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“Scrooge” was a 70mm print and did indeed have full stereophonic sound. The surround channel was limited since the only speakers were along side the proscenium and in the two sets of grills in the ceiling that I mentioned above. The first run of “Sound of Music” was also 70mm without Dolby noise reduction, but with Dolby equalization to somewhat compensate for the acoustic properties of the Hall. 70mm magnetic tracks were wider than those for 35mm CinemaScope and the film moves faster through the projector by about 20' more per minute, thus they represented the highest quality possible in their day far better than 35mm optical tracks. Ray Dolby sought to bring that quality to 35mm optical tracks giving them wider, quieter frequency range. What you heard at the Hall really was good for its time even though financial constraints along with some other problems kept the Hall from having the best sound. I hope you got a chance to hear the “Lion King” during its premiere run at the Hall. With Disney’s help the Hall finally had the motion-picture sound system it needed. The 70mm print carried Dolby SR encoded analogue tracks while the main sound came from a 35mm digital print interlocked to the 70mm projector. The Dolby tech configured the system so that if the 35mm digital tracks being played should fail the system would automatically revert to the 70mm SR mag tracks. We switched back and forth between the two several times during the tech rehearsals with Disney’s tech people in the house and no one was able to hear the difference. (Had it been a picture with loud explosions and crashing effects the digital track would have had a little more dynamic headroom.)
“Singing in the Rain” was a standard 35mm mono optical print, but the Center channel speakers were classic RCA speakers that flew with the picture sheet and really were good for their day. Any surround effect you heard was from the house acoustics which did create an echo which could be troubling depending on where you were seated, but I’m glad it worked for you. It was also one of the first pictures we ran with xenon lamps replacing the carbon arc lamps that had been in use since ‘40’s. Thus the Technicolor really did pop on the relatively small 1.37:1 aspect ratio picture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just a quick note: This theatre was a 70mm equipped theatre from the start designed around U.A.’s proprietary D-150 process. I visited the booth prior to opening to see a friend of mine who was the RCA engineer assigned to the theatre and the Norelco DP-75’s were just being installed.
I clicked on the picture of the Globe this morning and realized I had worked there as a relief projectionist for a week or two in it’s porno days. The business agent of our local needed someone to work and actually picked me up off a picket line (in front of another porno theatre in Manhattan) and drove me to the Globe. I was hesitant to take the job since I had never officially worked in the Bronx, but was assured it “was a nice Jewish neighborhood.” It was, but getting there on the subway through the South Bronx was like going through Dresden after the firebombing during WWII. As with most porno theatres I was paid cash when I started. The booth still had carbon arc lamps and was equipped as were most neighborhood theatres in those days with Simplex X-Ls and Peerless lamps. I did go down to the auditorium one day when I arrived early and it was being cleaned. The exit doors were open admitting light and the auditorium was typical of the “nabes” of it’s time. I’d almost forgotten I worked there until I saw the picture above.
We did extensive research on xenon lamphouses when we converted from carbon arc in the mid ‘70’s. At one point we had a different lamphouse on each machine. We picked the ORC’s because the bulb was vertical pointing into a 45 degree mirror. At the projection angle in the Hall a normal horizontal bulb would be burning way off axis. The vertical bulbs also had the advantage of darkening evenly around the top of the bulb as they aged which we felt would lessen the formation of a dark spot over the arc in an horizontal bulb which would absorb more heat and increase the risk of explosion. We kept the horizontal lamps on the two end machines since these machines were used for “film effects” and we needed the flexibility to point them over a wide range on stage (and to reposition them for the triptych in “Napoleon”. The ORC consoles (one of which was actually a prototype) gave us relatively little trouble from the time they were installed around 1975 until the time I left 1999.
Speaking of which, did anyone here see the premiere of “BvS” last night at the Hall presented in DolbyVision laser projection and Dolby “Atmos” sound? The picture was presented on a 70' screen and from a couple of local comments both it and the sound were spectacular.
I worked here as relief projectionist for a couple of weeks before it was twinned in 1978. It was kind of unusual in that the theatre started on the 2nd floor of the building with the screen at the south end and the booth at the 42nd St. end. They had probably cut the 3rd floor in half crosswise to make a balcony which was ramped up to the top at 42nd St. The booth occupied the space just behind the last rows. There was a ladder going up the wall in the booth to the roof, and I remember one snowy winter evening climbing the ladder and opening the roof hatch to see how much snow was falling as I wouldn’t be getting out until 2 A.M. or so.
The aisle went up to the back wall and actually split the booth structure into two sections. One was the booth itself and across the aisle was the room containing the rectifiers for the xenon lamps.
There were three machines in the booth, the third crammed almost against the west wall. It was added after the theatre opened to give it the redundancy the other theatres on 42nd St. had. It was so close to the wall there was no viewing port, and the controls were on the other side of the projector near the controls for the #2 machine. As I recall there was a small seat and the only other seat was the toilet itself which fortunately had a seat with a lid!
So much pot was smoked that the regular projectionist had sealed the ports up with masking tape around the edges to avoid getting a contact high. I don’t believe it was a Norman Adie theatre, but was owned by a man named Clark. Later when they added the 2nd screen in the building next door, I heard they knocked a hole in the wall next to the #3 machine and the operator had to walk on a catwalk that extended outside and into the booth next door. It was an “interesting” operation.
Actually we did that on a few occasions. MGM wanted to premiere “The Wind and the Lion” there in 70mm, and as a warm up we did “Dr. Zhivago”, “Gone With The Wind” and “200l” in 70mm and the above mentioned “Singing In The Rain” all with the same (shortened) stage show. “Fantasia” was another re-issue as was “1776” which had played there in it’s original release. “The Sting” was another re-issue as mentioned above.
Even so, the re-issues were better than most of the first run films we played in those day. (“Matilda” anyone?) Universal was the only company that really tried to help us, actually four-walling the theatre for the run of “The Sting”, “Smokey and the Bandit” and “MacArthur”. They also picked up “Caravans”, the last movie we played in the movie/stage show format, so we’d have a Christmas attraction that year. As vindanpar points out above, those were pretty bleak days for the Hall.
It did, but I’ll have to look up the date. We played it in 70mm and on one performance the operators skipped from reel 5 to reel 8 without running 6 and 7. I was relatively new at the time and had to write a letter to the Business Agent registering management’s displeasure. That did cause the run to stick in my mind.
As an alternative: How about Dolby taking over the Zieg as it did the former Kodak theatre in Los Angeles? The Dolby New York offices and two screening rooms are right across the Avenue of the Americas from the Ziegfeld, and it would be a nifty site for both a Dolby Atmos installation and the Dolby Vision projectors which use laser illumination.
In answer to BobbyS' questions: ToddAO was Mike Todd’s answer to Cinerama. He’d been in volved with Cinerama and wanted a process to emulate it with the picture “coming out of one hole” as opposed to the three projectors required for Cinerama at the time. The process was named after him and the American Optical company which developed the 70mm process for him. “Around The World In 80 Days” was his signature picture in the process. In a sense it combined the wide screen of CinemaScope with the sharpness of VistaVision which used two frames of 35mm moving horizontally through the camera to provide a larger negative.
Coming from Illinois I saw quite a few 70mm presentations at the Michael Todd, and I suspect the Capitol’s screen was much larger. The Michael Todd was converted from a legitimate theatre (either the Selwyn or the Harris I can’t remember which was which since they were both taken over by Todd and were side by side – the other house was the Cinestage after Todd took it over and was also 70mm equipped), therefore it wouldn’t have been as large as the Capitol which was a true “movie palace”. Nonetheless, the screen had great impact because it was proportioned to fit the house just as the Capitol’s was.
Bill: I remember that storm well. I alternated doing relief work at two theatres close to Radio City, The New York Experience and the Ziegfeld. The operator at the Experience asked if I could open or him the day after the storm, but then decided to stay in the city. I was expecting to stay inside when I got a call from the opeator at the Ziegfeld saying his car was stuck in a drift. I kept a set of Ziegfeld keys in my apartment and took off for the theatre just a few blocks away. I remember thinking there would be no one there after such a big storm, but was surprised when I got to the theatre and found the line for the opening show extending around the block. They had plowed the sidewalk, but the snow was piled so high you could just see the tops of people’s heads above the pile. I stayed there until closing that night, and every show was sold out. Nothing gets between a New Yorker and thier movies!
Hate to be the dissenter,but having spent a lot of years in that booth at the Ziegfeld lifting double reels of 70mm onto projector spindles (and in one instance dropping a double reel of “Ghandi” on my foot as I was putting it on the rewind – I figure it was the first 20 years of Ghandi’s life) I can’t say that I’d miss that these days. While I’m still a working projectionist at 75, I really don’t think I could lift those anymore (although we can still do 70mm in my booth, and I did try to get a screening of “The Master” 70mm print in here last year.)
technman707This really belongs on the Music Hall page, but in response to your last comment: I was asked by the comptroller of Radio City to take a look at a theatre in the Bronx that was asking Rockefeller help in establishing a dance company. We rode up on the subway with the Rock Center lawyer and he was talking about the public hearing for Radio City. Some woman in the audience said, “You destroyed the Roxy and you destroyed the Center Theatre and now you want to destroy the Hall.” To which he replied, “Well two out of three isn’t bad!”
Actually,the marquee was put up for the Mark I-II-III incarnation. When they triplexed the theatre, they also chopped up the lobby to add storefronts. The entrance under the marquee led directly to the downstairs house, and to the right was the staircase leading up to the upper lobby and the two upstairs screens. The rest of what had been a lavish lobby was cut off from the theatre by the stores.The marquee for the DeMille was removed and that small triangular marquee replaced it.
I think the porn people did the triplexing and added the storefronts. I met the contractor a few times and think he had also done work for the operators in other houses they had.
techman707: there was a great deal of attention to the Radio City situation. I had just come back from vacation to pick up the Daily News the next morning and see the huge headline that Radio City was closing. Later that day Alton Marshall the president of Rockefeller Center called all of us to a meetin in the large rehearsal hall to tell us about the closure. The Rockettes made headlines by picketing out in front of the theatre in costume in January. There were also public meetings to protest the closure. Today the Rockettes are largely given credit for saving the Hall, although a friend of mine who was a vice president at the Hall had lunch with Marshall a few years later and was told that they really didn’t want to close the Hall, but had to shake loose from the movie/stage show policy. A deal was made with the state to help save the Hall and it was announced from the stage on what was to be the closing night that it would be saved.
Bigjoe59: Mark I-II-II did appear on the marquee very briefly before Peter Elson took over. I can’t remember the name of the operators, but I was told they had some other porn houses in the city. When Peter took over he changed the name to Embassy I-II-II. He had a thing for calling his theatres “Embassy” after the original one (now a city tourist center)which he also operated.
It was an “almost” adult theatre when it was the Mark I, II, III. Because of the city’s restrictions it never did actually run porn.That was when the contractor added the runway into the house which was taken out before it was ever used. It was after Clark, whom techman707 refers to, and before Elson. It was also when they added the two screens in the balcony. Since porn was primarily 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the space between the two balcony screens used as a light path for the second projector to shoot to the screen was pretty narrow. I remember standing on the stage with the man doing the projection work, and walking across looking up at the balcony to see how far we could go before the projection port was cut off by the walls of the two upstairs screens. They could get a pretty reasonable 1.85:1 image but that was about it. Later Elson ran a 70mm print, but alas the big 70mm roadshow image was constricted to the 1.85 size by the upper walls. I would say the planned adult theatre would have been around 1976. They actually used a 16mm projector which would have shown porn, as a feature projector in one of the upstairs screens when it was the Mark,although by the time I worked there in the Elson years all three of the Cinemeccanica Vic X’s were back in use.
The house was completly remodeled after it’s run as a burlesque house and didn’t really have a stage or fly space. I was there when it was being triplexed and it was planned to do xxx movies with strippers in the downstairs house. The contractor built a small stage with a runway into the house as well as added dressing room space for the strippers, but it wouldn’t have been large enough to do any kind of theatrical production. The city put a stop to the xxx policy on the grounds that there were already enough porn houses in the city, and the theatre reverted to showing movies.
According to IMDb “The Great Race” was a Panavision blow-up to 70mm. As rcd55b points out there was only one aperture plate cut for most 70mm presentation, but there were a variety of aspect ratios in the 70mm format. 1:85:1 blow-ups (Days of Heaven, Roger Rabbit, etc.) were “hard-matted” by the labs to fit into the 2.21:1 70mm projected frame. In the case of the Music Hall where we had a downward angle we covered the keystone by adjusting the masking rather than cut a new plate as we would have for 35mm.
We also had an interesting test reel from “Ben-Hur” which was shot in “Camera 65” MGM’s proprietary 70mm process. The image had a slight anamorphic squeeze resulting in an aspect ratio of 2.76:1. (Without the custom anamorphic lens Heston and the cast looked as if they’d dropped a few pounds.)
One other note: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” was shot on 65mm film, which may have created some complications as 65mm cameras were also designed to shoot full-frame images. Anderson wanted 1.85 as an aspect ratio, and in most cases the lab would just hard matte the printed image, but for some reason, the image on the film was wider than 1.85 but less than 2.21:1, thus exposing things the director didn’t want seen at the edges of the picture (with 35mm if you pull the 1.85 plate in the projector you’re liable to see microphone booms and lights at the top of the set if the image hasn’t been hard-matted.) Thus theatres that ran “The Master” had to cut new 70mm plates. We wanted to do it my room, but no one makes 70mm parts which would have required going to a machine shop to get the plates cut. Just one more complication for anyone wanting to make a 70mm picture today.
David, I’m not sure about “The Great Race”. I saw it in70mm in Illinois and it had an intermission, but the Hall didn’t install 70mm until 1970, and given their reluctance to deviate from the stanard stage show/movie policy, I doubt it.
We did do three films with intermissions when I started there in 1974. They were re-issues of what MGM called the “Fabulous Four” which included “2001”, “Dr. Zhivago” and “Gone With The Wind”. We substituted “Singing In the Rain” for “Ryan’s Daughter”. I had come from theatres in Illinois which ran shows in the roadshow format, so I recall several discussions about how to do it at the Hall. The three we did were all in 70mm and designed to lead up to the 70mm presentation of “The Wind and The Lion”. Overtures were a little tricky. We wanted to precede the first show of the day of “The Slipper & The Rose” in 1976 with the supplied overture, although there wasn’t time for it in later screenings in a day. The projection crew agreed to play the overture even though it would have meant starting before the offical shift start time, but the musician’s union wouldn’t allow it unless we did it for every show, since it would look like we were substituting “canned” music for the live organist who didn’t play before the first feature. With the roadshows, I think we did get the overtures in, and we played the entr'acte music before the 2nd half. (We were able to convince management that it was “call-in” music and the organist shouldn’t play during that break.) We also did the 50th Anniversary presentation of “Gone With The Wind” with intermision music, but lost the battle over the organist who played before the intermission music started on film.
As far as I know those were the only times during the movie/stage show policy that an intermission was done. My predecessor didn’t want 70mm in the Hall, and used the fact that most 70mm pictures at that time had intermissions and were too long for the movie/stage format. He lost the fight when the house was four-walled for “Airport” and Ross Hunter insisted on 70mm. It was short enough that it didn’t require an intermission.
Stephen, thanks for posting the ads for the 1964-5 season at the Hall. The “Mary Poppins” ad has particular signifcance for me as I was in New York for the first time on my own after getting out of college and had come to attend a convention of the Society of Motion-picture and Television Engineers. I wrote to the Ben Olevsky, Head Projectioist at the Hall to ask if I could see the booth during my visit and got an invitation from Ben to call him. On my first night before I had a chance to call I stumbled on the Hall and bought a ticket to see “Mary Poppins”. A few days later Ben gave me an extensive tour of not only the booth but the whole facility. I was awed to actually be able to walk into the booth that I had been curious about for so long.
It was almost exactly ten years later I was again awed to walk into that booth — this time as the newly hired Head Projectionist. The “Poppins” ad brings back a lot of memories as it marked the start of something that continued for 35 years.