Director Xan (daughter of actor John) Cassavetes' Z Channel - A Magnificent Obsession harkens back to a time when a single pay cable TV outlet could offer more quality and variety than all the HBOs and Showtimes of the world combined. Beginning in 1974, Los Angeles' Z Channel, driven by chief programmer Jerry Harvey, presented an astonishingly eclectic array of fare to its subscribers, from mega-hits like Star Wars to obscure classics by directors like Kurosawa, Fellini, Antonioni, Peckinpah, and others. In championing movies like Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, and Oliver Stone's Salvador, especially the uncut versions, Harvey earned the respect of countless filmmakers, a good many of whom (like Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Alexander Payne, and Robert Altman) are on hand to sing his praises. There are also lots of clips, as well as recollections about the making of those films; in fact, Z Channel - A Magnificent Obsession is more about movies than it is about Harvey and his channel. That's good, because despite his lurid denouement (he killed his wife, then himself, in 1988), Harvey was not an especially interesting man, but rather a single-minded film freak, a guy who used movie dialogue for his own wedding vows. Cassavetes' film is likely to appeal mostly to those who share his passion, if not his mental problems; if nothing else, it will certainly pique your interest in some of the wonderful movies celebrated here. --Sam Graham
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