Every year since the turn of the millennium I’d hear a rumor that the wonderful, opulent, historic Ziegfeld Theater would close its doors to make room for some high-end hotel or luxury apartment complex. The reason given was always that New York City no longer needs a movie palace for premieres and galas (like it needs even more high end housing?). Suddenly the day came when the rumor was true. It won’t become a hotel, but the elegant Ziegfeld Theater—the last single-screen cinema in Manhattan—lost its lease and closed its curtains for the final time on January 28, 2016.
The Ziegfeld was my favorite place to see a movie. I saw many MANY films there when I lived in New York. After I moved away, I occasionally made a special trip from Boston to NYC just to see a picture at the Ziegfeld. Two of The Top Ten Screenings of my life happened there. Of all my favorite Ziegfeld memories—the Star Wars and Vertigo reissues, The Commitments with a full house on opening weekend, the 70mm restoration of Spartacus hosted by Robert Harris, Blade Runner: The Final Cut with three of my cinematic soul mates—the best time I spent there was seeing Groundhog Day.
In February of 1993 I was editing a film with my best friend and one day we decided to take an extended lunch break and go see the new Bill Murray picture. We grabbed sandwiches at one of the many delis nearby and got to the theater more than half an hour early so we could eat our lunch without disturbing anyone. There wasn’t a soul in the place when we arrived (even in 1993 the theater didn’t pack ‘em in for daytime screenings). This occurred before the era of pre-show ads playing on movie screens, so the gold curtains were properly drawn and the 1131 seat auditorium was unbelievably quiet. Not a sound could be heard apart for the movie Musax station that use to play at NYC cinemas at a barely audible level.
There’s something so decadent and magical about sitting alone in a giant, silent room in the heart of one of the most crowded and noisy parts of one of the world's most crowded and noisy cities, carrying on a conversation in reverent, whispered tones. I remember thinking that this was the perfect lunch. No restaurant, dining room, or backyard BBQ experience could beat sharing a sandwich with a good friend in the cocoonlike comfort of the Ziegfeld cinema when its lights are still up and its curtains still closed. This pleasure was accessible to anyone—a ticket and sandwich cost less then $20 back then. We finished our meal and our talk long before the picture started. As the lights dimmed and the curtains parted, we settled in—totally unprepared for what was about to come. We assumed we were going to see a silly but enjoyable high-concept Hollywood comedy; a mild distraction, not a film we’d end up returning to again and again as the decades passed. By the time the show was over I knew I’d just seen one of my 100 favorite movies. I turned to my buddy and said, “we gotta come here for lunch every day!”
Sadly, we never played hooky like that from work again, but it was not the last time I visited the Ziegfeld. When I started film5000 I snuck a camera in, set it up under the screen, and took the “selfie” that appears on the blog’s ABOUT page. The photo shows me sitting anonymously in the back of the theater. It’s not my usual seat, but appropriate to visually express the feeling I get when going to the movies—a sensation of being alone among others and experiencing something brand new while remaining deeply connected to all that has come before. I’m now even happier I took this photo, as I will forever miss the Ziegfeld.