What About Cinema?

Wednesdays remind me of the cinema. At home in France, that was the day movies were released, as students have Wednesday afternoons off. So, when my 2:30 class ended last Wednesday, and none of my usual venues for procrastination stood out, I thought to myself: “why not procrastinate by going to Bow Tie Criterion?”

After countless unsuccessful attempts at convincing friends to come with me, I persuaded Diego to follow me downtown under the downpour for a screening of a movie for the ages: The Nun II (I have a personal soft spot for the Conjuring saga).  

The Criterion Bow Tie opened in 2004 and has “proudly entertained the people of New Haven” ever since. If you walk down Temple Street in the shadow of the unusual brutalist parking garage, turning your head to number 80 might be a striking contrast. The outside facade (although imposing) may blend with the surroundings, but the glass doors provide a glimpse back to the ‘80s. 

Our entrance into the theater unfolded like the beginning of a cliché horror film: two drenched silhouettes in the doorframe with hammering rain and ominous thunderclaps as a soundtrack. As we stepped inside, I asked myself if they had designed the cinema to enhance the horror aesthetic: the lighting was dim, the infinite pattern on the carpet mirrored the hotel floor from The Shining, and, most strikingly, the place was completely empty. As someone who loves making comments during movies (but gets irritated when others do the same), being alone with a friend in the theater is usually great. But something about that dreary Wednesday afternoon made it more off-putting than pleasantly pensive. 

The Bow Tie Criterion embodies everything quintessential about American cinema: the jaded cashier checking your ticket and vaguely directing you to theater N6, the randomly large spread of food from corn dogs to “buttered” popcorn and (suspiciously) blue slushies, the incongruous set of ads prior to the movies (no thank you, I do not want to join real estate). But the crowds were missing. I have vivid memories of movie theaters from home and my childhood: the hustle and bustle, the line for popcorn, loud families taking up rows. The sadness I felt at The Criterion’s emptiness replicated my sorrow when La Pagode in Paris closed and was put up for sale. The historic Japanese pagoda from the 19th century, a literal “Temple of Cinema,” was my favorite weekend spot.

As the credits rolled and we exited the empty theater, I wondered if cinema was truly “dying.” All that I know is that the Bow Tie is probably closing, since it does not have a viable business model. This comes roughly a year after another New Haven movie theater, Ciné 4, also shut down because of low revenue. Is it something about convenience? Perhaps. People would rather watch movies from the comfort of their homes. However, I firmly believe that Downtown New Haven cannot stay an actual “downtown” without a cinema. And that even though The Nun II was not a screening for the ages, watching it in The Criterion made it memorable. 

I want the Bow Tie’s symbolic significance to be more important than its business model. It can draw people out of their routine on a Wednesday afternoon to share a common appreciation for movies on the big screen. Even if it’s just two individuals in an otherwise empty theater with no 3D, XD or Dolby immersive soundtrack, their decision to be there, fully aware of the disquieting ambiance, speaks to cinema’s magnetic allure. It is a testament to cinema’s greatness and immortality. 

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