The Cinema Theater: Rochester’s Oldest Neighborhood Theater

We’ve been to the Cinema Theater twice before. In Budding scientists make cinematic splash at East, the Science STARS displayed Our Life. Our Meat. Our Story. In Talker loses his innocence, Rockily, at the Cinema Theatre, we were invited for a cameo appearance in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Today, George Cassidy Payne takes us inside and outside the Cinema Theater.

The Cinema Theater: Rochester’s Oldest Neighborhood Theater

I’m sure there is a study out there that looks at the psychology of people who enjoy going to the movie theater compared with those who like to watch films at home. Going to the theater has always been a strange way to bond with other people. The goal is not to talk, be seen, or be bothered, but to have a collective experience, sort of like a group meditation or Quaker Friends meeting.

Personally speaking, I do not want any contact. I purposely come in 5 minutes before the film starts, procure a seat that no one else is sitting near, and try my best to block out the extraneous static and ritualistic pre-screening chatter. Once I am seated and well organized, I look around the darkened space and wonder why I’m even there. What is it about going to the theater that makes watching a movie different or better than checking it out on DVD or Netflix? But I’m there, so there must be an answer in that.

Technologically speaking, the theater experience blows away any home stereo system. I don’t care how hooked up you are, there is nothing like watching and hearing a film on the big screen. The theater itself becomes another character/presence in the film. It becomes, in other words, the medium which allows the director’s vision to be fully channeled and realized through the sheer size and dimension of the platform itself; and it allows everyone else from the cinematographer to the sound editors to show what they originally felt in their heart when they began the project. You can’t get that at home. No matter how tricked out the DVD set is, or how enhanced your HD is, the theater makes movies truly movies.

The technological advantage aside, obviously, for me, its not about the verbal communication with other viewers that makes going to the movies better than staying home. But it matters that they are there nonetheless. It is comforting to know that they are making the effort just like me. To hear when they laugh is a good sign that the director/ writer hit the mark. To hear the audible gasps, hushes, shrieks, shuffling of feet, popcorn crunching, wiggling buts, oohs and ahhs, helps make the film come alive. The film was made to be seen, and to see other people seeing it helps make the experience more visceral than it would be otherwise. You can cram 20 -50 people into the most spacious living room, but it still doesn’t have the same effect as the theater.

I often wonder if we will have theaters in the future. It is hard to tell right now whether this is a dying venue or one waiting to be reinvented. Will there always be small neighborhood theaters like the Cinema on South Clinton? I’m not sure but I hope so.

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

Since 2018, The Cinema Theater has been run by Audrey Kramer and Alex Chernavsky. Consider becoming a member by contacting them directly: or Alex at: 585-271-1786

The Cinema Theater

957 South Clinton Ave.

(Across from Highland Diner)

585-271-1785-movie schedule


The Cinema now features a modern digital projector, Blu-ray player, computer with PowerPoint, Surround-sound audio system, and wireless microphones.

The sidewalk along the Cinema’s exit doors.

The historic Highland Diner

Did you know that the Cinema has held birthday parties and private screenings?

A scene from Roma

The theater’s ticket reception lobby


Changing My Mind About Muhammad: A Cinematic Transformation at the Dryden Theater.

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