Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)

z channel a magnificent obsession poster 2004 movie documentary
7.5 Overall Score

Tons of great movies highlighted

Needs finessing to be a great documentary

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession

Studio:   Fresh Produce Films

Genre(s):   Documentary

Release Date(s):   May 16, 2004 (Cannes Film Festival)

MPAA Rating:   R

z channel a magnificent obsession sam peckinpah jerry harvey documentary

Jerry Harvey with Sam Peckinpah

Launching in 1974, the Z Channel became one of the first pay cable channels.  The channel eventually morphed into a movie channel highlighting directors, art films, and championing original visions portrayed on the screen.  One of the people behind this transformation and the decisions made on the channel was the program director Jerry Harvey.  Harvey (with his team) brought many films to the Z Channel that were never seen anywhere in America and created a world for film lovers…but Harvey had his own demons.

Directed by Xan Cassavetes, Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession is a documentary about the rise and fall of the California based Z Channel which broadcast from 1974 to 1989.  The documentary premiered at Cannes in 2004 and was released to positive reviews.

I grew up without cable so dreams of HBO were just dreams.  At the time, I wouldn’t have appreciated Z Channel and would have much rather stayed with something like HBO or Cinemax.  Watching the Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession, I dream about the Z Channel still being around.

z channel a magnificent obsession robert altman documentary

Robert Altman is another person who benefited from Z Channel

There are a lot of viewing options now.  The difference between something like FilmStruck and the Z Channel is that idea of chance.  You don’t know what you are going to get and you don’t know when you’ll get to see it again.  That is something that current TV watchers (or streamers) forget…you had to wait to see the movies you wanted and a video store might not have them.  The idea of someone so diligently trying to seek out and collect these films for viewers is admirable.

The documentary of course takes a dark turn in that Jerry Harvey really was someone who seemed lost.  The documentary does struggle with the ideas of its three themes at points in trying to decide if it is about Z Channel, Jerry Harvey, or the films…and it is understandable because it is hard to separate the three because they were so bound together.  Like a lot of documentaries, I wish there was a better way to establish more of a timeline of events through the course of the movie.

z channel a magnificent obsession documentary jerry harvey murder-suicide

Jerry Harvey’s demons caught up to him

The documentary features a lot of great performers and great film clips.  Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, James Wood, and Jacqueline Bisset are among some of the people interviewed, but it is the immense outpouring of these people for what Z Channel did for them that shows its importance on modern film.  Harvey’s personal acquaintances provide the most insight to him and what was going on at Z Channel and really help round out the documentary…plus, it becomes a film watcher’s guide for movies that should be sought out.

Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession is an interesting documentary, but it also is a documentary that feels like it needed a little tweaking to become a great documentary.  It is a film for film lovers and a specific kind of film lover.  The movies highlighted appeal to a certain viewer and the true crime aspect of the story probably isn’t intense enough for people interested in the true crime genre.  Still, Z Channel:  A Magnificent Obsession is a worthy documentary that should be sought out.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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