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York Square Cinema--ready for the big leagues?

By Amy Lin

With the recent controversy surrounding Broadway, the stores that have survived the most recent cut must be anxious about whether they'll pass the next one. There's been a lot of talk about sacrificing unique, small stores like the Daily Caffe to national chains like Willoughby's and of replacing useful, beloved stores like Store 24 with the mass-produced giant, Urban Outfitters. Much of this discussion has concerned the needs of New Haven residents and of Yale students—but has anyone considered the plight of the stores that haven't left? York Square Cinema, for instance, after 55 years of existence, remains vulnerable to the whims of Broadway redevelopers.

Perhaps it is in a fit of panic, then, that the tiny theater wedged next to the shiny Barnes & Noble—and placed a few doors down from the Cutler's window covered with Britney Spears posters—has decided to fling itself into pop culture with a vengeance. Not only is York Square venturing into the field of blockbuster movies with Eyes Wide Shut and The Blair Witch Project, but it is suing the film companies, claiming that it should have the rights to still more mainstream movies. It's a natural survival instinct on the part of York Square, seeking to transform itself into a modern cinema that will enhance and conform to the new Broadway look instead of remaining a low-key, artsy theater that caters to eclectic student interests. But this move won't fit the tenor of the place. For all of its litigious and commercial ambition, when it comes to merely showing a movie, York Square has yet to master the basics.

The simple experience of seeing a movie on the big screen becomes an adventure at York Square. The seats are comfortable enough, but moviegoers always have to be prepared for a surprise intermission in the middle of a tense moment due to "technical difficulties." A little shakiness in the projection and some flickering scenes (Blair Witch excepted) make up only part of the minor annoyances in the normal course of business, as does the employee apologizing for the temporary difficulties. York Square is also unique in its practice of including a trailer for the movie that will immediately follow, perhaps hoping to prime the audience for the perfect viewing experience.

Showtimes are mere suggestions, since technical difficulties add up and thwart any efforts to schedule or predict the start of the movie. Apparently, there are also logistical difficulties with the accuracy of times advertised outside— Friday's schedule is often mixed with Saturday's or Sunday's. As for the information advertised in the papers and on the theater's windows, it's pretty much a game of chance. There's a lot of information in those movie ads and event listings: the film, its time and theater, and relevant phone numbers. But don't be greedy and expect to get all of them right every time—it's common to see listings for wrong numbers or playing times, or even to encounter listings for a movie that is no longer playing.

However, if you take the trouble to find out what is actually playing and when, York Square Cinema proves to be wonderfully adapted to the student viewer. After all, the theater currently garners much student business. The sheer convenience of York Square is appealing because it doesn't require convincing your friend with the car to drive 15 minutes to North Haven, or even catching the bus to the Medical School for the Film Society. There are always at least four shows playing, which is more variety than either film society. And for the four-dollar student rate, it's worth paying the extra 75 cents or so to see it on a big screen instead of schlepping out to rental giants such as Hollywood Video or Blockbuster.

It's obvious that Showcase Cinemas has a stranglehold over almost all the recent and more highly publicized movies. And it is because of this dynamic that York Square has resorted to foreign, more obscure, and often more intellectual films. But it is this very ability to fill a unique niche that, set alongside the endearing image of a York Square staffer trying to find ice for your soda or running upstairs to put out a fire in the projection room, gives the scrappy independent theater its essence. Ironically, in light of York Square's pending lawsuit, it might be the charm and uniqueness of a small cinema showing independent and more adventurous films that helps maintain healthy student attendance, even on a random weeknight.  Then again, maybe it's just the free Willoughby's coffee in the lobby.

Amy Lin is a junior in Morse.

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