You know what I'm scared of? Well, a lot of things, actually, but that's not the point right now. I love the modern multiplex as much as the next person -- the projection and audio equipment is usually top notch, stadium seating allows everyone a clear view and most of them "allow" you to see more than one movie for the one ticket price. But that doesn't mean that I don't miss the great, grand single screen theaters of yesteryear. I've been planning to mention something about a couple important theaters to me in San Francisco, but I'm waiting for my friend to send the necessary accompanying photos. Regardless, right now, I'm thinking about Manhattan's Ziegfeld Theater. The Ziegfeld we now know isn't even that old -- it opened in the 1960s. I've never really known any of the true old grand movie palaces that used to line midtown like the original Ziegfeld, the original Paramount or the Loew's State which sat on the current site of Times Square's Virgin Megastore and was a primary host of major film premieres from the 20s through the 50s. All those old theaters were changed to multiplexes or even closed long before I came to New York.
But the current Ziegfeld, even with its mod and boxy exterior, still possesses its grandish interior and enormous screen. It was the first place I ever saw a movie in New York -- Born on the Fourth of July in 1989, nearly seven years before I moved here. It was pure circumstance -- my friend and I, both living in LA at the time, just wanted to see a movie. We hadn't heard of the Ziegfeld -- we just wound up there. And I loved it. I still love going there, especially for big movies. But it seems like the Ziegfeld has been hurting in recent years. With the exception of a Star Wars size opening, it's never been close to full any time I've been there. I'm sure the location has a dramatic effect -- who the hell wants to go to midtown anymore when you don't have to? It also may be movie palace pretty inside, but it's not so comfortable. Unless you sit in the "balcony" area at the back, the rake of the seats is very slight and essentially negligible. And those bathrooms ... oy, they're so small and there's always a terrible line for both the men's and women's.
What prompted this missive today? Well, this: The Ziegfeld Theatre's Hollywood Classics wich starts today and runs for the next five weeks. How cool is this, right? The Godfather movies, Chinatown, Ben-Hur, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, the Indiana Jones trilogy ... and more, all on the Ziegfeld screen? I mean that's just awesome, and an opportunity to see some great movies the way they were meant to be seen. (I'm not sure how to pass-up The Godfathers, Chinatown and Ben-Hur!)
But what does this say about the state of business at the Ziegfeld -- when a major first-run moviehouse decides to devote an entire month to programming films that likely will not sell-out any actual showings. Maybe I'm wrong, but I went to see Raging Bull at the Ziegfeld last year, and there couldn't have been more than 50 or even 100 people in the theater (and I feel like I'm being generous). That's less than 10% capacity. Yes, maybe this kind of programming is simply saying that Clearview doesn't consider any of the current crop of films strong enough to do any better than showing this kind of series, and maybe that's even true, although I doubt it. I mean, Big Momma's House 2 may not be good filmmaking, but it still made nearly $30 million its opening weekend. There are always some films out there making it big every weekend. I simply believe that it has more to do with the fact that people don't head to the Ziegfeld anymore. Like all the other Times Squares theaters that became run-down and have since gone out of business (including the cavelike Loews State 4 which was in the basement of the Virgin Megastore, had existed as a discount house for the last several years while also -- oddly enough -- showing a selection of Bollywood fare, and ceased to operate last month), the Ziegfeld too suffers from the existence of the AMC Empire 25 and the Loews 42nd Street eWalk and its modern amenities.
I hope I'm overthinking this -- I do that a lot so it's certainly possible. But could the end of the Ziegfeld be near? Could the last single-screen large movie theater in Manhattan go out of business and disappear like the rest. Sadly, I fear the chances are better than not. A movie theater can't survive on summer fare alone, and it seems like the Ziegfeld is barely even doing that.