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 ...
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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 any of us who grew up with cable being a basic amenity and movies at our disposal with the dozens of premium movie channels, Blockbusters on every corner and now DVDs on our doorstep with the click of a mouse button, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when movie lovers were limited to seeing edited versions of commercial films on network television, blank VHS tapes cost $20 apiece (true story my Dad used to have to choose the films he taped very wisely) and the only easy way to see a film was when it came to the local movie theater. In 1974, however, the first pay-channel appeared on West Coast cable boxes, with a programming director who had a genuine love of films and filmmakers; this channel was called the Z Channel, and very fittingly, Alexandra Cassevetes (daughter of John and Gena Rowlands) created an incredibly fascinating film documenting its rise and fall.
Jerry Harvey was a college dropout who intensely loved film and film studies, making him the ideal choice for deciding what films would appear on Z Channel. Various former co-workers, critics, directors and actors, mostly independents, offer their fond memories of a channel that had the power to make or break a film or filmmaker. (Cassavetes includes a story about how one of Hollywood's most infamous film debacles, "Heaven's Gate" ended up being ridiculed because of terrible editing; when Z Channel ran the director's cut it was heralded by the public and critics alike.) The vision that Harvey had for the channel and the output it had is envious even by today's standards. They would have Bergman film festivals, uncut versions of films that had only been seen in their edited format, cult and avant garde films; and directors like Alexander Payne (sporting an old Z Channel t-shirt) and Quentin Tarantino share their memories of having tapes of old Z channel broadcasts.
Unfortunately, personal demons and a family history of psychological issues ended Jerry Harvey's life and the life of his wife when he first killed her then killed himself. This was shortly after the eventual demise of the Z channel itself, which first sold out and shared programming with ESPN, and then was dissolved altogether. Despite its unceremonious demise, Z channel is remembered fondly by those that experienced its programming and were involved in its broadcasting, and is looked upon with reverence by anyone who considers themselves, like Jerry Harvey, a life-long student of film. This is an excellent documentary and really is a must-see for film buffs. 8/10 --Shelly
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