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the Z-CHANNEL…

art and life…

the original home cinema in Los Angeles…

by FX FEENEY

There was never before a phenomenon quite like the Z Channel. There hasn’t been one since. Yet at its height, under the guidance of one particularly brilliant but tragic man, Z made a radical and abiding difference in the way we see movies.

1. LIFE LOOKS LIKE FUN

Grab my hand and jump back in time with me to a day in late October 1986. It’s a warm Saturday afternoon. I’m sitting in a sunlit kitchen, laughing and chatting with my friends Deri and Jerry. They’ve been married six months. I’ve got a clear plastic cube about the size of a human skull in my hand, and I’m marveling happily at baby pictures of the two of them, mounted all around its translucent sides. Deri was already tall and beautiful by age six—her elegant posture, her merry, curious way of eyeing a person, and above all, her life-marking sweetness, were there from the get-go, indelibly present in every high-school and college snapshopt that followed. “I have a crush on Deri,” I tell Jerry lightheartedly. He replies with mock gravity: “I can relate.” Deri laughs—no stranger to people having (or announcing) crushes on her, and no less lightly at home with Jerry’s dry, often subtle, darkness-tinged humor. He makes her laugh a lot. She in turn powerfully and consistently lifts his spirits. In the four-and-a-half years that I’ve known and worked closely with him, I’ve never seen him so much at ease, so comfortable in his own skin. The only evidence that he’s ever been truly happy prior to this moment in his life is actually in my hand—a little snapshot of Jerry at five, identifiably himself (pale sharp eyes, bowed forehead, expressive grin) yet so open, so radiant and all-welcoming that Deri has given the image a side to itself in the Plexiglas cube. I ponder it, tickled, and show Jerry what I’m smiling at.

A year and a half later, Deri would be dead—shot from behind by Jerry, of all people, at the sink in this very kitchen, of all places, in a blind rage that apparently followed a late-Saturday-afternoon quarrel. Jerry then climbed into bed fully clothed, boots and all, drew up the covers, and turned the pistol on himself. This ghastly double tragedy scarred hundreds of souls, mine included—and for many years, the shame of Deri Rudolph’s murder understandably obliterated what had been, up until its final hour, the noble achievement of Jerry Harvey’s public life. He had, by his sheer passion for movies, led a revolution in how they are perceived and received by the mass public.

Filmmaker Xan Cassavetes went a long way toward redressing this imbalance with her 2004 documentary, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, which I co-produced and appear in, as one of several dozen witnesses to the Z legacy, and Jerry’s life. Inescapably, that film swims deep into the mystery of the murder-suicide, a befogged, arctic darkness in which no echo sounds. Jerry’s killing himself makes perfect sense—it was a tragic but sane, even honorable, response to a desperate and shameful act. Deri’s murder makes no sense, this side of madness. What I hold to, now, when I think back to the Z days, is the life of what we did there. And that happy autumn of 1986 is right where my mind flies—the bright, abundant bull’s-eye of our adventure. Not only were Jerry and Deri utterly unclouded by any tragedies ahead, but he was at the height of his powers and freedom as the programming chief of a local (strictly Los Angeles–based) TV service that had become legendary under his leadership.

the article continues with a gallery of Z Magazine covers that will take you back to where you were when…

(FRESH JIVE  11.1.10)

“Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION” 2004 directed by Xan Cassavetes

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