Ziegfeld Theatre

141 West 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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Vito on January 22, 2005 at 12:17 pm

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 9:36 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 9:10 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 8:47 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 8:42 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 21, 2005 at 2:12 am

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 11:18 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 10:16 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 12:30 pm

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 16, 2005 at 5:03 am

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 1:28 pm

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

Vito on January 8, 2005 at 1:12 pm

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 10:42 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 10:17 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.

VincentParisi on January 7, 2005 at 4:29 pm

Vito it’s too bad about Funny Girl. The Stradling cinematography is excellent and the the Callahan production superb. And it had the Criterion(reserved in the summer of 67 while the film was in production)which had the premiere 70mm presentations of two of the greats-Lady and Lawrence.
At the Ziegfeld you had an exposed screen and what seemed like a half an hour of commercials before the overture even started! There was a time when you paid to see a movie and that’s what they showed you.

Vito on January 7, 2005 at 12:40 pm

Don, projectionist no longer have the control over the show we had in my day. It’s all automated, a push of the button and what ever happens is very mechanical now. Curtains have all but disapeared and most of the theatres that still have curtains leave them open for those damm slides.
Vincent, I guess once the studio’s realised they could get away with filming in 35mm and doing a 70mm blow up they saw $ signs in the savings on raw stock during filming.I so much agree that the result was a washed out pale comparision of true 70mm, By the way the original 70mm “Funny Girl” was no better than the reissue at the Ziegfeld. Those blow ups at RCMH were awful as well, the changeover to xenon lamps from carbon arc just added to the problem at RCMH, there just wasn’t enough light. By ther way, if you thought the lines for Woolf were long, you should have been there in 1954 when Jane Russell’s “French Line” played the Criterion in 3-D, the lines were so long you would have thought they were giving away money.

longislandmovies on January 7, 2005 at 4:52 am

You should have seen the BUZZ when this theater played Last temptation of Crist. WOW

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on January 6, 2005 at 10:09 pm

The theater CConnolly, Pete and BoxOfficeBill are talking about, the Cinema I, is in the news today. It’s going to be torn down this spring, unless it can somehow be saved. I’ll never forget going there to see “The Exorcist” on its third day – the most frightened audience I’ve ever been a part of.

chconnol on January 6, 2005 at 4:23 pm

PeterApruzzese: thanks for the info. I wish I could remember the source of the Kubrick story.

As for cleaning of the screens, some multiplexes ought to do it more often especially the Loews Palisades Center. I’m getting sick and tired of a movie’s image being marred by some of the giant smears that I see on some of their screens.

BoxOfficeBill on January 6, 2005 at 4:06 pm

“A Clockwork Orange” opened in NYC at Cinema I — did the management there do that? Whew!

PeterApruzzese on January 6, 2005 at 3:55 pm

I might not be correct regarding the color of the walls in the Kubrick section of my post above – it might have been white and not orange. I will check out my references.

PeterApruzzese on January 6, 2005 at 3:46 pm

CConnolly –

Most theatre screens are made out of vinyl, which is then stretched around a frame of some sort. The are small perforations in the material to allow the sound to transmit through from the speaker(s) behind it. The front surface of the screen is generally a matte white surface (silver is sometimes used – that’s what we use at the Lafayette Theatre – mostly for installations that plan to run 3-D) that has a slight bit of reflective material in it. Cleaning a screen is difficult, most products will remove the coating and the screen darkens in those sections. There are companies that professionally clean screens, but it’s expensive and can not always remove the dirt & stains.

The Kubrick story is that when A Clockwork Orange was set to premiere in New York, the theatre had a screen mounted on the front wall (not projecting on the wall itself) with no curtaining or masking on the surrounding wall. The theatre painted the wall and ceiling around the screen an orange color, which would look awful with a projected image in the middle of it. When Kubrick heard about this (he always sent representative to the first-run theatres to check their presentations), he demanded the wall be painted the proper flat black color. I don’t know of any theatres that use the wall, but I’m sure there’s one someplace.

chconnol on January 6, 2005 at 2:47 pm

Question for the theater professionals on this site (and forgive me for asking if it seems like a stupid question) but what, in general, were or are movie theater screens made of? Additionally, how do theaters clean them (or should I say, should clean them…some theaters these days don’t look like they ever do!).

I either read about this (maybe on this site) or heard about it in a documentary that Stanley Kubrick wanted a theaters wall (where the movie was projected) painted black for “A Clockwork Orange” but that the theater made a mistake and painted it a different color. Anyone know that story and what color they actually painted it? And how many theaters simply projected onto a wall?


VincentParisi on January 6, 2005 at 2:42 pm

Though I didn’t see Funny Girl or Oliver during their original roadshow runs(saw them in the burbs)the restored FG at the Ziegfeld just looked like any other Panavision film. Why these films couldn’t have been shot in a 70mm process is beyond me after all in the same period CCBB and Star were. However I don’t think the sound is as good in these restored prints as it was back in the days of true 6 track sound. Blow up 70mm at the Music Hall looks especially bad as I remember Scrooge and Tom Sawyer looking grainy and washed out.
By the way I hate exposed screens. It’s like staring at an unattractive naked person.