started the ball rolling with HIS love and support for film, non cut, non edited,RAW...on the "Z" Channel.
You could not help but fall in love with "Z". I've admitted may times in many reviews, "I matured to life watching the Z Channel". Nowadays, its different. But back in the 80's...before "Brokeback Mountain"...there were SEVERAL films made that would make "Brokeback Mountain" look like Sesame Street. I know, I own a few - and these films were made for a heterosexual audience.
The star actors and actresses and directors to me of the "Z" Channel were Sonja Braga, Rutger Hauer, Renée Soutendijk....Director Pedro Almodovar who introduced a little known actor that oozed screen charisma named Antonio Banderas - too many to name here....too many memories of films that shocked me, made me laugh, made me cry - that were NOT widely released in America if not released at all.
Yes, I saw the 99 hour version of "Heaven's Gate" (it really wasn't 99 hours, but the way the studio slammed it made it seem like it was!) and thought "Ya know, it ain't that bad." I watched through the 5 hour version of "Fanny and Alexander" and understood Bergman. The Tin Drum, Beau Pere, Asparagas, Mondo Trasho ...you name it, they were shown. Versions from R to what is now known as NC-17 and even...X (not porno, but very adult situations.) The programming was genius and yes, that was due to Jerry Harvey and his team. The schedule changed weekly, so you had several chances during that week to see what was programmed. You had "Night Owl Theater" which was very popular for obvious reasons and themes/director showcases. I loved the Director's Showcase which connected Directors from films early in their careers to the most recent. This is where I loved Paul Verhooven Pre Robo Cop. You learned what kind of risks these male AND female producers and directors took.
And the documentary talks about the "Z" magazine. Maybe today folks don't see a big deal about a movie magazine because there are so many of them. But The "Z" Channel magazine that came with your subscription was THE history lesson that went with the film. The Magazine and the Channel were one. A unique thing at the time. As was the interviews with with Chaplain. I have one with him speaking to Tom Hanks and the film "Nothing in Common". I even liked those little breaks.
The documentary misses much...(like the surprise New Years Eve Midnight Movie, etc.) but again, I am more inclined to write and think about the brilliance of the channel and not about the demons of the programmer and the hell the staff went through. Zan's documentary put as much as she could in the little time she had and bless her for it. If I knew, I would have done everything to support the effort. "Z"'s place in history is in its programming while the "juicy" story was in its Programmer.
The ironic thing? Yes, Jerry Harvey would have shown this documentary on the "Z" Channel.
I was a long time subscriber, and the documentary did enlighten me about the man and staff behind a channel I'll never forget. This channel will have many perspectives told, this is one of them, and one that gives you quite an overview.
I am hoping that the next "Z" perspective told ...is told through the eyes of someone like me who learned to love film from every walk of life, every voice and vision, every language, every political side, Women in Film, African Americans in film, Hispanics in Film, Asians in Film...every country because of "Z"'s existence.
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