Z Channel: a Magnificent Obsession
Directed by Xan Cassavetes, 2005
The “Z Channel: a Magnificent Obsession” is a fascinating documentary that explores the rise and tragic fall of Jerry Harvey, the maverick chief programmer of the Z Channel.
What was the Z Channel you ask? Before Blockbuster or HBO there was Z Channel. If you lived in the Los Angeles area in the 1980’s, you literally had a film festival on your TV every night. You could watch domestic films, foreign films and obscure movies you would have otherwise not been exposed to. Z Channel creator Jerry Harvey also introduced innovative programming ideas such as screening letterboxed versions and director’s cuts, as well as the “Night Owl Show.” (You’ll have to watch the movie to find out what this is…)
This documentary features several interviews with people that knew Harvey, including ex-wives, filmmakers (Robert Altman, Penelope Spheeris, Paul Verhoeven, and Quentin Tarantino), movie critics, and associates. Also interviewed is UCLA’s English Professor C. L. Batten. Mr. Batten was Jerry Harvey’s teacher while he was at UCLA. I was able to contact him for a brief interview.
What classes did Jerry Harvey take with you?
(Batten) He took two classes with me. Literary criticism and Eighteenth Century English.
In the movie you stated,” I think this student is probably smarter than I am.” Could you elaborate on this statement?
(Batten) I’ve only seen the movie once. I don’t like to watch myself or to hear my own voice. I don’t even like to hear my voice on the answering machine. What I wanted to say about Jerry was that he was a very bright man with a great mental agility. I hope I taught him to be more intellectual. He was extraordinary.
Did you ever talk about film?
(Batten) Every conversation I had with him was about film. Film was his way of connecting with the world.
Did he ever introduce a film to you that you had never heard of before?
(Batten) While he was programming films at the Beverly Canon (an art theatre in California) he called me up and insisted I come and see Marcel Carne’s “Les Enfants Du Paradis” or “The Children of Paradise”. I took my wife to the film and he was right I really enjoyed it.
The Z Channel a Magnificent Obsession is not just for cinephiles. It’s a fascinating look at one man who tried to introduce something new and daring to his audience. For the most part, Harvey succeeded. I think it important to note the Nashville Public Library has several of the films mentioned in “Z CHANNEL A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION” either on video or DVD. Instead of checking out your usual movies, try one of Harvey’s favorite films. You may discover your new favorite film!
- Bad Timing
- Black Orpheus
- Dr. Strangelove Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb
- Heaven’s Gate
- La Notte
- Le Magnifique
- The Passenger
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
- The Red Desert
- Ride the High Country
- Turkish Delight
- The Wild Bunch
- The Leopard