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On Saturday morning I went to the Astor Plaza for what looks like the last time, to see Spider-Man 2. I sat in the balcony to get the full effect of that huge expanse of seats in front of me. And when the credits were over, I stayed to watch the curtains close on the last big single-theater screen in Times Square. It was as if the curtains were closing on a part of New York movie history. Now the Ziegfeld is literally the last of a dying breed, and more precious than ever.
Peter K.: I also saw “Fantasia” at Radio City Music Hall in May 1978. I remember the huge audience applauding at the end of each musical segment – what a wonderful sound that was.
I think the drive-in speaker survived intact, but the car window sure didn’t! Another memory of that movie: Joan Crawford got star billing, but I think she was in it for about 10 minutes total.
Talking about the Biograph and the Hollywood reminds me of the Elgin Cinema, which was down around 19th St. It wasn’t the cleanest theater and it always had a funny smell, but they sure showed some great classic movies. The first time I saw “The Birds” in a theater was there – same with “Nights of Cabiria”.
“I Saw What You Did” will always live in my memory as the movie where my dad drove out of a drive-in theater with the speaker still attached to the window. It was the summer of ‘65 like Peter K. said, in Rutherford, NJ. I don’t think he liked the movie, and I guess he wanted to get away from it as quickly as possible.
Maybe it has to do with the number of seats in the theater? I always thought Film Forum 1 had the most seats, but that might be an optical illusion because the theater is wider than the other two. If a repertory film is really popular, maybe it gets moved over to theater #1 so they can sell more tickets.
Come to think of it, I saw McCabe and Mrs. Miller and La Dolce Vita in Film Forum 1 a few years ago. But Vincent is right: they should show all the scope films in that theater.
I loved the old Film Forum on Watts St. – the Gimmick-O-Rama festival was a real dream come true – and when they announced the move to a new theater, my hopes were high. I was disappointed to see the new theaters' screen size, and the narrow shape of the auditoriums themselves as opposed to the wider ones in the old building. Film Forum 1 has an actual wide screen, but I don’t think they ever show the repertory titles in there. On the other hand, the fact that Film Forum exists at all is one of the best things about New York City. I only hope they bring Gimmick-O-Rama back someday.
I’ve passed what I thought was the original site where the Lee stood many times on the way to Callahan’s (where you can get the best hot dogs in New Jersey). Is it still a vacant lot, still empty after more than 30 years? Hard to believe, as if the theater was torn down for no reason at all.
Thanks, Damien, for posting the link to that picture of the Lee. I saw “Pinocchio”, “Spartacus” and “The Dirty Dozen” there, to name a few. I always loved that theater. Now if only I could make out the name of the movie on the marquee in the picture. I will keep trying …
I mentioned the Capitol twice in the above post, but they’re two different theaters. The Loew’s Capitol in New York had Cinerama, but there was a Capitol in Passaic just another block away from the Central. This is where they had all the legendary rock shows.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see “Ice Station Zebra” in Cinerama, so when it came to the Central I sat in the very front row. It was definitely the next best thing. I also remember the Central as the place where I got to “go ape” – 5 Planet of the Apes movies in one day in 1973. A great place to see a movie. I loved their marquee, too – they used really big letters.
I have good memories of the Montauk. I saw “Mary Poppins” and “Hawaii” there, and also my first 35mm viewing of “2001: A Space Odyssey” after seeing it in Cinerama at the Capitol the year before. Like with so many other theaters on this website, it’s sad to consider its ultimate fate. It’s sad to see what’s become of the whole downtown Passaic area – the Central, only a block or two away, was another fine theater, and the Capitol was one of the greatest ‘60’s and '70’s rock concert venues in the whole country.
36 years ago today at this very minute (1:30 PM show) I was about to experience the ultimate trip, “2001: A Space Odyssey” on the Capitol’s incredible Cinerama screen. Just wanted to commemmorate the life-changing event.
Mikeoaklandpark asked about the two curtains at the Ziegfeld. The last time I was there (“The Day After Tomorrow”), the advertising slides were up on the exposed screen. But just before the movie began, they closed the two curtains, then opened them right up again. If you got ‘em, might as well use 'em.
Rhett: When you said:
We’re outnumbered and doomed to lose…but we’ll fight to the end.
I appreciate that you used a 70mm movie (“The Alamo”) to make your point.
I saw the new Harry Potter at the Astor Plaza on Friday night. It was a packed house, the screen was huge, the audience was enjoying themselves … if this was to be the last time I’d ever see a movie there, I’m glad it was a fine example of all that a big single-screen theater can be.
To Bill Kallay and Mike Coate: I’m sure all of us on this thread can’t wait to see your upcoming lists. We really appreciate the hard work you put into it and we’re grateful to you for even attempting it. Seeing a list like that will be the next best thing to seeing a beloved movie classic in 70mm.
William: I never thought of it that way. I just assumed that if they’re showing the movie at reserved seat prices, and exclusive to the area outside New York City, then they’d be showing it in 70mm just like the NYC theaters. I should never assume …
Vincent: Star Wars definitely played in 70mm in Paramus, NJ. This article has a link to a list of all the theaters that played the 70mm version:
Also, the ‘60’s roadshows in Montclair were 70mm, based on newspaper ads from the time. I recall an ad for Exodus at the Millburn Theater which said Panavision 70. And the only one I actually saw myself, The Shoes of the Fisherman at the Bellevue, was 70mm for sure.
Thanks, William, for that brilliant vision back to the glory days of movies in Times Square. I was only 13 at the time and got to attend only one of those engagements, “2001”. If only I was the age I am now back in 1968 – I would’ve went to see ‘em all.
Rhett: you may be aware of it already, but here is a website that you will definitely enjoy:
and you’ll like this article for sure:
I’d say Theater #1 was on the left and Theater #2 was on the right. I saw Diamonds Are Forever on the right side. I remember thinking that the screen was smaller than I’d expected. This was the first time I’d been inside a twinned theater – little did I know that this was soon to be the wave of the future, sadly.
I never saw this theater when it was single-screen, but I think it was split right down the middle to make it a twin. There was half a balcony and half an orchestra in both theaters on either side. I’m basing this on seeing Diamonds Are Forever there in 1971. I know in later years the full balcony was converted into a third theater.
It never drew the crowds that the Tenplex did over on Route 4, but this theater was packed when they showed Aliens in 1986. It also had anti-movie demonstrators on the sidewalk outside for The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988.
Rhett: I also watched Star Wars on its anniversary last night and made believe I was back in the Astor Plaza. I remember every detail of that screening: the wild audience reaction to the jump to hyperspace, where the laughs came in, even the row I sat in. I also remember feeling that I had to see this movie again as soon as I could, and to tell everybody I knew how good it was. My second time was at the Stanley Warner in Paramus. I wound up seeing it in a theater 32 times, most of them at the Astor Plaza.
Rhett: It’s funny to think about people 40 years from now looking back fondly to Van Helsing. In 40 years they’ll probably still be talking about Gone With the Wind and Around the World in 80 Days. The really good stuff never gets forgotten.
Yankee Mike: I don’t know if it was 12 years ago but sometime in the 1990’s, there was a Warner Bros. Classic Film Festival, followed a year later by a Universal Classic Film Festival. I attended the showings of Bonnie and Clyde, The Exorcist, My Fair Lady, Psycho, Jaws, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Bonnie and Clyde was a Wednesday night show and attracted a fairly good crowd, but all the other shows looked like sellouts to me.