Thursday, March 24, 2011

The 25: Part 25: The Z Channel

“There but for the grace of God go I.” It was something my Mother taught me to say. And to this day if I see someone destitute, someone hurt, someone sick, that’s usually the first thing that flashes through my mind. If that sounds haughty or snobbish to you that is not how it’s meant. On the contrary, it’s very humble. The key word there is “I” not “there”. The acknowledgement that were circumstances just the slightest bit different I could be exactly where that other person is. If you prefer “There but for the grace of an uncaring void go I.” I won’t stop you. It comes down to just the same. A whole lot of our life comes down to us being extremely, almost unfathomably lucky.

Because as much as I like to bitch about my circumstances, station in life, thwarted ambition and quiet desperation whenever I take two seconds to think beyond my immediate mindset I can’t help but feel extraordinarily lucky. I mean holy shit you guys, I get to write about movies. What’s better a small, but ever growing, number of people actually take the time to read what I have to say about them. In a world filled with darkness, pain and misery, in which people have to fight everyday to survive, I get to write about movies. Who gives a shit if I get to make a living doing it? I get to do it. Given that I half expect to spend my old age in a world that resembles that of The Road Warrior (or when I’m feeling optimistic Children Of Men) I have a feeling that this will grow all the more incredible to me as the years go on. It might not amount to much more then some merry fiddling while Rome burns in the background, but I’m grateful to be able to make my music all the same.

The reason I bring it up, is because those seven little words go a long way to explaining why I feel able to watch the story of Jerry Harvey. And yes, relate to it. This may be a man who ended his life and the life of an innocent in an act of evil. But circumstances are all that keep his story from being my own. I mean gee the story of a alienated loner, raised Catholic, who struggled with depression and other mental issues and fell in love with the movies as both an all consuming passion and a means of escape from a hostile world? Why would I relate to that?

But let’s back up a bit.

Z Channel is the story of Jerry Harvey a programmer and screenwriter, who in the mid eighties took a struggling LA cable station and made it a haven for cinephelia. In the process he rescued the directors cuts of The Wild Bunch, Heaven’s Gate, and 1900, gave independent and unloved movies a home and spread the love of cinema like a virus. Jerry also struggled with addiction, depression, and paranoia before he tragically ended his life in the murder suicide of his wife.

The film is among other things, the loveliest tribute to movies of which I know (One of those other things is the best film to bare the name Cassavetes. Yeah I said it.) All movies; old and new, Hollywood and indie, foreign or domestic, good or bad. It’s the only movie I know of that captures that excitement, the hunger of the first time a budding cinephile realizes just how much stuff is out there. Backed up by beautiful clips narrated by the likes of Jim Jaramusch, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne, Robert Altman and FX Feeney.

Yet no matter how light and enjoyable the movie gets it always circles back around to it’s heart of darkness. Harvey staring out accusingly in stills with haunted brown eyes or hiding behind avatar shades.

I recognized myself in that stare back when I first watched this film. And it was a surprise for me to realize that I no longer do. I no longer nod knowingly during the anecdotes. For better or for worse I’ve lost that tunnel vision. A Magnificent Obsession film still is, but no longer my only one.

No doubt, at least in part, because I saw this film. Few have made me take as many good hard looks in the mirror. And I can’t say I’m sorry to have seen it change. The kid who first watched this movie was without any real friends, a kid who felt entitled and angry, unable to see past his own pain to anyone elses. That was a kid who if he had managed to make movies would have made films that no one wanted to see. Because beneath all of the love they would have been hollow. I feel sorry for that kid. But I can’t say I miss having him around.

Not that it’s like I don’t think and write about film more then 99% of the world’s population. I’m just fully aware, to borrow a phrase from another writer, “That art is the support system of life. Not the other way around.”

I started this cinematic authobiography a year ago in an attempt to retrace my cinematic roots. Now I have and I eagerly await the next step. Because that is in the final analysis the one thing so wonderful about film. A next step is always assured.

(Tomorrow we’ll conclude The 25 with a special coda. Thanks to all who have followed along on this experiment.)


thevoid99 said...

Oh! This is one of my favorite documentaries ever. I just love the whole thing. Plus, it was a film that I saw on IFC (before they decided to put commercials) that I watched religiously. And I ended up watching more movies because of that.

Man, I really should put that in my favorite films of the decade.

le0pard13 said...

I'll definitely have to check this out, Bryce. Thanks for this, and the series.

Bryce Wilson said...

@thevoid99: Yeah I'd love to read your take on it. Every time I find a "Z Channel Movie" I get happy.

Also IFC plays commercials now? WTF?

@ le0pard13: It'd be well worth your time.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up about a great doc! It's up there among my favorites, along with "Dig!", and "You're Gonna Miss Me".


Bryce Wilson said...

Thanks Johnny. Dig is the shit.