When you think of the most exciting, triple-wowser screenings of your life, it’s always a combination of (a) a knockout film, (b) a great crowd and (c) the film playing at a big-city, big-screen, technically tip-top theatre. One of the greatest of my life was catching an early-afternoon, opening-day (11.16.7) screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the Zeigfeld. Another was an opening weekend showing of Back to the Future (7.3.85) at the Cinerama Dome with that “Power of Love” rhythm guitar vibrating out of the Dolby speakers. But the best was catching The French Connection at Leows 86th Street on opening weekend (10.9.71). The rave reviews had popped that morning, the crowd was roused and ready, and when Don Ellis‘s brassy, heavy-hammer music started playing…wow.
Leows’ 86th Street East Cinema was born in ’65. By 1968, it was day-and-dating with Loew’s Capitol Theatre on first-run films. The seating capacity as a single screen was around 600 to 800 seats. It was twinned in the early ’80s, and then quadded in May ’99. It’s currently operated by City Cinemas.