A must-see for cinephiles
19 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The casual viewer may have little interest in this documentary, but for true lovers of cinema, this is a must-see. Back in the 1970s, when cable was in its infancy and home videotape was unknown, movie lover Jerry Harvey contacted his local cable company to complain about the horrible programming. In an odd twist, they hired him to be a programmer! Soon after this, the new Z Channel hired him to be their head programmer. Harvey went from being a complete unknown to becoming a cult-like hero to a small group of California subscribers (where the channel was shown). This is because he was very brave in his choices--often showing art films, unknown films, extended director's cuts (a first) and unappreciated films. It seems that his biggest fans were the film makers themselves, as he helped to give exposure to many films that would have otherwise gone into oblivion.

Seeing and hearing all the accolades for this cable pioneer was really interesting, but as I said this probably would hold little interest to the casual film viewer who could care less about Truffaut, Berman or Antonioni (among others). However, what becomes fascinating for ANY viewer is the man himself. Harvey was a very disturbed man who had a lifetime of demons and personal baggage--so much that he ultimately killed his wife and then himself. The film's examination of why this occurred is interesting, but also very unsatisfying because so little is known about his childhood. His two sisters killed themselves (though there is a tiny doubt about what happened to one of them), his father is dead and his mother is very emotionally constricted. So the film chooses to spend much of its focus on the impact of this murder-suicide on those who knew him. What I appreciated was that although many voiced their sadness at his passing and talked about what a great person he was, some others (particularly in the very end of the film) were understandably angry about what he did and find it wrong to elevate this guy to sainthood--after all, he did murder his wife. As a psychology teacher and ex-psychotherapist, this reaction is by far the most fascinating part of the film.

By the way, although this is a wonderful film, the film maker Ms. Cassavetes chose a lot of clips for the documentary that are NOT family-appropriate. While there's quite a bit of nudity, most of it isn't salacious and is from art films. However, some of the scenes are borderline pornographic and the scene of Rutger Hauer masturbating makes this a film you DON'T show your kids. Too bad the film included one or two of these clips--it might alienate some in the audience and wasn't needed to tell the story.
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