Originally Published: May 9, 2005
Tonight, IFC is premiering the documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession. It’s the story of the first 24-hour, all-movie cable station, that was so popular before the age of the VHS and DVD. It’s also the story of Jerry Harvey, the tortured visionary who ultimately murdered his wife, then turned the pistol on himself. No, it’s not a happy story.
As it seized a role spotlighting art films, movie oddities and overlooked cinematic gems, the Z Channel launched careers and enriched the art of moviemaking. And Harvey was the driving force behind it all. A man who lived and breathed quality cinema, and was like a kid in a candy store, showcasing his favorites, like a ham radio station operator, who broadcast out to the world, from his own.
By the time of the murder-suicide, the tiny Z Channel was living on borrowed time, the victim of business setbacks and competition from by then-start ups HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and the Movie Channel.
But during a few years in the early 1980s, Harvey made film history, which Z Channel meticulously charts with remembrances from Robert Altman, Jacqueline Bisset, James Woods, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Paul Verhoeven, Alan Rudolph and some three dozen other fans and viewers of the station.
The documentary also includes clips from 52 of the films, some of which are familiar and some obscure, that Harvey programmed on his channel. It’s a crash course in cinema, as well as an homage to Harvey and the art form he loved.
Produced by Xan Cassavetes (the daughter of film legend John Cassavetes, who spent her teens as a Z Channel viewer) Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession premieres on the IFC Channel 9 p.m. tonight.
Then IFC will transform itself into the Z Channel next weekend (May 14-15), airing Harvey picks including Oliver Stone’s Salvador, Orson Welles’ F For Fake, Andrzej Zulawski’s The Important Thing is to Love, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, and many more uncut and commercial-free.