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Flagship of what, I wonder.
I know someone who once saw an imperfect presentation of Lawrence of Arabia, and she died.
I recently attended some first-run movies here, and while the place seems a little worn it is still in pretty good shape.
The theatre has “Silver Screen Classics” that happens the first Monday of the month at 1pm. (I haven’t yet been to any screenings, so I don’t know the condition of the prints, the aspect ratio used, whether there’s an intermission or an entr'acte, or any of the many other concerns voiced regularly on the Ziegfeld page!)
Their recent schedule:
My Sister Eileen on Monday, January 9, 2006;
On the Waterfront on Monday, February 6, 2006;
Funny Girl on Monday, March 6, 2006;
Angels Over Broadway (from 1940, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Rita Hayworth and Thomas Mitchell) will be screened Monday, April 3, 2006 at 1pm. I’ve never heard of this movie but I will be checking it out. Ben Hecht was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, so I’m sure it’s worth a look-see. I wonder if anyone reading this will be going there, too.
Oh, by the way, admission to this film series is ONE DOLLAR!
See you there.
Here is the text of J.P. Valensi’s excellent post:
STREETSCAPES: Variety Photo Plays Theater; Marquee’s Lights Are Dark on 1914 ‘Nickelodeon’
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Published: September 3, 1989
IT’S hard to put your finger on what was special about it. Perhaps it was the aura of the early days of the movies, but the 1914 Variety Photo Plays Theater at 110 Third Avenue was unforgettable when it was in operation.
Now the theater’s distinctive lightbulb marquee is dark, the property is vacant and being shown to potential buyers and, according to Michael Lerner, the leasing agent, a final decision – to sell, net lease or demolish the building – will come on Sept. 12.
The earliest movie theaters were just ad hoc alterations of spaces of opportunity, like a saloon or a storefront. According to the theater historian Michael R. Miller, these turn-of-the-century nickelodeons, where admission was usually nickel, were not superseded by specifically built movie theaters until 1908, when the Nicholand and Prospect Pleasure Palace went up in the Bronx.
By the early 1910’s, perhaps 100 theaters built for movies had gone up in New York City. They were good businesses and clustered near high-traffic sites. In 1914, one promoter, Jacob Valensi, secured a 15-year lease on a plot on the west side of Third Avenue, just south of the 14th Street stop of the elevated. There he built a two-story theater, according to Mr. Miller’s research, on a site previously occupied by a theater operation. Although filed as a new building, the theater actually used some of the perimeter walls of an older structure; the theater could in some ways be considered to pre-date 1914.
In its name – Valensi’s Variety Photo Plays – it sought an association with legitimate theater endeavors, of which 14th Street had been a center since the 1850’s.
Designed by Louis Sheinart, the exterior of Variety Photo Plays was in plain brick, generally unornamented except for arcaded piers projecting above a sloping tiled false roof. Mr. Miller called Sheinart ‘'a minor, minor architect of many, many theaters’‘ in this period.
Inside, the auditorium was fairly plain, but did have a slightly pitched floor and fixed seats, still novel touches in an industry that had started only recently with plain benches and sheets hung on a wall.
It is not clear if the walls have lost some architectural effect – they are now mostly patched plaster – but the ceiling is covered with modestly patterned pressed tin. Four large Tiffany-type half-globe lighting fixtures have somehow survived, and the simple fixed seats bear a ‘'V’‘ on the end panels.
There are rooftop louvered vents, still remote-controlled with chains that hang down in the middle of the theater, and a great square panel in the center, perhaps 30 feet across, is what remains of a sliding roof used in the days before air-conditioning.
Variety Photo Plays originally seated 450 and, according to Mr. Miller, probably first presented groups of two-reelers, collections of individual features, each 15 or 20 minutes long. This was at a period when the feature-length film was still uncommon and films in general were generally considered low-culture – ‘'photo plays’‘ or not.
By the early 1920’s, nickelodeons like the Variety Photo Plays were being supplanted by larger houses seating one or two thousand, and if the Variety was ever a first-rank theater, it surely must have begun a downward slide at that time.
In 1923, a marquee was added, designed by Julius Eckman. In 1930, a balcony seating 150 and a new lobby were installed by the architects Boak & Paris, who also made over the 1923 marquee. The lobby is nondescript neo-Renaissance and it is the marquee that has made the theater special, at least to modern eyes. Boak & Paris did not change the Eckman marquee’s underside, a coffered field with regularly spaced bulbs, but did add a zigzag Art Deco fascia in enameled metal and neon lighting. The fascia gives the theater’s, rather than the show’s, name and recalls the period when movies were more of a generic product. The lights buzzing on the underside of the marquee, when they were on, enveloped the passerby in a warm, glowing field. People going past the theater, even in the daytime, got a whiff of vintage celluloid, and at night it was intoxicating.
HE film fare over the last 30 years gradually shifted from B-grade to raunchy to naughty to pornographic, and added a slightly forbidden, Coney Island spice to the building. A 10-year-old schoolboy who somehow found himself on lower Third Avenue would walk straight by but keep his eyes glued to the pictures on the billboards outside the ticket booth.
Earlier this year the Department of Health closed the Variety Photo Plays, which was operating as a gay movie theater. Now it is still and musty inside, its 1940’s candy machine empty, its projection booth a small museum of antique apparatus – carbon arc projection lighting was discontinued only a few years ago. The owner, the 110-112 Third Avenue Realty Corporation, includes members of the same families who owned it since the 1920’s. In their hands lies the fate of a institution that will live on at least in the memories of many New Yorkers.
I’ve seen several shows here since it reopened, and I like the faux distressed look. It’s also used to good effect at Roundabout Studio 54. And while I like the look at the Majestic, I find the seats uncomfortable.
Very musty smell in here a lot of times.
But the white curtain was closed during the overture, which shows a bit of care in the presentation.
I am seeing Dr. Zhivago Thursday 3/16/06; I understand that the “intermission” music is actually the entr'acte music, but my question is…Do they close the white traveller curtain and raise the house lights to half for the intermission? Or do they show a blank screen during the intermission time.
Did the overture play on a blank screen or did it play over the white traveler curtain?
I reposted my comments of 2/23/06 about Ben-Hur directly on Clearview’s “Contact Us” page.
Please post reports on the condition and presentation of Singin' in the Rain, North by Northwest, and Dr. Zhivago.
I thnk the art theater was the Astor; I believe the one at Cortelyou was the Rialto. Though both pre-dated me by decades.
I like the Chelsea 9 and have not had a bad experience there.
I love the exterior. All the flashiness and lights and that big vertical sign. Even though it is again a playhouse, I am glad they kept the cinema’s extravagant signage. We don’t have much of that left in New York, and I appreciate it every time I walk by. It’s an eye-popping throwback to a time I miss. While I admire the authenticity of the Victory and Lyric’s exterior, they are just a bit dull.
I guess I thought the lion was roaring because there was music and Leo was moving due to the gentle undulations of the sheer traveler curtain. Funny tricks the mind plays sometimes.
The Paris on 58th Street is a nice single screen theater with a balcony.
Also, I like the AMC Empire on 42nd Street; the design is pretty interesting, and the lobby (the former Empire Theater) is great for picture-taking.
The AMC-Loews Lincoln Square is worth a visit; the different theaters are named after former movie palaces.
And the AMC-Loews Kips Bay is a good example of a newer theatre — big, airy lobby and nice roomy auditoriums.
I’ve been here several times recently and have not expereinced anything like that at all.
Beautiful presentation tonight of Ben-Hur.
Joe the projectionist lowered the house lights to half and opened the main gold curtain. The sheer white curtain remained closed, and the six-minute overture played.
The most beautiful part: as the overture ended, the house lights went all the way down, and the white curtain began to part the moment the MGM logo came on screen. Perfectly timed, the curtain was fully open just as Leo let out his last roar, and a big map of Judea and vicinity burst open the screen.
Real showmanship, the way movies were meant to be seen.
And no ads or trailers of any kind.
I love this effin' theater, 1.37, 1.85 or 2.35. Bring on the classics!
Please post reports about the condition of this week’s features — Ben Hur, Gladiator and Braveheart — but especially about Ben Hur.
Do they run trailers of upcoming features in this festival?
Also, the three week extension is not yet on the website, so we here have an exclusive.
Always wanted to visit this theater.
Craig, you’ve done a great job at Chelsea Classics and it looks like you’re a success here as well. Bravo!
So then it wasn’t the restored print.
The question about the restoration credits remains unanswered: Did the My Fair Lady print now running have the restoration credits at the end?
Bob, I agree with most of what you’re saying, but the 1.37 is the old academy ratio, right, which is almost square. And the 1.85 is the new “flat” which takes up the full screen. But then when you have the scope ratio of 2.35, you have less height but the same width, which means less screen space.
So, at the Loew’s Jersey, 2.35 is bigger than 1.37, but the 2.35 is smaller than the 1.85.