Upon arriving to the humidity and sloth of Camp Yale, returning students might notice a jarring absence in the New Haven cityscape — the irreplaceable York Square Cinema. More a New Haven institution than a mere movie theater, York Square has served as the Elm City’s purveyor of deliciously pretentious cinema, not to mention a coveted venue for the elusive “Yale date.” But, as of July 16, New Haveners and Yalies alike will have to look beyond the endearingly ancient confines of the Square for their indie film cravings.
We’ll all surely miss the experience, but this is hardly an irreparable problem. Yale students will discover that there are bountiful opportunities for film in both our Gothic Disneyland and the city at large. Firstly, there are several theaters within walking and driving distance from one’s dorm room (yes, even those in TD). The new Criterion Theater on Temple Street offers a more glossy and corporate take on York Square’s more dilapidated — some would say charming — cinematic experience. Esoteric documentaries and morose foreign films often inhabit the theater (“March of the Penguins” played all summer.)
For the uninitiated with a hunger for the ubiquitous American blockbuster, the two local powerhouse theaters can be found in North Haven (amidst a sprawling strip mall) and Orange (between Interstate 91 and anonymous Connecticut wilderness). While both of these theaters offer the luxury of unabashed uniformity, they both demand unfortunate schleps. Therefore, in order to see the most recent Ashley Judd crime drama, one of course needs to seek out friends who conveniently have cars. The other option is taking a cab, which is both expensive (often $25 each way) and indescribably awkward.
But not every movie experience in New Haven comes with a $9 ticket. Both the newly reborn Yale Film Society and the reliable Yale Medical School Film Society offer several films each semester — not to mention free and aesthetically pleasing posters — which play in decent venues. The latter offers a diverse selection of vintage classics (anything from Lynch to Kurosawa) as well as the occasional Hollywood sneak preview. The YFS is also known to host a number of special events, guest lecturers, and director Q&As. (Ang Lee screened “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” two years ago.)
The Medical School Film Society, while not as academic as the YFS, offers more of the first-run blockbuster type in the cavernous Med School auditorium. The membership is inexpensive and the screenings are plentiful, but the film quality is often atrocious; it can be a hit-or-miss experience.
And then there’s always the option of online DVD rental services, which contain vast reservoirs of DVDs for the choosing. Netflix claims to have over 50,000 titles and 250 genres, though how many of those one could be interested in is questionable. Blockbuster is getting in on the game as well (but those losers boast a paltry 40,000 titles). Both services hover below 20 bucks a month; but indefinitely renting “Waiting for Guffman” and “Wild at Heart” is priceless.
Students can also raze the antisocial barriers of the digital world and go to the actual, real life Blockbuster that is a brave one-block walk south of the Yale bubble. The Chapel Street video store has a fairly large selection of domestic and foreign films, though inexplicably they also carry both violent slasher films and gay erotica. And, as of several months ago, Blockbuster is no longer charging late fees for overdue movies — which ranks with the triumphs of mercantile miracles.
But then again, piracy may be the best option for living without York Square. While some may spend hours downloading Star Wars on Limewire or BitTorrent, the files are often corrupted, or just an enormous waste of time and disk space (which is necessary for establishing an iTunes shared music identity). The best form of piracy comes from the original connotation of the word: looting and pillaging. Those with a deft delivery of “Hey, can I watch that DVD?” can have any film at their fingertips. Many even elect to avoid questioning and instead “borrow” DVDs for days, weeks and months on end. A Calhoun senior has clipboarded a make-shift rental form next to her towering library to avoid such security breaches.
That said, York Square’s departure will hardly engender benign theft amongst Yalies. While students have always taken advantage of our sundry film offerings, York Square Cinema never failed to provide a unique, Jessica Simpson-free, and distinctly New Haven movie-going experience. It will sorely be missed.