Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

January 26, 2023

Heartbreak Feels Good in a Place Like This: An Obituary for the Regal Cinemas in Ithaca

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The Regal Cinema, “scheduled to close imminently” due to bankruptcy, embodied the worn-down, gaudy movie theater that somehow exists in every U.S. city. For those reasons, I will mourn it deeply.

The Cornell Cinema and Cinepolis are great movie houses, but that’s the problem: They’re unique, they’re art-house and they somehow exclusively cater to people from your freshman writing seminar. When I buy tickets for a movie, I want to bathe myself in Dolby Atmos, eat frostbitten Dibs and let go of my responsibilities for two hours, intellectual or otherwise. I want to inhabit places where middle schoolers go on chaperoned first dates, places in abandoned malls that beg to be torn down, places that position Oscar contenders on the same indifferent marquee as Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

In the age where streaming reigns, there’s understandably little incentive to see a movie in-person. Think of the possible COVID germs on that grimy seat. Think of the British drama with its mumbling dialogue that you can’t pause to put on the subtitles. Think of the exorbitant parking prices , how much cheaper your snacks at home are and how seductive the inertia to simply stay at home is…

However, at the risk of sounding like a sentimental award show speech, you cannot deny the power and dissolution of self that comes with seeing a film on a proper large screen. I got into the habit of going to the movies alone during my first semester at Cornell. First at Cinemapolis, then The Regal, if I could borrow my sister’s car. It was a refuge off campus, a place away from the pressures and people of my first semester. My Saturday nights alone were no longer hours passed in self-pity, but evidence of a life committed to The Arts. Since then, it’s become less of a refuge and more of a luxury. 

Nevertheless, in my violently homesick moments, the nationwide uniformity of these theaters transported me back to Los Angeles at my favorite (also now defunct — thanks, COVID) Landmark and Arclight theaters. I found myself across the country, but here were the same plastic seats with the same ugly pattern and the same sticky floors, god willing.

Seeing films at The Regal offered me a concrete, glimmering distraction, and it was a landline to the entertainment-ese my family and friends spoke at home. I missed our culture of starting sentences with “You know what I’ve been watching lately?” and debating the merits of whatever HBO show we had supposedly “slept on,” and “did you know that very same producer worked on that one action flop with the Scientologist a couple years back…yeah, total 180!”.  It was a universal dialect, whether you worked in the industry or not.

One night toward the end of the fall semester, I went to see Bones and All at The Regal with two of my friends. Like any good Luca Guadagino film, I left feeling unmoored and sobbing. Yet I couldn’t help but think it wasn’t just the movie’s doomed romance which stirred me, but the experience in conjunction with its setting. We raced through the barren expanse of Ithaca Mall, denouncing the ugliness of the bygone neon signs and the misleading hopefulness of the building itself. I may have physically been in Ithaca, painfully reminded of my first love, but I was simultaneously in Los Angeles, walking out of a Lady Bird screening in ninth grade and wondering if I too wanted to move to the East Coast. It’s not just movies that can be a sanctuary, but the places that store them as well, in all of their kitsch and glory. 

Farewell, The Regal. I’ll miss your crusty butter spout, indifferent teenage employees and sense of anonymity. To quote Nicole Kidman in her AMC commercial, “Heartbreak feels good in a place like this.” For one last hurrah, I’ll be immersing myself in the true power of cinema (read: a midnight screening of M3GAN).

Violet Gooding is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].