Ziegfeld Theatre

141 West 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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try on March 15, 2005 at 4:57 pm

They have been running classic films at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the as long as I can remember in the summers. It is a wonderful experience complete with pre-show entertainment in the form of a real live (!) organ player leading crowd singalongs.

Coca-cola has sponsored this Summer Film Series for years (no ads before the show either). They have shown a mix of mostly (7 or 8) classics (e.g. ‘Laurence of Arabia’, ‘Hitchcock’) with maybe 2 or 3 current releases. I saw ‘Gladiator’ there when it was released and it was impressive to see on the large 50ft screen. While this may not seem special you must understand that beyond the 70s era cinderblock boxes and the new stadiumplexes of the New South, alone stands the Fox Theatre.

Now in NYC, I fear for the future of the Ziegfeld, especially with the Beekman passing, and plan to see every movie I can bear (‘Robots’ is playing currently, ouch) knowing that every bit counts. I suggest everyone take someone who hasn’t been this summer, to help their business, if not for the uninitiated experience if it goes the way of the wrecking ball.

If the Ziegfeld ever goes away, I will soon follow.

YMike on February 4, 2005 at 5:19 am

I saw Raging Bull at the Film Forum several years ago. While not like seeing it at the Ziegfeld it was still better than seeing it on a TV screen. There really are no large screen in NY devoted to classic films unless there is a special reason. In Raging Bull’s case it was to promote an upcomming DVD release.

Benjamin on February 3, 2005 at 7:22 am

Regarding theater curtains: I remember wondering as a VERY YOUNG kid, whether the image that was seen when a movie theater’s curtains opened or closed was an image projected upon a solid curtain or whether it was an image that shone through a thin curtain (like the sun shining through home window curtains). Of course as an older kid I realized that the image was being projected upon an opaque curtain, but when I first went to the movies as a four(?)-year old I wasn’t sure.

As a pre-schooler, theatre curtains were one of the “mysteries of life” — like figuring out whether the light inside the refrigerator was always lit, even when the door was closed, or whether it was built in some way so that it lit up as soon as one started to open the door.

By the way, one scene from “Raging Bull” was shot just about down the block from the current Film Forum (that was, of course, 15[?] years or so before the Film Forum moved to its current location). The scene where Jake Lamotta first spots his future wife was filmed at the Carmine St. pool on W. Houston St. The dressing room vans (with one that was set-up to be a barber shop — to give all the 1970s[?] long-haired guys1940s[?] haircuts) were parked on St. Luke’s place. Antique cars were parked on W. Houston. And, if I remember correctly, the modern-day street lamps on W. Houston were dressed up with placards making them look like old-fashioned street lamps.

RobertR on February 3, 2005 at 5:45 am

The Film Forum has amazing booking but I would never travel there to see something like Raging Bull. But now that it’s at the Ziegfeld that’s another story. I don’t mind seeing “smaller” films at Film Forum but even the restored print of Picnic a few years ago screamed to be shown on a huge Cinemascope screen, I would love to see that at the Ziegfeld or RCMH.

YMike on February 3, 2005 at 5:19 am

Saw Raging Bull last night. They had the pre-film slide show which was out of focus. Then the curtains were closed, opened and the show began. There was a pretty large crowd for the 7 PM show. It was great to see this film on a large screen. The print and sound were terrific. Originally this film was going to be shown at the Film Forum in Jan. but it was pulled at the last minute. I am a regular at the Forum but I am glad they made the switch to the Ziegfeld. What a great place to see one of the finest films of all time.

RichHamel on February 3, 2005 at 4:42 am

The curtain was working when I saw “The Day After Tomorrow” last summer. It was the only good thing about that movie!

Vito on February 3, 2005 at 4:18 am

As a teen I worked at the local movie palace as an usher. One of my jobs was to “pull the curtain”. Just before the 1:00 matinee I would go up the stairs and go backstage, the audience, mostly kids, knew then that the show was about to start and went wild with applause. The projectionist would then buzz me to open the curtain.
Ahh, to once again open that curtain and hear those cheers.

chconnol on February 2, 2005 at 12:05 pm

Let me guess: they show those insipid ads on the white screen at The Ziegfeld? Is nothing sacred anymore?

One of the joys I remember as a kid was sitting in the movie theater and looking at the curtains and getting ready for the movie to start. Nothing was so thrilling (OK…there are and were but I was a kid) as the house lights dimming and the curtains slowly rising.

When I was kids during the 70’s, every single theater I went to, from the first run houses on LI to the very lowest of the 2nd and 3rd run houses had and used curtains.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 2, 2005 at 11:44 am

In recent years I only remember the curtain being used for “Lawrence of Arabia” in 2002, and now “Raging Bull”. It was definitely not used for “The Phantom of the Opera” on New Year’s Eve – it might have made the movie a little better than it was.

chconnol on February 2, 2005 at 11:33 am

Does the Ziegfeld always use the curtain? I saw “Braveheart” here in 1995 and they used the curtain. I loved it! The movie was OK but the theater, and that curtain, ROCKED.

Say what you will about The Ziegfeld but it’s as good as it gets these days, theater wise.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 2, 2005 at 10:28 am

I saw “Raging Bull” at the Ziegfeld last night and the crowd was bigger than I expected, and very much into the movie as well. The presentation was quite good too – only 3 commercials and one trailer, and they opened and closed the curtains. It was also my first time seeing black and white on the Ziegfeld screen. I’m glad I went. Now let’s see if they extend the exclusive engagement beyond the originally announced ten days – I’m sure they’ll do better with this great classic than with the latest Hollywood dud they’ve got booked into the theater next.

Vito on January 22, 2005 at 4:17 am

I think we tend to put the Ziegfeld on a pedastal and worship her because sadly she is all we have left. In the good ole days she would have been just another movie house, and certainly not a movie palace. It sure feels good having Cinema Treasures and all of it’s contributors to remember and perhaps to dream about those golden days gone by.

ErikH on January 21, 2005 at 1:36 pm

The Ziegfeld may not be ideal but it’s one of the few theaters that attempts to recreate the grandeur of the old movie palaces. The only other surviving NYC movie theater (that continues to operate as a movie theater, that is) that even comes close is the Loews auditorium at the Loews Lincoln Square.

And seeing a classic film at the Ziegfeld in 70MM is a great experience (such as “My Fair Lady” in the early 1990s and the hit revival of “Lawrence of Arabia” that played the Ziegfeld for months in 1989).

VincentParisi on January 21, 2005 at 1:10 pm

There is no greater disdainer of the Ziegfeld than myself Benjamin but it is all that is left in Manhattan. The very last!!
And I have to say it was better than the National or the Astor Plaza.
Talk about damning with faint praise. If it goes though I won’t be too sorry. A 50 ft screen? Sheesh.

veyoung52 on January 21, 2005 at 12:47 pm

In light of all the above pro and con about the Ziegfeld, I find the following paragraph from a NYT 12/22/67 article “A Ziegfeld Cinema to Rise on 54th St.” interesting (and funny). It states, “For those who like a touch of elegance with their moviegoing, the theater will require formal attire on Saturday nights.”

Benjamin on January 21, 2005 at 12:42 pm

I noticed that the Ziegfeld was mentioned in yesterday’s (1/20/05) “USA Today” article written by Ross Melnick and Andreas Fuchs, “Ten Great Places to Revel in Cinematic Grandeur.” While, in a sense, I can understand why they included the Ziegfeld in the article (I can see how, in a narrow sense, it meets their criteria), the listing of it in such an article made me think of the concept and the expression, “defining deviance down.”

I believe it was the late New York Senator and former Harvard professor (among other things), Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who coined this phrase. And if I understand it correctly, the idea of the phrase is to point out that a lot of behavior that was once considered bad is now considered “OK” because we have been unconsciously lowering our standards — “defining deviance down.”

So, in connection with the Ziegfeld, it seems to me that this theater is now considered a “great” place for seeing movies only because we have re-defined “cheap,” “tasteless,” and “uninspired” downward — thus enabling the Ziegfeld to now be considered “great.”

I’ve only been to the Ziegfeld a few times, and even the last time was probably many years ago. (I saw “That’s Entertainment” there in the early 1970s, and I went there a time or two after that for movies I can’t remember at the moment.) So my memories of it are probably a bit fuzzy. But when I first saw the theater I was kind of embarrassed at just how “tacky” it was — even as a public space on its own, without even beginning to compare it with the truly beautiful, grand and imaginatively designed movie theaters and movie palaces that used to be the norm.

In a way this is strange for me to say, because I am all for exuberant decoration and the breaking of the “rules” of “good” modern design. But rather than being in “poor” taste (poor taste being the aesthetic preferences of a minority that happens to be out of favor with the taste “establishment”), the Ziegfeld struck me as being a place where nobody really cared about taste, and thus little real thought was given to its design. It seems to me that the owners/“designers” of the Ziegfeld just decided to use left-over materials from a “Gay ‘90s” steak house and to indiscriminately plaster the stuff around the inside of a plain “modern” box. (If I remember correctly, there was also some kind of New Orleans balcony type grill work also stuck up on some of the walls.)

When I noticed that the Ziegfeld began to be used for premieres, I believe I was embarrassed that such a “tacky” theater would be used for such functions in New York City and thus represent to Hollywood the “best” that the city had to offer — when L.A. had (at least in my imagination, don’t know if it actually was used for premieres) the magnificent Graumann’s Chinese!

I realize, especially from reading the posts on this site, that movie theaters are more than just their architecture and design. Just as important — actually, even more so — is the way a theater presents a movie (e.g., the quality of the picture, the quality of the sound, etc.). And I don’t mean to include this aspect in my comments about the Ziegfeld. As far as I can recall, I don’t remember any problems in this regard.

While I realize the title of the piece was “Ten Great Places to Revel in Cinematic Grandeur,” and thus implied theaters of a certain seating capacity (and pomposity), I wish the authors had chosen a slightly different title (say, “Ten Great Places to Revel in a Special Cinematic Experience”) which would have allowed them to include smaller, luxurious (but less pompous) theaters in their article also. In that case, they could have included the endangered “Beekman” theater — a handsome art moderne theater that offers, in my opinion, a truly special single-screen movie going experience in Manhattan.

William on January 20, 2005 at 6:12 pm

MGM Home Video is also releasing on DVD on the same date “New York, New York”, “Boxcar Bertha”.
Remember that “Raging Bull” was voted the Best Movie for the 1980’s. The Special Edition of “Raging Bull” has been available in region 2 for a year now.

stukgh on January 20, 2005 at 3:18 pm

Regarding the coming showing of Raging Bull at the Ziegfield:

It’s lovely to see a classic movie up on the big Ziegfeld single screen, but when one considers this more carefully, it is probably yet another disaster for the theater. Perhpas part of a management plan to demonstrate the need to close the theater for good?

Theatrical re-releases right before a DVD release are just cost-effective marketing tools to sell the DVD. An ad gets printed in the movie sections of newspapers, where DVD buyers are likely to it. Local film critics provide further hype, doing pieces that are usually fed to them by the studios, prominently mentioning the coming DVD. The actual showing of the film is an afterthought — making money on admissions is not what the re-lease is about. The film usually plays for a week at the smallest screen available — because how many people will pay for a single viewing of a film they can own the next week for roughly the same price as a ticket and a popcorn? I’ve wondered whether anyone would notice if the theatrical re-release never really took place.

The recent pre-DVD release of “Donnie Darko” is a case in point. Even though the film has a strong cult following, and even though the re-release was the first chance to see a significantly altered version of the film, it played to nearly empty art-house auditoriums.

I hope I’m wrong — NYC is full of true movie lovers — but I predict that Raging Bull will play to a horribly empty Ziegfeld. What are the true motives behind this?

ErikH on January 20, 2005 at 2:16 pm

FYI. This week’s Village Voice has an ad for a reissue of “Raging Bull” that opens at the Ziegfeld on January 28 for an exclusive run prior to the release of the special edition DVD in early February.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on January 18, 2005 at 4:30 am

SJL: I’d say the first time a Star Wars film played at the Ziegfeld was the Special Edition of “Star Wars” in 1997. You’re right about the Astor Plaza – that was always the big-screen home of Star Wars in New York when the films were new. I think I would’ve tried to see them at the Ziegfeld if any of them had played there as a reissue.

SJLinNYC on January 15, 2005 at 9:03 pm

Does anybody here know if any of the films in the original “Star Wars” trilogy played at the Ziegfeld prior to the 1997 Special Edition releases? I know all three opened at the Loews Astor Plaza (R.I.P.), but have been unable to determine whether they made their way over to 54th Street at some point during their initial or re-releases.

pianoman on January 8, 2005 at 5:28 am

Wait- there are 3 Peters? Peter Pagano, Peter Appruzzese, and me- Peter Huffman?

Vito on January 8, 2005 at 5:12 am

Vincent, that was a shocker, David lean wanted to film Zhivago in 70mm, however MGM said no. The end result, shot in Panavision, did look better than most blowups. But you are so right, Zhivago was so right for 70mm, so was River Kwai for that matter. Kwai did not even get the blow up treatment, in fact the only prints I recall were 35mm optical (mono). Columbia did not even make mag stereo prints available at the time.

VincentParisi on January 7, 2005 at 2:42 pm

Yes the overture was played with the screen stark naked(I averted my gaze to avoid the ugliness.) However they closed the screen for the intermission but I don’t think they did at the end, though I might have left before the restoration credits fully unfurled. Why does it take more people to restore a movie than to make it?

As for Lean what was up with Zhivago? Boy if there was a movie that needed 70mm it was that one. And this was ‘65 when every roadshow was filmed in the process. How could he have possibly filmed it in Panavision and then shown it as a blow up? Though probably I would have been the only one to notice.

Vito on January 7, 2005 at 2:17 pm

Vincent, with respect to “Lawrence”, In the early days of the films release, David Lean insisted that if you did not play it in 70mm you could not show it at all. For my money, “Funny Girl” was better in 35mm four track than the awful washed out 70mm blowup, which I imagine Stradling had to have hated. As for the “Funny Girl” showing at the Ziegfeld, I can only imagine what a unprofessional cookie cutter presentaion that was, I’m guessing the overture was played with a white bare screen? Well…. there ought to be a law. To think I almost went to see it, sure glad I didn’t.