Before HBO there was Z Channel. Z was the first television station to play nothing but movies commercial free. Since Z Channel was only an LA thing, I never got to see it but after watching this documentary, it seemed pretty damn cool. They played everything from The Wild Bunch to art films from Empire Strikes Back to European sex flicks. That shit would be right up my alley.
One of the reasons Z Channel had such an eclectic line-up was because of its programmer, Jerry Harvey. He wrote a couple of movies but never really made it as a filmmaker. That was OK though because his vast knowledge of movies made him an ideal programmer for the channel. Harvey was a true innovator. He was the first guy to show director’s cuts of films. Before Special Edition DVD’s, the only place you could see a director’s cut was on the Z Channel. Harvey even had enough clout to show Salvador on Z Channel during Oscar season, which resulted in James Woods getting a nomination.
Harvey had a messed up personal life though. He came from a terrible family situation and drank a lot. When Z Channel got bought out and started broadcasting baseball games to make money, he fell into a great depression and shot and murdered his wife before turning the gun on himself.
The scenes chronicling Harvey’s descent aren’t nearly as involving as the parts about Z Channel itself. The details of Harvey’s personal life seemed like outtakes from City Confidential of something. I didn’t mind them too much because this documentary showed a lot of tantalizing clips of movies I always wanted to see but never got around to checking out. Films like Once Upon a Time in America, Bad Timing, and Heaven’s Gate (which is praised here despite its horrendous reputation) looked pretty tight from what they showed here. I’ll have to Netflix them at some point.
The requisite celebrity talking heads are fun to listen to. They consist of mainly directors like Robert Altman whose films gained a second life from airing on Z Channel. Younger filmmakers like Alexander Payne are also seen talking about Z Channel’s influence. And of course Quentin Tarantino has to show up babbling on about some damn film you’ve never heard of.