Sunday, August 14, 2005

Short Cuts: Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)

This is an IFC documentary focusing on the turbulent life of indie-cable television programmer Jerry Harvey, who made his name as one of the most passionate and knowledgeble champions of the hard-to-find, must-see films of the classic era as well as the contemporary. Harvey worked out of L.A. in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when the big cable channels (e.g. HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, ON, etc.) were unaware that the market place (i.e. US!) was interested or would support a channel that showcased the finest in film, be it arthouse fare like the latest Visconti or Kurosawa or genre delights like Peckinpah or Argento. Eventually, HBO and their ilk figured out that people were interested, so the fat cats moved in and tried to extinguish Harvey from the market place. Z Channel also explores the rather dark side of Harvey's personality (he was prone to severe bouts of depression and suffered from alcoholism) and most certainly doesn't shy away from the last chapter of Harvey's life (it all ends in murder/suicide). But don't get me wrong, Z Channel is not a ghoulish look at this troubled man's life. It's a celebration of film, obsession, and the way the moving image has a way of transforming us into something that exists only within the flicker of shadow and light. And it's achingly inspiring. A magnificent documentary indeed. If for no other reason, the Cinematic God will bestow great gifts upon Mr. Harvey's soul for championing Michael Cimino's much-reviled flop Heaven's Gate (one of the great political Westerns ever made!) when no other critic had the balls to do so. Amen.

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