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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walter Reade's Ziegfeld Theatre, 1969-2016

The first movie I ever saw at Walter Reade's Ziegfeld Theatre was Gandhi.

It was Christmas break between my first and second semesters in college.  It was a sold-out show.  There were a lot of those at the Ziegfeld in the 1980s and 1990s.  I was not one of the first to arrive, and I found my way to a seat on the far right side of the theatre, fairly near to the front.  The theatre smelled of food; Gandhi was a very long movie, and people were prepared with more than popcorn.

The Ziegfeld and Gandhi turned out to be very similar to one another.  They were worthy.  You couldn't not like Gandhi, could you?  I mean, it was a long epic biopic about an incredibly important historical figure,  You could learn so much of such importance about such an important personage.  Of course, it wasn't actually a good movie.  It was a quintessential biopic. The actual filmmaking by Richard Attenborough was kind of plodding.

So it was with the Ziegfeld.  It was a single screen movie theatre with over 1000 seats, and a reasonably large screen.  But the rake was practically non-existent, making it difficult to see over the head of anyone sitting in front of you.  Long and narrow isn't the best dimension for a movie theatre, but that was the Ziegfeld.  A whole city block long.  From the raised mezzanine at the back, a very long way to the screen, which didn't dominate the field of vision from such a distance.  Four urinals, three stalls, two sinks for the men's restroom; imagine the lines after a full house.  Small lobby and concession area.  No accessibility for the handicapped.  There were lots of chandeliers, and some exhibits on the original Ziegfeld Follies theatre.  

The Loews Astor Plaza, built just a few years later, was much better.  Great rake.  Better dimensions.  Bigger screen.  Bigger lobby.  Nicer everything, just not as fancy.  I came to be very frustrated that many more people knew about the Ziegfeld, which got better press and was more often booked for Hollywood premieres and exclusive general releases.

As it turns out, I've likely seen more movies at the Ziegfeld than on any other screen (emphasis on "screen," because some multiplexes I've gone to more often, but spread out over many screens).  But going to the Astor Plaza always exhilarated me, and I never felt that way about the Ziegfeld.  I was often as happy to see a movie on the big screens at the multiplexes than at the Ziegfeld, and I never felt that way about the Astor Plaza.  Looking at the long list of movies I saw at the Ziegfeld, and at full lists of movies that played the Ziegfeld that are on Cinema Treasures, I'm as impressed with the list if movies I could have seen there and didn't.

When I read in 2004 that the Astor Plaza was closing, I cried.  When I read in 2016 that the Ziegfeld was closing, it was more "sigh, I guess I'll have to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet again."

Nonetheless, an era passes with the closing of the Ziegfeld.  It was the next-to-last single screen movie palace to open in Manhattan, with the Astor Plaza the only that came after, and it was the very last large single screen movie theatre to close. I decided to treat the entire office to the final 2D show at the theatre so that they'd all have a chance to experience it before it closed for good.

The last show at the Astor Plaza, opening weekend for The Village, had a few dozen people on a Sunday night.  The Friday night show had hundreds and hundreds of people, but the quick falloff showed how difficult it was to make money running a really large movie theatre.  Of those few dozen people, no more than a dozen were there to bid farewell to the Astor Plaza itself.  And even as the opening credits were rolling, a few workmen came in to begin disassembling.

The last 2D show at the Ziegfeld, with three more 3D to go, had 200, maybe 250 (anyone on the internet saying 500 is lying).  Half of them were still in line to buy tickets.  Three ticket windows, but only one had an actual computer to sell tickets, because they rarely needed even that many.  People stayed.  They took pictures.  It was a scene.  And Star Wars: The Force Awakens, gets worse and worse with each viewing. 

At some point maybe I'll append a reasonably accurate list of the movies I saw at the Ziegfeld to this post.  But the bottom line is that I won't miss the Ziegfeld, while I miss the Loews Astor Plaza often.

The Paris Theatre is the last of the holdouts.  The link takes you to the Cinema Treasures website, which makes the Paris seem much nicer than it actually is.  Almost 600 seats, and it does have a balcony.  But the leg room isn't good.  The rake isn't good.  The screen isn't very big.  The lobby area is practically non-existent.  Some commenters on Cinema Treasures are trying to say the Paris isn't the last single screen theatre in Manhattan, but they are as wrong as the ones saying I saw Force Awakens with 500 other people.  The other single screen theatres like the Walter Reade aren't commercial theatres showing first run movies.  And if the Paris closes. I won't miss it very much, either. 

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