Radio City Music Hall

1260 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10020

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vindanpar on November 23, 2016 at 11:41 am

If you remember the final production number of Scrooge there are various groups that converge and I remember distinctly that it was surround sound. It was simply unexpected and thrilling. It was not slap which is a very different thing. I remember being gobsmacked. Like when I saw MFL at the Warner Cinerama and there were carriage wheels and horses hoofs sounds at the back of the theater.

We forget how sophisticated and detailed film theatrical presentations once were. Like when the lights were dimming for Airport at the Hall and flight announcements were being made(shades of the police calls of Mad World.)

And that SOM presentation at the Music Hall was one of the best film presentations I’ve seen. If that was you R Endres that was astonishing. Gorgeous perfect 70mm print and great sound. If that was Dolby processed sound giving a greater dynamic range to the original tracks looks like I might have to rethink my feelings about Dolby. Singing In the Rain also had spectacular sound(and Technicolor to burn the eyes). Those Salinger arrangements have never sounded so good. Maybe that was handled the same way?

RobertEndres on November 23, 2016 at 5:28 am

Re: “Scrooge” – if you heard sound from the back it was because the Hall had a really bad echo from the wall above the 3rd Mezzanine. You could hear it in the center of the Orchestra but not under any of the Mezzanines. There had been acoustic material to absorb the slap behind the walls, but with age it had crumbled and fallen out of place. We screened every print before we played an incoming attraction. Sitting in the center of the Orchestra at the producer’s table I could turn my head at right angles to the screen and have two soundtracks coming at me one from the front and one from the slap from the back wall. An acoustic engineer we hired to do an analysis said the sound from the wall above the 3rd Mezz (which was curved and focused it) was actually louder in the dialogue frequency range than that from the screen, and added, “Why haven’t you fixed that?” The answer was, we had no money to. Dolby processors have always included 3rd octave equalization and it did help flatten out the room response. The 1999 refurbishment may have helped more.

In regard to “The Black Cauldron” – yes the sound was bad for a couple of reasons. Walter Murch, one of Hollywood’s classic sound men, directed “Return to Oz” which preceded “Cauldron”. He mixed it in the 70mm Dolby format which he had used for “Apocolypse Now” with three stage channels and left and right surround channels. “Cauldron” was mixed for five channels behind the screen and a mono surround channel. To get more bass response, Murch personally raised the low frequency EQ to maximum level since we didn’t have sub-woofers at the time. When we got to “Cauldron” the orchestra members were complaining about the bass level while waiting to come up on the pit elevator before the stage show. It was then that we discovered what Murch had done. In addition, the sound was designed to pan across five channels behind the screen and there were only three so the sound dipped as it went across.

We did upgrade the stage channels on the left and right of center, and the black boxes you saw on the Choral Stairs were the speakers we had removed from behind the screen, placed on the stairs to fulfill Murch and Disney’s requirements to play the picture.

If you liked the “SOM” sound, remember it was processed through Dolby processers and that Dolby noise reduction extended the frequency range and signal to noise levels of soundtracks beyond what they were capable of previously. It’s also possible (I don’t remember) that since the “SOM” print was a Bob Harris restoration the tracks could well have been Dolby A encoded to extend the range and signal to noise ratio. Also remember a lot depends on the acoustics of the theatre you’re listening in, and the film mix itself. Radio City was designed to be a vaudeville house and was never intended to be a movie theatre (the New Roxy/Center Theatre down the street a block was to fill that role.) As such, being such a large house it had acoustical problems that weren’t unique to the Hall. Modern technology has helped overcome those problems.

vindanpar on November 23, 2016 at 4:32 am

There was definitely sound coming from the back rear of the orchestra for Scrooge. The sound of the choruses came from all around. Due to the darkness maybe there were boxes there that weren’t too noticeable. Also the spectral clanging of the chains of Marley’s ghost caused a child nearby to cry and people laughed. Not out of malice but because it was so effective.

Also the organ during the SOM wedding was rich and thundering. I could have sworn the Music Hall organ was being played.

The first time I saw large black boxes on the choral stairs was during The Black Cauldron.(I think that was the name of the movie.)Was that ever a big intense loud noisy ordeal. Purely headache inducing. An usher told me it was frightening the children. And far worse than any other Disney cartoon which sequences served a purpose and had some sort of catharsis.

And no Dolby was not an improvement over the gorgeous warm 6 track analogue I heard not only at the Music Hall but also at the Warner and the Rivoli. It did not shout at you but was warm rich and transparent.

You’ve got to remember people’s ears have been severely diminished in their capacity to hear nuance due to decades of damaging loud music in bars, discos, clubs and rock concerts. I understand MP3s are no help though I’ve never heard one.

I’m sure those old 6 track soundtracks simply through age have been lost forever. The most recent restoration of the My Fair Lady soundtrack was worse than the first one in the 90s despite their boasting of going back to the masters. But I concede that also could have been the fault of the multiplex where I saw it.

I only wish there was a theater left in the east that could do justice to these films in terms even of screen size. If I were a billionaire I’d buy the Bellevue which still stands as a multiplex in Montclair and restore it to its Todd AO glory. What a great theater that was.

RobertEndres on November 21, 2016 at 11:54 am

Actually there were surround speakers going back to at least the installation of 70mm and quite possibly to the four track 35mm mag days. They’re possibly still there. They’re in the ceiling and just outside of the proscenium. There were two sets of two speaker groups one on the left and one the right side of the house. The “rays”, the slits extending from the proscenium like the rays of the sun are backed with plaster bubbles so that the four color light strips can reflect off the surface and backlight the rays. The sound crew mounted one set of “surround” speakers just off the proscenium about where the P.A. speakers were stage left and right. The other set were mounted on the back of one of the “bubbles” out around E cove. The sound crew snuck up into the ceiling under cover of darkness and cut a hole or holes in the plaster of the bubble and mounted a couple of 12 or 15" speakers directly to the bubble. While the effect was pretty much lost under the mezzanines, the main part of the orchestra and the 3rd Mezz. did get some coverage. In the case of “The Slipper and the Rose” which is the story of Cinderella, the clock tolling at Midnight sounded pretty good coming from overhead. If they weren’t removed during the renovation in 1999 you can still see them if you go out on the catwalk to D cove.

rcdt55b on November 21, 2016 at 9:26 am

I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say but surround speakers were not installed until around 1994 for Lion King. You would not have heard any sound from the sides before then. You had 5 channels behind the screen for optical and mag tracks. As far as Dolby Digital is concerned, it was a huge improvement in film sound for countless reasons. The “loud digital glare” was only because film makers demanded it to be played too loud. I do agree that the fake arch really sucks though. It takes a lot of room from the stage as well as the silver screen.

vindanpar on November 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm

The Music Hall had a tremendous stereo sound system until the terrible loud digital glare disaster of Dolby.

I’ll never forget how exciting both Scrooge and SOM were just from the sound. Gorgeous multi-track analogue stereo.

Remember nothing was visible or at least I didn’t see anything. There were no stereo boxes either on the choral stairs or hanging from the arches. I mean such idiocy(like the fake arch) in those days was unthinkable.

The final converging choral groups in Scrooge as they came together on screen aurally came together from different parts of the Music Hall auditorium. It was tremendously exciting.

And then the quiet moment of Finney talking to the door knocker.

You can’t imagine how magnificent it was.

markp on November 18, 2016 at 7:19 pm

rcdt55b, Thank you for the good wishes, and I agree, film will never totally disappear.

Mark_L on November 18, 2016 at 6:25 pm

I just happened to be doing some other research on 1977, so I looked up MR. BILLION.

MR. BILLION opened on 3/3/1977 with the Easter Show. It was replaced on 3/31/77 by THE LITTLEST HORSE THIEVES which ran until 4/27/77, to be replaced by THE STING.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on November 18, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Robert, you are a true “cinema treasure.” Thanks for some inside lowdown on one of our favorite houses.

RobertEndres on November 18, 2016 at 2:22 pm

I was Head Projectionist at the Hall for both “Smokey” and “Mr. Billion” and can tell you why they were booked. “Smokey” was part of a trilogy of Universal Picture films we played that summer. Universal four-walled the house to present “MacArthur”, “Smokey” and a re-run of “The Sting”. “McArthur” was to be the “class” Radio City picture. “The Sting” had done well and was added to fill the package. No one thought “Smokey” would be a hit at the Hall but it was a big summer picture. Actually, it didn’t help our situation but created another complication. As pointed out above it was the second most popular film of the summer after “Star Wars”. When we played it and didn’t do the business it was generating across the country the industry said, “Gee they had the number two film of the summer and died with it. I guess you just can’t play film at the Hall” or words to that effect. (Coming from the Midwest “drive-in” country it was one of my favorite films that we played.)

“Mr. Billion” did so little business I think we actually ended up in litigation with Fox since it didn’t even meet the Hall’s advertising expenses. Of all of the clunkers we played (remember we were an independent house and couldn’t match the booking power of the circuits) it’s the only one that was pulled mid-run. The Disney replacement wasn’t much better, but it was Disney. One good thing did come from “Mr. Billion” Fox was getting ready to release “Star Wars” with optical Dolby Stereo and used “Mr. Billion” as a test film. Thus Dolby gave us a stereo/optical processor to use which we kept until we re-built the whole system for “The Lion King”.

The only company that really supported us in the last days was Universal. They four-walled the theatre the summer of “Smokey” and picked up “Caravans” the last movie we played in the old movie/stage show format just so we would have a Christmas picture.

rcdt55b on November 18, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Good luck to your wife at the new show. Nothing new happening here. Film will always pop up here and there. It will never totally go away. Thank god.

markp on November 18, 2016 at 12:12 pm

rcdt55b, I still have a pair of well maintained simplex xl projectors at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank NJ. Last time I ran 35MM was Jan 2015. They keep telling me film is dead. Its all about the money. On a separate note, my wife is no working the Christmas show with you guys this year. Shes got a permanent gig on Cirque Paramore. She misses the hall.

rcdt55b on November 17, 2016 at 5:12 pm

We can run 35MM and 70MM still so we’re ready. We keep all 4 projectors very well maintained. I just don’t think that some of the people upstairs know that we can still run film. It’s a shame.

GeorgeStrum on November 16, 2016 at 5:34 pm

I’m still hoping that RCMH will bring back, even for one week, a weekend, or a day an event that will have a movie and show like the old days. Patrons will of course pay for reserved seats.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on November 15, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Well, do you want to fill the house with class or fill the seats with ass? “Smokey” was the number two picture of the year, (after “Star Wars”) and starred the number one box office actor, so I guess someone used their head for once. More bookings like this and maybe the house would have lasted longer than only two years more …

JackIndiana on November 14, 2016 at 1:52 pm

I still can’t believe saw SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT here. That had to be the biggest WTH booking in RCMH history.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on November 14, 2016 at 1:44 pm

“Merciless” quaintly posts here under the French “Pas de pitie.” Their hideous avatar can be viewed at their membership profile, which has no record of comments.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on November 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm

“Tinsletoe,” one of many accounts being run here simultaneously by a single individual, is making it very difficult for new images to be uploaded for the 10 theatres included in the “Famous Theaters” section. Making matters worse, “Tinsletoe” not only “bumps” the latest postings, but also uses repeats of images they’ve posted before. Their profile of membership, which started a year ago, shows just over 210 uploads, which proves they’ve been practicing their delete/repeat tactic right from the start. The person running “Tinsletoe” also has another account called “Merciless” which attacks those criticizing the tactics of “Tinsletoe.”

vindanpar on October 15, 2016 at 3:44 am

They sure dumped Balalaika fast.

I think they did the same thing with No No Nanette the following year. Pulling it fast for The Philadelphia Story.

I remember when Mr Billion was the Easter show (what were they thinking?)and replaced it with some Disney pony movie(what were they thinking?)

I don’t think it did any better.

moviebuff82 on October 9, 2016 at 3:28 pm

same here. Disney should reissue the movie in its unaltered version.

vindanpar on October 9, 2016 at 11:24 am

NYer posted the opening day ad of the B&B ‘71 Christmas show. As you can see the secular part had a circus theme.

My memory is that they had made holes in the first arch so that they could suspend the trapezes. Therefore the act took place in the auditorium itself.

I don’t remember exactly but I think the orchestra went down and stagehands put a net over the pit.

This scared the devil out of me as I was very young and had somebody been flung and not taken hold it looked like they could have gone any which way including the stage or choral stairs or audience.

I endured this twice and it was terrific but it made me very nervous.

It’s also unfortunate the film was heavily cut before release to the Hall. I’ve never seen the restored cut.

RobertEndres on September 26, 2016 at 10:14 am

As far as I know all of the nitrate is out of the Hall. There’s a room on the North side of the theatre that was specifically designed as a vault, with a room between it and the corridor. It’s next to what used to be the costume sewing room. It wasn’t cooled, and my boss discovered it when they were using the second room as an echo chamber when Plaza Sound had the recording studio there. He moved all of the film to the Projection office where it sat behind the desk to the discomfort of the City Inspectors since one of the cans on top of the stack had a big red “nitrate” label on it. The collection moved around. To get it out of the sight of the inspectors, for a time it was stored behind the screen in Preview A. We finally made a deal with the Museum of Modern Art to take the RKO newsreel footage of the Hall in return for striking acetate prints for the Hall from the nitrate footage. The rest of the nitrate (some of which did go into the garbage) went to Sherman-Grinberg.

rcdt55b on September 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

Is it safe to assume that there is no nitrate film left in the film “safe” in the closet at the end of the hall? I was going to go through all the film in there this season.

RobertEndres on September 26, 2016 at 9:23 am

At one point we were trying to get all of the nitrate film which had been stored in a nitrate safety room in the Hall out of the building. Since it would be dangerous to just throw it out, I asked the Sherman-Grinberg stock footage library which had the rights to the RKO newsreel footage of the Hall if they would take the film to add to their archive. They accepted. In going through the footage I came across a reel marked “Breen”. I thought it might be something in regards to the Breen behind the Motion-Picture Code who also had ties to Rockefeller Center. The archivist at Grinberg played it and told me it was Bobby Breen singing. I suspect it was a protection track in case Breen’s voice gave out from doing multiple shows during the Christmas run. It may well have been the “Cantique de Noel” referred to in the above post.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on September 26, 2016 at 7:28 am

In remembrance of the legendary child star and singer Bobby Breen, who died last week at age 87, I’m posting an ad for a unique achievement at Radio City Music Hall. Back in December, 1936, Breen dominated the Christmas holiday show, with his movie “Rainbow on the River” on screen, and with the boy soprano himself performing in the stage show. Costumed as a young shepherd in the “Nativity” pageant, Breen sang “Cantique de Noel,” accompanied by the Music Hall’s resident chorus and symphony orchestra.