Dir:Xan Cassavetes. US. 2004. 120mins
XanCassavetes' slightly uneven labour of love, Z Channel: A MagnificentObsession, is, at two hours, much too long for its own good but isnevertheless compulsively watchable, especially for people who love the movies.As such, while its commercial prospects may be slim, it should be of primeinterest to festival programmers. The film first premiered out of competitionat Cannes.
Knownto this day almost exclusively to residents of the Los Angeles area, the ZChannel was a pay-TV station that broadcast offbeat foreign and American filmsto cinema-hungry local aficionados between 1974 and 1989. The channel wasespecially known for the obsessive cinemania of its chief programmer, JerryHarvey, who murdered his wife and killed himself in 1988. The channel, robbedof its chief inspirer and muddied in its focus through the ill-consideredaddition of sports programming, went off the air soon afterwards.
XanCassavetes, daughter of the legendary maverick director John Cassavetes, grewup watching this ultra-specialised channel whose offerings ran the cinematicgamut from Italian soft-core porno films starring Laura Antonelli to thefull-length director's cut of such classics as Michael Cimino's Heaven'sGate, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and Luchino Visconti's TheLeopard.
Beforethere were such things as Blockbuster and HBO, as one talking head explains,there was the Z Channel for grateful Angelenos, who almost never dropped theirsubscriptions.
Thefilm boasts an impressive line-up of Hollywood luminaries such as RobertAltman, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Verhoeven and James Woods, along with indieauteurs like Henry Jaglom, Jim Jarmusch, Alexander Payne and Alan Rudolph, allof whom expatiate at length, sometimes great length, about the wonders of the ZChannel. James Woods, in fact, attributes his Oscar nomination for best actorto the exposure Oliver Stone's neglected film Salvador got on the channel.
JerryHarvey also had the terrific idea of broadcasting both the massacred version ofSergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America alongside the infinitelybetter director's cut, so that all could see what a terrible aesthetic crimehad been committed.
Thebulk of the interview time is quite properly focused on Harvey's first wife,Vera, and on his closest friends and collaborators, like the Los Angeles-basedfilm critic FX Feeney, as Cassavetes attempts to understand why thepsychologically-fragile Harvey killed his wife.
Intervieweesstruggle palpably - and movingly - with the horror of this act, while stilltrying to respect the man and his legacy to cinema.
Thefilm's greatest interest lies in the exquisite clips from 52 different filmsthat were featured on, or rescued by, the channel. All are presented inpristine visual form and one can only imagine what a nightmare it was forCassavetes to obtain permission to use them. The digital-video format of theinterviews themselves is also impeccable and the only real problem is that thefilm is so unconscionably long.
Differentprogrammes mounted by the channel are ticked off one by one as we proceedlogically and/or chronologically through them and there are, after all, only afinite number of ways of explaining how much Harvey loved movies and we end uphearing all of them, several times over. Audio clips of a surviving radiointerview with Harvey are also disappointingly flaccid.
Prodcos: IndependentFilm Channel, Maja Films, Fresh Produce Films
Prods: RickRoss, Marshall Persinger
Music: Steven Hufsteter