Friday, January 22, 2016

5 Off My Head - Ziegfeld Memories

As I'm sure you've read by now, the legendary Ziegfeld theater here in New York City is closing in a few weeks, after forty-six years of ritzy premieres and movie magic. It's an institution, the kind of old-school experience that's disappearing all over this city, and this news makes me incredibly sad. The Ziegfeld was the first place I'd check to see if something was playing - with its single (enormous) screen the turnover wasn't as often as the multiplexes so I didn't go as often as I wanted to, but I still made it a few times a year, and some of my most memorable movie-going experiences from this city were generated among its gilded aisles and velveteen wall hangings. Here are five off the top of my head.

Opening Night for Blade II -- Yes Guillermo Del Toro directed this movie and it's totally better than a Blade sequel has any right being, but the first thing I think of when I think of Blade II has to do with an entirely - and I do mean entirely - different director, for when I saw Blade II on opening night none other than Todd Solondz was seated directly in front of me. The director of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, out to watch Wesley Snipes snap sassy quips with fangs. How was I supposed to pay attention to anything but how Todd Solondz reacted to anything? I'd only been in New York for a year and a half at this point in 2002, and already I had one of my favorite celebrity sightings. (For the record, he seemed bored.)

The Premiere of Maddona's film W.E. -- Okay so a lot of my memories attached to this theater are for less than stellar movies - I wish I could relate to the folks who I've seen talking on Twitter about seeing stone-cold classics here, but my memories involve a lot of junk like this. But this night comes up in conversation weirdly often since I was five inches away from Madonna dressed like Mae West and you don't really forget that sort of thing. (Here's a post I did about it at the time, and yes, I took that picture myself.)

Opening Weekend of Toy Story 3 -- One of my favorite things about going to the Ziegfeld was (sigh, past tense) that they'd have an employee come out right before the show started to welcome everyone in the cavernous room to the movie, and wish us a good time - well before Toy Story 3 started instead of a lone employee they brought out an entire troupe of folks in Toy Story character costumes, much to the delight of the many children in the audience. Since I'm a middle-aged childless grump I usually dislike a theater full of kids but this simple act of delight and cheer made the entire screening and everyone in it feel like one of those kids again.

Opening Night of Chicago -- Y'all know I'm not a musical person, so really I have no idea why I went to see this film on opening night, but go I did... and the entire audience was filled to the gills with cosplaying theater queens, done up like Roxy Hart et al, belting their favorite tunes along with their onscreen counterparts. It was, quite literally, my personal vision of Hell. But I'll never forget it! (I'll probably wake up in cold sweats from it for the rest of my life.)

Opening Night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens -- I might head back to the Ziggy to see this a second time there (a third time total) but if not this screening just a few weeks ago will end up being my last memory of the place, and it's not a bad one to go out on. The theater was packed to the gills and there to have a blast, and a blast we all had. There's one shot in JJ Abrams' film that really works in 3D, of a Star Destroyer floating in space, that took my breath away in the Ziegfeld -- it really looked like that enormous ship was floating right over the audience in front of me. It was spectacle, gorgeous and old-fashioned and grand, and it might very well be what I first see in my mind's eye when I remember this most magic of palaces.

 If you have any memories of the theater, please share 
in the comments! I'd love to hear them!


Joey said...

Wait, WHAT?! I saw Moulin Rouge! there, and it remains the most vivid moviegoing experience of my life.

Row-bin said...

I was working on an off-Broadway show in 2007 when Sweeney Todd came out; I remember going with co-workers to opening night and having the place packed with theater queens. Best reaction was when the Mamma Mia trailer started- a huge, "Yay!" and then, "oh."

Dale M. said...

I am so sad about this theatre closing. I had no interest in seeing the new Star Wars, but I have to see one more movie at the Ziegfeld.