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Re: Napoleon at RCMH. Mike, All of the presentations of Napoleon at the Hall were 35mm using all five of the Hall’s projectors. Projectors 1-3-5 were used for the triptych, and 2-4 for the rest of the film which was mounted on 4 6,000' reels; two for the first half and two for the second. Boston Light and Sound did supply the interlocking equipment (the Hall was the first time they did Napoleon, although later they travelled around the country and in some places in Europe with it.) I had a choice of three suppliers when we started looking at people who could do interlocking, and had worked with BL&S at Astoria Studios and was impressed with their work. They brought in their own projector motors with 3-D selsyns mounted on them. We swapped out the house motors on the interlock machines, and they had control for all three machines mounted on the motor bracket for the center #3 machine. When the crew took their dinner break after the load-in Larry Shaw and I swapped out the motors, and had three loops of target film running in sync on the three machines by the time the dinner break was over. The first time we did the show it was on the house sheet which limited the image to 70' for the triptych. We actually ran the first half material a little larger than the second half to give the biggest 1.33 image possible. Then we swapped lenses for the regular machines for the second half so that when we hit the triptych the center panel remained the same size. The next time we did the show, BL&S brought in three 30' wide fast fold screens, and put strips of screen material where the frames butted together in the center. This gave us a 90'+ image. The three screens were bolted together and flown on a pipe just upstage of our regular screen with the First Entrance house blacks used as side masking pulled open by the stage crew at the triptych cue. We never did the triptych in 70mm. When Bob Harris came in he brought the first 70mm test reel, and found that the lab had printed three separate panels rather than butting them together, so we never even tried it. We did do the show without the orchestra, but the track was 35mm mag run on dubbers (one of which had to be switched from the #2 machine feed to the #3 shaft encoder for the triptych. I also wired the sound changeover for that machine so that it would changeover to the #2 machine input so we could use two dubbers for both the regular and the triptych footage. I know of no other screening in New York which might have used the 70mm print, but maybe one slipped by me. I did see it projected that way at the Ocean State Theatre in Providence, R. I. (Formerly the Loews). Napoleon is still my favorite projection experience in 25 years at the Hall, even though a bit nerve wracking. You kind of figure if that triptych doesn’t come off after the audience has been waiting for it for almost four hours, they’re going to LYNCH you!
The theatre you’re thinking of TJ was the Cine Lido which occupied the site of the Latin Quarter. It was a porno house along with the Lido East on the East side around the corner from the Baronet/Coronet. I was in it briefly once on business, and while the house was dark for the film, it looked as if they hadn’t changed the decor of the Latin Quarter at all. Loews Cine was the balcony house of the Loews on 86th St. I worked as a relief projectionist in the Cine 42 before they added the second house in the building next door, and it was probably just another office space before the conversion. The theatre was on the top floors. What was probably the floor of the top floor was half cut away to make a balcony, with the booth at the back right under the roof. There was a ladder on the back wall of the booth which opened out onto the roof. It was a long narrow building, so there was only one aisle in the balcony which split the booth area, with the projectors on one side, and on the other side of the aisle a small closet for the xenon rectifiers. Since most of the 42nd Street theatres had three machines, they had shoe horned a third machine into the booth so close to the wall, that there was no viewing port on the operating side of the projector, and the motor and changeover controls were placed next to the #2 machine controls under the viewing port for that projector. I believe they knocked a hole in that wall for a door that led into the next building across a catwalk between the buildings for the access to the booth for the second theatre when they added it. I never stopped to look at the “orchestra” level one floor down other than from the front of the “balcony”. It was one of those theatres where the ports had to be sealed with tape to keep the pot fumes out of the booth, but even at 10 A.M. there were people there waiting for their kung-fu fix.
The Music Hall had two screening rooms: Preview A and Preview B. Preview A was large enough that they could do staff screenings for the Rockettes and stage crew on the supper break (when “Gone With the Wind” opened they screened one half each night for two nights, since it was too long for the staff to catch on a dinner break). Screening new features each night for the staff may not have been entirely altruistic on the part of management — it kept the crew out of bars during the long break! The smaller room was the RKO screening room when the company occupied the office building built over the lobby. There was a common lobby area outside the two rooms with steps leading down to a set of doors on the Music Hall roof which opened out on a short walk which led to doors into the RKO
building, so RKO staff could cross over into the Hall for screenings without having to go down to street level. It probably was in one of those two screening rooms that “Citizen Kane” was first screened in New York. Robert Wise, who was the editor, recalls hand carrying the film to the Hall for a screening for select press members. Both rooms eventually became Cine-Mix an early film re-recording and mixing facility, and then became idle when Cine-Mix got too big for the space. I frequently screened shorts for Charles Hacker, the Hall’s Chief Operating Officer and Frederic Kellers in Previw B, as well as worked on film effects for the stage shows in that room. We were able to keep copies of a number of shorts that the Hall played, and if it was a quiet day, Fred would ask if we could go up and screen something. When I left, the rooms were being used as offices, but the booths were still there used for storage (they are nitrate capable booths and therefore built like bunkers). One of the projectors with a lamphouse used in the Rear Projection booth backstage is now on display at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.
“White Christmas” was the only film to run in horizontal VistaVision at the Hall. Century did produce a VistaVision projector with an optical soundhead in the usual position, althouth the feed reel was under the soundhead. I had the oportunity to run a Century VistaVision projector (without the soundhead) to do effect dailies on “Men In Black”,“Jungle 2 Jungle” and “Michael”. It was an interesting experience, since a misframe looks like a split screen, and framing is left to right rather than up and down. The Hall had 35mm mag capabilities from the start of CinemaScope, although weak on the surround channel. There were actually two complete mag systems installed as well as two optical systems with a switch that literally switched between optical system #1 and #2 and mag system #1 and #2. The Hall was always big on back-up. I have a picture of Ben Olevsky in his office with a wall of RCA sound racks installed behind him. All four projectors had mag penthouses installed. When the fifth projector was installed (where one of the VistaVision projectors had been placed), it didn’t have mag capability, but we still had the three 35/70mm machines and retained the 35mm penthouse on the #1 projector. In the VistaVision section of the American Widescreen Museum site, I think there’s a picture of one of the VistaVision projectors at the Hall, and you can just see the gel changer on one of the high-intensity effects spots next to it.
Frederic Kellers, who was Vice President of House Operations for the Hall, and involved with the film selection, told me that the most complaints they ever received about a film were about “Charade” particularly as a Christmas show. He said the most mentioned scene was where James Coburn takes out a pin and stabs the corpse of Hepburn’s husband while it is lying in state in the church.
According to Ben Olevsky, the Hall ran the pre-Christmas run of “White Christmas” in horizontal VistaVision with the track run interlocked on one of the four projectors in the booth. (The VistaVision projectors were put on either side of the booth in the slide projector/effect spots openings. This created a sound problem, since those rooms also contained follow spots, and there was no glass in the ports. They put Duveteen over the openings which was used to cut down the noise. According to Ben, you could hear the machines running as you came up to the booth on the Executive elevator when it reached the First Mezzanine! He didn’t mention the sound being Perspecta, although I had Perspecta schematics in my filing cabinet, and some perspecta test reels. It probably was used for MGM releases at the time rather than “White Christmas”. Since the VistaVision heads were put together in very little time, the intermittents which were running at double speed (180'/minute)took a beating, and Ben said Larry Davee from Century was in almost every day with a replacement. The machines were removed at the end of the “White Christmas” run. According to Theo Gluck of Disney in a paper he wrote on wide screen processes there is some evidence to suggest that horizontal VistaVision prints (including some Hitchcock pictures) were run in London after we had stopped using the machines here in the States for theatrical exhibition.
The Ziegfeld ran “A Star Is Born” in 70mm with 6 Dolby A encoded magnetic tracks. I was working there as a relief projectionist at the time.
Dolby used Radio City as a test site for their single channel Dolby A decoder and equalizer in 1974. Our Christmas film that year was “The Little Prince” which was three track mag, Dolby A encoded, using three of the mono units. Later we borrowed three more so that we would have the E.Q. section available when we ran 70mm, even though the tracks weren’t encoded. Our first stereo/optical film was “Mr. Billion” which Fox may have done as a warm-up to “Star Wars” in 1977 — it did precede the “Star Wars” opening at the Astor Plaza. The Ziegfeld also had 6 track Dolby equipment installed for “Close Encounters” and “Apocalypse Now” in 1977. Ioan Allen of Dolby says there were some split surround 70mm prints of “Superman” made in 70mm but none were played that way in cinemas, probably making “Apocalypse” the first wide release in 70mm with the reconfigured 6 track layout with split surrounds and only three channels behind the screen.
I was Head Projectionist at Radio City in 1989 when we did the 50th Anniversary screenings of GWTW. The two prints we had were full 1.37 aspect ratio prints, one of which had been pulled two points lighter (as was common) for Radio City projection. Unfortunately, that print had an optical stereo track, and everyone from MOMA and the West Coast felt the mono track simply sounded better than the stereo track run in mono, which we decided to do for the sake of authenticity. The color balance was slightly different on that print as it was done for a video transfer, but we put the same reel up from both prints and ran them together with “split” aperture plates, so the pictures could be compared directly side by side. They actually were very close, and of course used the full 1.37 frame without the necessity for deanamorphosis.
A couple of notes: “The Bells of St. Mary’s” was the 1945 Christmas Show, but ran for nine weeks, starting 12/6/45 and ending 2/6/46. The stage show was “The Nativity” and “Heigh Ho!” produced by Leon Leonidoff, for four weeks and just “Heigh Ho!” for the remaining five weeks of the run. While in the twenty-two years of the Hall’s life, 109 out of 348 films were from RKO, “Bells” was the only RKO film played in 1945.
The fire curtain referred to in an earlier e-mail is (or was when I was there) asbestos. It is in two huge sections that completely seal off the 60' x 100' proscenium opening. It was brought in every morning before the first show and evening after the last show by motor in the movie/stage show days. Far more dramatic however, is when it is cut loose in a “fire drop”. Then the curtain comes hurtling at the stage with a roar in free fall until a short distance above the deck when hydraulic pistons hit fluid which slows it to a stop. Nothing is supposed to be placed on the fire curtain line which is marked on the deck with brads. Rumor has it that one person did leave his briefcase on the line just before a test drop and it was crushed! The curtain was tested in free fall mode before every concert load-in, and the test was dramatic enough that everything stopped on stage (for safety reasons)and everyone watched. When we did the 50th Anniversary show, it started with the curtain down, and the 50th Anniversary logo projected on it from a loop of 35mm film in the booth.
The first tilm to play the Hall was “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” with Barbara Stanwyck, directed by Frank Capra. When I worked at the Hall I had friends in the Publicity Department who gave me the “official” mimeographed (in those days) list of all the films that played the Hall, their play dates and a brief description of the stage show that accompanied the film. It also had a year-end listing of the number of films that came from each studio. I updated the list with the films that played after the policy change in 1979, until I left in 2000. I have the list somewhere at home. When I get a chance I’ll see what it has to say about “Bells”.
I feel I must add a comment, since I was Head Projectionist at the Hall during the last days of the movie/stage show policy, and through the mentioned W.B. and Universal Film Festivals. Perhaps from the start, Radio City was too big for movies even in the 40’s. Roxy intended the Hall to do big stage presentations, and the New Roxy/Center theatre with little more than half the seats to do what the Hall eventually did. I once had a Vice President at the Hall from the “good old days” tell me that perhaps they should have converted the Hall into office space and saved the Center, as it was even then better sized for film presentations. I can remember days in the time before we changed policy in 1979 when no one would give us a film. I was told the only reason we got “Caravans” for our last Christmas Show in the old policy was through the kindess of Universal Pictures which picked up distribution so we would have a picture.
Now the situation is even more difficult with audiences used to every picture opening at the same time at a multiplex near them, and hundereds of channels of TV and DVDs in competiton for their attention.
Film at the Hall only works when it becomes an “event”. When that happens the results are amazing! “Lion King” with a Disney produced stage show opened in just two theatres, the Hall and the El Capitan, and made it into the week’s top ten earners at the box office tied with “Beverly Hills Cop III” on over a thousand screens. “Napoleon” with an orchestra and the triptych run on three screens, made it into the top ten the week it opened with just four screenings at the Hall. “The Magic of Lassie” had lines around the block, but it also had a stage show which featured the “real” Lassie. On the other hand, Universal gave us “Smokey and the Bandit” and (predictably) it did poorly — its just not a Manhattan kind of film. What hurt us was that distributors could say, “You had the #2 grossing film in the country that year and it died!"
I’m not absolutely sure, but to my recollection neither the W.B. nor Universal Festivals sold the house out. I don’t remember seeing many if any people in the third mezzanine under the booth, and I’m not sure the 2nd Mezzanine was open either. (By the way, the W.B. prints were what were generally available, thus explaining the slightly beat up "Casablanca”. “The Exorcist” and “My Fair Lady” both in 70mm came from an outside W.B. source and were really beat up. The Universal prints were new, and after we ran them became archival prints and aren’t available for other screenings.) Jim Rankin’s comments above are right on. Audiences have changed both with the times and the technology.
Digital projection solves a number of problems, especially during the Christmas run where all of the five booth film projectors may be in use in that show. The film projectors are pointed at different areas of the stage depending what “screen” or set piece they are projecting on. Those pieces are struck at the end of the show. When a premiere takes place the house picture sheet comes in electrically, so there is no fly floor crew present to bring in the set pieces to re-set the projectors. I had worked out a way to get the machines back to their positions without having to bring the pieces in, but understandably, and especially with the 3-D sequence, its better not to change the booth projector set up.
The new digital projectors also have the advantage of being much more efficient in terms of light output, since you’re not projecting through film, but reflecting from a mirror surface which doesn’t buckle or deform from the heat of the lamp. The advantage of the use of two (and these weren’t the full sized units which mount on a standard projector base), is that not only do you double the light, but you also have 100% back-up, albeit at half brightness if one fails. (The legend when I was a kid was that the Hall always ran two film prints interlocked for brightness and back-up. I did a couple of premieres that way, but you can’t superimpose the imgages because of the difference in projector angle. With digital projectors you can electronically correct keystone, and actually make the legend true.) In addition, since they have a relatively small footprint, the projectors may be located at an almost zero degree angle in the First Mezzanine.
Radio City has been doing video projection for years, even before I started there in 1974, and by the time I left we were doing far more video projection in our concerts and stage presentations than we were film projection. Digital feature presentation is a logical extension of that trend, and it is rapidly getting better.
I’ll have to check with Brad Hohle of Dolby when he gets back from the Coast as to which recent premieres have been run from a platter. Brad who was on the MH crew when I was there was also instrumental in designing the “Lion King” motion-picture sound system, which put a full set of surround speakers in the Hall for the first time. He usually is the Dolby rep for premieres. I do know that the last few have been digital rather than on film. The HBO premiere of “The Sopranos” was presented digitally for obvious reasons. This Christmas the “Christmas With the Kranks” premiere was done with two Texas Instrument DLP projectors superimposed from the First Mezzanine. I think the program source was a server and not D-5 tape(which is also used for premiere presentations). The two projectors put out about the same light as the 70mm machines in the booth, and ran on the same 65' wide “Scope” ratio screen as the 35mm image. That would have been an advantage for the booth crew, since the booth set-up for the Christmas Show would not have to be disturbed. (When we did the “101 Dalmations” premiere for Disney, we again locked a 70mm machine with platter to a 35mm machine with plaatter for Dolby Digital sound. The other two 70mm machines were run “reel-to-reel” as back-up as was the case for the premiere of “Lion King”. Everything had to then be put back and the projectors repositioned for the next morning’s Christmas Show). Radio City doesn’t have a platter in the booth, but brings them in as needed, although I think you’ll be seeing more and more premieres done digitally.
The opening effect is intended as a prologue, and one of the reasons they decided to go ahead with a 3-D effect is that it is short. There are still problems when using the gain screen necessary for 3-D at Radio City. The downward angle is about 19 degrees, and the auditorium is a block wide. Thus there are still some places where the light and polarization may not be optimum even with a 70' wide screen. It was gutsy of them to go ahead (and yes — deal with all those 3-D glasses). Vito, in answer to your question — I started as Head Projectionist at Radio City in January of 1974 and left in 2000. Long enough to get a 25 year gold ring from Madison Square Garden.
It was planned to run “Kiss Me Kate” at the Hall in 3-D, and in fact, it was announced that it would run without the intermission as the Hall had four projectors. Ben Olevsky, who was Head Projectionist at the time, told me that everythng was set up, and they did indeed run a test run in 3-D, where it was discovered that they would lose about 2,000 seats because of the light drop off from the gain screen in the corners of the auditorium. At that point the Hall was still filling its seats, and it was felt that the economic loss would be too great. Theatres in the rest of the country took the attitiude, “Well if Radio City won’t bother with 3-D why should we?” I always thought that the Radio City rejection might have been the turning point that killed 3-D. Ironically, the current Christmas show at Radio City starts with a 3-D segment, projected on two projectors with 7,000 watt lamps,and from 70mm film running at 30 frames per second. Its a short segment, but everyone I’ve talked to who has seen it says its very impressive.
In answer to veyoung’s question — Yes Robert Endres is still with us — or at least I was when I looked into the mirror this morning (although I still haven’t been booed by 500 drunk army guys on a Friday night)! The room OConnolly is referring to is probably one of the two broadcast booths on either side of the auditorium. Since Roxy was supposed to do a radio show from the broadcast studio over the auditorium, there were extensive broadcast options built into the Hall including tie lines to NBC’s studios across the street. One of the booths in the auditorium became the tape playback room when the Hall changed fomats in 1979.