Ziegfeld Theatre

141 W. 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on February 7, 2006 at 9:29 am

I must contradict a previous poster. Having seen THE ABYSS at Radio City Music Hall for a premiere and then a few days later at the Ziegfeld (I am not a sadist, my office was at the Zieg), I assure you the sound at the Ziegfeld was far superior.

Having said that, Loews Lincoln Square is probably better and the only draw back is that most movies today record the music sound track too loud compared to the dialogue. When audiences complain, you lose the dialogue. This is common almost everywhere on blockbusters and is a print problem, not a theatre problem. I dare anyone to sit through EVITA at the recommended sound levels. The audiences would run for the nearest exit.

I saw a notoriously bad digital version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Lincoln Square and that soundtrack was embarrassingly bad so I think the theatres sound better when things are exploding.

Due to the premieres, the Ziegfeld is constantly tested for sound quality. Admittedly, many sound technicians over the years have expressed their displeasure with the acoustics.

By the way, here in the UK we only insert intermissions on Bollywood films. Hollywood intermissions are forbidden unless it is already there on an older film. If you get caught, you could lose the run.

RobertR on February 7, 2006 at 8:34 am

When I was managing theatres we always added an intermission for long films. I never had a complaint. I would screen the movie the night before to find a suitable spot. We then spliced in an intermission snipe. Speaking of sound issues I was in Roosevelt Field one night and the house was pretty full. One whacko complained that the sound was too loud so they lowered itn and it stayed that way, despite many people going out and complaining that you could not hear the film.

BobFurmanek on February 7, 2006 at 6:14 am

Everybody is so amazed that the Ziegfeld is using its curtain. After attending all the classic films at the Lafayette Theater in Suffern New York over these past several years, I’ve gotten used to seeing movies presented with curtains, pre-show organ music, and all the other bells and whistles which constitute good showmanship. I guess the Lafayette has gotten me spoiled for a true movie palace experience.

And the Lafayette doesn’t run commercials, unless it’s a vintage trailer for one of their upcoming classics. Friends, f you think the Ziegfeld is doing a good job, you don’t know what you’re missing!

William on February 6, 2006 at 11:37 am

EdSolero asked about placement of intermissions in Foreign markets. There is one major problem with the placement, it is sometimes limited to equipment and it become a judgment call of the projectionist as to where to make place it. Not every theatre in the world runs on platters type systems. Some theatres run using whats called towers, which are around 12,000 foot reels on one projector. In running Towers (12,000 reels) they are limited to around 130-140 minutes of film. So they have to split the film on to two reels for longer releases. With some of the longer newer releases that do not have built-in intermissions by the film maker the projectionist has to make the decision of on the placement of the intermission slug.

Movieguy718 on February 6, 2006 at 10:26 am

They ALL have mice. Do you remember the PLAZA on 58 St? It was CRAWLING with roaches.

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 10:22 am

The Union Square UA multiplex has mice. I saw one there myself.

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 10:08 am

This is of course, the truth about moviegoing in general, now. The presentations at nearly every theater are simply not what they were, even 10 years ago, let alone in the late 60s. Movie theaters can’t afford big staffs, or upgraded equipment.

Movies in the theater, I think, are doomed to be a niche part of the movie grosses — not dissimilar to the “hardback” edition of newly published books. Most people will wait for the paperback.

It’s true that Chinatown isn’t exactly a movie that needs to be seen at the Ziegfeld. The best experience I ever had at the Ziegfeld was seeing A Star is Born, in 1976, there. Both movies are now available for home viewing, and in 1080i high-definition. I suspect once high-definition broadcasts are the norm, a movie like Chinatown will never be seen in the movie theater again.

Movieguy718 on February 6, 2006 at 9:34 am

Here’s the HUGE problem with the LOEWS @ Lincoln Square: If just ONE person complains that the movie is too loud, down the volume goes. And down it stays. In fact, most of the time, the volume is kept low anyway so that they don’t have to deal with complaints. This applies to ALL the auditoriums there. Talk about inaudible. This WAS a great thaeter when it opened, but sadly it no longer is. My very last visit was for WALK THE LINE (my friend lives across the street and didn’t want to travel.) In addition to the volume being too low, the sound was muffled and distorted. It didn’t concern the nearly soldout house or the management. We got refunds. Eventually saw the movie at the Union Square where it was loud and crystal clear (as it usually is there.) As for the ZIEGFELD, they have really done a tremendous job over the past couple years. As for CHINATOWN, you can’t hold an old optical mono track to the same standard as a new release or a freshly struck print. Yeah, they probably coulda cranked up the volume but those old worn out optical mono tracks tend to sound harsh and shrill at high volumes. The Ziegfeld DID indeed have sound and projection problems for a while. From Jurrasic Park until up to and including Moulin Rouge no matter how loud they made it, dialogue was mostly unintelligible. Including the VERTIGO rerelease after their renovation – it was BARELY audible. Also, many times, they couldn’t even manage to get the picture on the screen properly. Now however, it’s in the top 3 moviegoing experiences in the city. In a good way ;–)

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 9:10 am

Vertigo, is an example of a movie with a very “dry” soundtrack, very little reverb built into the soundtrack. The recent restoration of the movie had re-recorded foleys (sound effects) to take advantage of the recovered stereo recordings of the music.

When I saw the movie at the Ziegfeld, I was surprised at how bad I thought the presentation was. The movie was shown in 70mm, with beautiful stereo surround music. But the picture wasn’t bright enough (the theater is too deep), and the dialogue was echo-y, reverberant, and wet, and because of that, it was hard to understand. This is a movie I know very well, and I was disappointed seeing it in all its glory at the Ziegfeld. I went again to it at another theater in town, and the experience was much better — the movie looked and sounded great. The problem wasn’t the movie, it was the Ziegfeld theater itself.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 6, 2006 at 9:06 am

I always thought “The Godfather Part II” was planned with an intermission in mind, but they changed their minds about it before release. There’s a long fadeout and a great Nino Rota musical crescendo right after the Little Italy stoop scene (“Michael, your father loves you very much”) which follows the killing of Don Fanucci. When I saw the film in 1975 I was all set to get up and use the men’s room at this point, a bathroom break I needed badly. Then, a few seconds later, we faded back in to Al Pacino as Michael coming home to his snowy Lake Tahoe house, and I stuck it out for another hour or so. A movie like that is too good to walk out on, unless it’s the most serious emergency. But that’s one more reason why intermissions are a good thing.

When I saw “Schindler’s List” in Italy in 1994 it had an intermission after the ghetto purge sequence, with a title card in the same font as the film’s credits saying “Intervallo”. There was no intermission for the film’s US release, though. It ran about 3 hours 20 minutes, same as “Godfather II”.

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 8:54 am

As I’ve said, it isn’t the sound system — it’s the house that’s the problem. The shape of the theater itself. There’s a lot of natural echo, which is great for music, and very bad for speaking. Our modern movies have very complex soundscapes, but to take advantage of them properly, you’d have to have a very dry room.

The Loewe’s is simply better suited to movies, in my opinion. I even think it’s nicer-looking. But it’s got a problem too — the bathroom is a mile away down a long narrow corridor.

I’ve also seen movies at Radio City Music Hall (the early 70s — saw Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others there) and I think it’s actually a better place to see a movie than the Ziegfeld, even though monstrously huge.

And I went to the Rivoli too, though unfortunately, my recollection of it was that it was practically a ruin.

RobertEndres on February 6, 2006 at 8:48 am

Just a note about sound at the Ziegfeld. It has been one of the best sounding houses in the city, and to this day Dolby techs still check out the sound (and in the case of the last “Star Wars” the picture since it was played on a Dolby cinema server) regularly. “Chinatown” was issued before Dolby tracks became common. It is mono, unencoded optical sound that you’re hearing. Not even a Dolby “A” noise reduction system was used. Those tracks are also susceptible to scratching and wear, much the same way as vinyl record tracks were. Try listening again when they do a contemporary print or a digital cinema presentation. I always admired the sound there when I was running 70mm prints, even though I agree with the statement that the house is too long to have a really impressive wide screen image.

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 8:40 am

Haha, that IS a problem with the Loewe’s. I would always try to choose that theater based on the times it presented. If the movie had a 7 PM showing, and an 8 PM showing, I would choose the latter, because that 8:00 timeslot seemed more likely to be in the bigger Loewes. I know, it’s a crazy system of guessing, but it worked quite a few times.

HowardBHaas on February 6, 2006 at 8:24 am

No, I don’t think it is auditorium 1 or at least wasn’t years ago when I gave up. If they want to adopt that as a custom- of always playing in the ornate movie palace auditorium the movie listed at # 1, then, yes, that would help.

VincentParisi on February 6, 2006 at 8:20 am

Is that simply room 1? So that if you saw the movie title next to 1 in the listing you would know that was the film playing in that large Lamb imitation auditorium?

HowardBHaas on February 6, 2006 at 8:16 am

I meant to say that I would truly welcome intermission, not to imply everybody else would.

Also, no intermissions in other nations I’ve seen movies in: Canada, England, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Denmark.

HowardBHaas on February 6, 2006 at 8:12 am

No intermission for either first Godfather or Part II at the Ziegfeld.

I saw Braveheart at the Ziegfeld, and Gladiator at the Boyd (main auditorium of what was then Sameric 4) and like every long movie in recent decades, there was no intermission.

Why doesn’t somebody ask the management, and projectionists, at the Ziegfeld if they plan intermissions in those particular films that originally had them? And, write down the request on the white cards they distribute which ask for future film choices?

In the 1990’s, in Portugal, I observed every single film getting an intermission. I loved the practice, and most would truly welcome it for those that last 2 hours or more. It would also increase concession sales.

I’ve been only a couple times to what was built as the “Loews” theater of the Sony Lincoln Square, mentioned above. It seemed a great place to see a film, from the balcony. I wish they would put in newspaper and online just which movie is playing in that ornate auditorium, as we can’t always guess corrrectly.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 6, 2006 at 7:56 am

I agree that the Ziegfeld is too deep to make seating in the raised section at the rear an enjoyable experience for my tastes. Typically, I like to sit about 10-12 rows back and dead center in most theaters. From this vantage point, I think the Ziegfeld makes for an awesome movie going experience. A tip of the cap to the Loews auditorium at the Lincoln Square, as Deester correctly points out – that is a superb place to see a movie.

Are they running an intermission for “The Godfather, Part II” at the Ziegfeld? That film is well over 3 hours and I was curious if they planned on having intermission with some of the longer films – particularly “Ben Hur” which has entr'acte music in its restored version. I’m sure that “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” where presented without intermission during their initial theatrical release, but I wonder if that’s a purely American development. Do intermissions survive in foreign markets? If so, do filmmakers still keep a spot in mind for the break when assembling prints for overseas distribution? I imagine they’d have to insert an “intermission” card wherever the film is projected from a platter. Or is this a completely antiquated concept that now exists only in the memories of aging film enthusiasts like myself?

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 7:42 am

I’ve seen many movies at the Ziegfeld, including some first-run movies in the 70s like A Star is Born, and the Lawrence of Arabia restoration from 1988, and the My Fair Lady restoration from 1994, and many others. I’ve never had a good experience there.

I know why people extol it, though, because they are trying to hold onto the experience of a large audience at a movie palace. As such, the Ziegfeld is close to the last remaining place in NYC to experience such a thing.

So, premieres are exactly what should be showing there.

But for watching the actual movie the way it’s meant to be seen? I think the Loews theater (the biggest one inside the Loews 68th Street multiplex) is the best theater in town to see a widescreen, 70mm, DTS kind of movie, particularly when you sit in the balcony. The sound is superb. The screen itself is bigger than at the Ziegfeld, and the number of seats is actually smaller.

The problem with the Ziegfeld isn’t the sound system — it’s the theater itself, its shape (a horizontal box that’s too deep), and the design makes the bathroom and refreshment areas seem like a mile away from the seats, and they’re too small.

Since there are no other movie palaces, the Ziegfeld must suffice, but overall, it’s a bad choice.

My opinion, of course. And of course, I don’t even go to the movies anymore — now it’s home theater.

HowardBHaas on February 6, 2006 at 7:07 am

Thanks for replying to my Chinatown question. If the sound wasn’t heard as it was originally supposed to be, I’d bet that it isn’t the fault of the Ziegfeld, but that of the print that was shipped there. As I wrote, the sound of first Godfather yesterday was flawless. And, though we didn’t meet, both Bill H. and I agree that the sound for Godfather II was very good. And, I’ve not had any problems with hearing the sound of the many 1st run movies and reissues that I’ve attended there.

Your clarification as to the history of the Ziegfeld is also very worthwhile. There’s a photo in the current theater of the original, dated 1927. It was a masterpiece of design by Joseph Urban, but was torn down. The artifacts are wonderful, but they are just that, artifacts. Nevertheless, many of us have commented on this site on how much we like the existing Ziegfeld. And as vintage movie palaces don’t show movies in Manhattan, the Ziegfeld is a great choice. That said, I’ve never thought there will be a battle to declare the current theater a historic landmark. Like so many others that have fallen recently, it too will fall.

Deester on February 6, 2006 at 6:52 am

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but the Ziegfeld is not a good place to see a movie. Most people don’t realize how bad the sound is in there. There were plenty of things in Chinatown that were barely audible (and I don’t think the movie was mixed that way).

The other odd thing about the Ziegfeld is that everybody thinks it’s some kind of movie palace with a great history, since it houses all those theatrical artifacts in the lobby. It is NOT the original Ziegfeld theater where Show Boat premiered, nor is it built on that site (it’s down the block from the original site).

It is a barn, and not particularly beautifully done — very 60s rococco (SIC), if you ask me.

There is an old movie palace in Manhattan that is worth preserving — the Beacon at 76th street. Also, the old Mark Hellinger theater, now Times Square Church, was built as a movie palace.

William on February 6, 2006 at 5:37 am

The 1973 reissue of “This is Cinerama” was optically converted from the 3-strip original to 70MM. And in many cases for this reissue a special curved screen was installed in front of the regular screen for theatres that did not have a curved screen.

VincentParisi on February 6, 2006 at 5:02 am

Howard see above posts about Cinerama at the Ziegfeld in ‘73.
Also look up Vincent Canby’s '73 article in the Times.
It was a case of why did they bother.

HowardBHaas on February 6, 2006 at 4:28 am

Did anybody catch Chinatown in the last few days, and if so, how was the print and sound?

The wonderful long list of movies above (we’d love one for the Boyd in Philadelphia!) lists in 1973, This is Cinerama, which played before my time in 3 strip Cinerama at the Boyd in its original run. How did it play at the Ziegfeld? 35 MM or 70 MM? Surely not with 3 projectors and a special wide screen? What is the experience of seeing this movie in a theater that isn’t set up for 3 strip Cinerama?

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 6, 2006 at 4:11 am

Howard is right – it felt great to walk in and see the curtain closed, just like the old days.