One recent weekend night, my friends and I took an after-dinner trip to Ivy Noodle. Unsure of what to do for the rest of the night, we slowly made our way back to Saybrook, hoping to think suddenly of an exciting plan for the rest of the evening. While walking toward Tyco, I glanced to my left, and noticed York Square Cinema’s large, red sign, accompanied by the white board where the owners of the theater used to list the titles of the movies currently playing. Sighing, I walked back to my friends’ suite, where we watched “Talladega Nights” on a small television. Each time I pass by York Square Cinema, I ask myself the same question — wouldn’t it have been fun to watch a movie in a theater close to campus that was packed with members of the Yale community?
Sadly, the white board below the York Square Cinema sign has remained empty of new movie titles since July 2005, when the theater closed a month before I began my freshman year. According to a 2005 News article, for years the small York Square Cinema had been denied access to major Hollywood movies by Showcase Cinemas, a conglomerate with the right to prevent its competitors from showing movies. York Square Cinema’s resulting loss of profits forced the independent business to fold.
Why is York Square Cinema’s sad fate, determined almost two years ago, still relevant today? On Feb. 6, I opened up my YDN at breakfast to find out that the long vacant York Square Cinema was going to be replaced. My excitement at thinking that a new theater might open quickly turned to dismay when I read that Campus Customs was going to fill the spot. Campus Customs, already possessing a location a few doors down from York Square on Broadway, wanted to move into the empty theater in order to have room for on-site production. The store would then be able to decrease the time it takes to create custom apparel for Yale clubs and sports. I have nothing against Campus Customs, but couldn’t the space be put to better use?
In my opinion, the current film scene at Yale could use some improvement. Criterion Cinemas, which opened on Temple Street in November 2004, is a good alternative to York Square. Criterion is larger than York Square was and shows current mainstream films ranging from “Borat” to “Breach.” But Criterion is a 12-minute walk away from campus, as opposed to the two minutes it took to get to York Square, which prevents it from being a central part of campus life.
The list of places to watch movies besides Criterion is very short. Last year, I went to the Medical School Film Society a few times to see new movies such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Pride and Prejudice.” This year, a trip to the Medical School Film Society’s Web site reveals that it “is looking for a new team to run the society.” The Yale Film Society hosts movie screenings and Master’s Teas with members of the film industry. But the Film Society’s screenings are not regular, like last year’s almost-weekly film showings at the Medical School Film Society. The Cinema at the Whitney, located at Whitney Humanities Center, is great for seeing more artistic films, but does not show mainstream movies.
What is to be done about the film scene at Yale? By perusing old News articles, I discovered that shortly after York Square Cinema closed, then-Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 pushed unsuccessfully for a joint Yale- and community-operated cooperative theater that would have screened both old classics and new releases. It’s really unfortunate that this cooperative movie theater was never opened using York Square’s already existing theater space.
By now, maybe Campus Customs has already finalized the deal giving it the right to expand to the site of the old York Square Cinema. Yale could still support a student-run film society that has weekly screenings at a different location, perhaps in a Yale auditorium, nearer to central campus than Criterion. If such a student-run film society is economically unrealistic, the University could at least ensure that the Medical School Film Society is running. A movie theater is a vital place for a school community. It brings people together to laugh and to cry, providing students with an alternative to the normal weekend schedule of partying on Friday and Saturday nights. Losing York Square Cinema was a major blow to Yale social life. However, the saddest part of York Square’s demise is that, two years later, it has not been adequately replaced.
Ben Tannen is a sophomore in Saybrook College.