23 Feb 2011

"The Film Projectionist Who Looks Away"

By ROBIN FINN - Published: November 24, 2010

On day one of a recent vacation, Joseph J. Micherdzinski was home in Yonkers with his wife, Mary Ann, watching the original black-and-white version of “The Night of the Living Dead.” Mr. Micherdzinski, 67, has been a film projectionist since 1968, so this seemed a bit like a pizza-maker going out for a holiday meal and wolfing down a dozen slices of Sicilian, but no.

Joseph J. Micherdzinski has been a film projectionist at the Ziegfeld Theater for 17 years.

“The sad part is that projectionists are going the way of the dinosaurs and reel-to-reel,” Mr. Micherdzinski said.

According to him, there is nothing innovative coming out of Hollywood, hence his home library of go-to classics. He has worked at the Ziegfeld Theater for 17 years but says he rarely bothers sneaking a peek at the big screen.

Last movie watched at work: “The American” with George Clooney. I thought it was slow. But I enjoyed the story. I saw “Avatar” at a theater where one of my buddies is a projectionist. “Inglourious Basterds” I’ve seen several times; there’s a scene that shows what’s so dangerous about the old silver nitrate film that’s no longer used by the industry.

Speaking of flammable ... In my whole career, I’ve only had one fire break out during a movie, but once was enough. It was at the Ziegfeld — some wiring behind the booth caught fire and it spread. First the assistant manager and I cleared out the theater. Then we fought the fire with extinguishers until the Fire Department got there. The movie we were showing that night was “Vertigo.”

Intro to cinema: I grew up in Parkchester in the Bronx; we had two theaters, the Palace and the Circle. On Saturday afternoons you could see 2 features, 10 cartoons and one part of a serial, all for 50 cents. The first movie I remember going to at night was “Mister Roberts.” It was my mother’s sister’s husband who got me into this business; he was a projectionist on Broadway and at Lincoln Center.

In the Navy: I was assigned to the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, an attack aircraft carrier stationed out of San Diego. I was an internal communications electrician; part of my job was taking care of the projection equipment on the ship.

In-flight entertainment: My uncle told me they were hiring at Bell & Howell airline services company out at J.F.K. airport, a union job. We serviced the projection equipment when the aircraft were at the gate or in the hangars; all a stewardess had to do was press a button at movie time. It was 16 millimeter film. I was there 15 years. For training, I went to something called motion picture operators’ school.

The big screen: I wanted to work in a theater, and in 1983 there was an opening for a projectionist at the Riverdale, part of the Loews chain. I was there a couple years, then it closed. When it reopened as an independent, the new owner twinned it and threw me a few extra shifts.

Endangered species: The sad part is that projectionists are going the way of the dinosaurs and reel-to-reel. Everything went digital. At the Ziegfeld I can show digital movies, I can show 35 millimeter, and I can show 70 millimeter, but I’m down to 25 hours a week. My daughter-in-law was a projectionist in Co-op City for 10 years; she just got laid off.

Favorite movie: Anybody who says they have a favorite movie, it is one big fat lie. There’s too many out there. O.K., the original “King Kong” is one of the best; for Westerns, “The Searchers.” James Cagney in “Public Enemy.” “Some Like it Hot” was a great comedy. I thought “The Hangover” was funny. I saw it on cable.

As read on the New York Times

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