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Essay: My Cinema Paradiso on Long Island

The Roslyn Theater on Old Northern Boulevard in

The Roslyn Theater on Old Northern Boulevard in September 1972. The feature was "Butterflies Are Free." Credit: Newsday / Ken Spencer

It was an early date, the first of many I would have with my future wife at a movie theater that would become our favorite venue over the next 50 years. I was 16, a junior at Chaminade High School. The year was 1966.

The Roslyn Theater stood like a beacon in the village, beckoning movie lovers inside with Old World charm since 1933. It still stands across Tower Place from the iconic stone clock tower built in 1895.

The white-brick facade with its classic pediment at the top was unmistakably grand. The marquee over the entrance displayed the single movie playing that week, “Alfie,” starring Michael Caine. We entered through the double doors, purchased tickets and were overcome by the irresistible scent of buttered popcorn. The two entry tickets exhausted my $2 allowance, so Alice dug into her pocketbook for the required change for the popcorn. Inside, we chose seats on the left side orchestra on the aisle.

One of the most distinguishing features was a circular backlit clock that hung on the left side of the stage frame. It had white hands surrounded by a circular ring with “Roslyn Savings Bank” on the perimeter. The clock was softly lit in purple and white — just enough not to distract viewers when the lights went down. In my mind, the clock was as much a symbol of the old place as the single screen. When the theater met the modern multi-screen era, the clock disappeared.

As the curtain parted, exposing the huge screen, the lights dimmed and the film began. There were no advertisements and no run-on coming attractions. I reached for Alice’s hand and found a welcoming grasp. I wouldn’t let go until the house lights came up.

From that first visit, the place became my Cinema Paradiso, where I fell in love for the first time with my girl and with film as an art form. The theater and film took on a mythical presence that would draw me back again and again to the magic they offered. Time was measured in afternoons spent transfixed by films that wrenched at the heartstrings, that left me thrilled and uplifted, and many that left me speechless and in tears. It was easy to fall in love with the romance of film and this theater where time disappeared when the lights were turned down.

Many hundreds of visits to the Roslyn Theater later, I’m still in love with its uniqueness. It has weathered years of change in the movie business and has adapted. Years ago, the theater was divided into four mini-theaters. You could almost hear the house groan as the changes ripped apart her past. But the theater still had its grand outside appearance. A time machine view then and now would reveal very few changes.

And in all that time, and many hundreds of movies later, Alice and I are still together and can be found time and again gazing up at the screen from the left side of the orchestra.

Reader James D. Riordan lives in Old Westbury.


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