Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Let's All Go to the Drive-In!

To cap off the summer, my Movie Meetup Group is organizing a trip to the Mendon, MA drive-in at the end of August. I won’t be going as I move to Northampton the following morning, but I have been thinking about thinking about how and why people get so excited at the idea of this nostalgic pastime.

I don’t remember attending the drive-in as an adult, only as a kid and into my teen years. The attraction for the drive-in when you are nine is staying up really really late, walking around in public in your pajamas (well, to the concession stand, anyway), and the endless stream of entertainment just outside your window. Films I saw at the drive-in including Disney flicks like Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World. (I think there were lots of Kurt Russell retrospectives.) Of course, this is also where I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and the very first installment of Star Wars. Up through the '70s, you had to drive up to a pole with a speaker on it to listen; into the '80s you learned to turn on an AM radio station in your car, and this was was considered high tech at the time.

Although the drive-in was around as early as the 1930s, their numbers (and size) exploded in the ‘50s as there was a need for developing entertainment for the newly discovered Youth Market. It wasn’t long before these hot spots were dubbed “passion pits.” My parents, keenly aware of this more salacious aspect of the drive-in, did not allow me to go there as a teenager—at least not with boys (car + boy + Catholic parents = stay home).

Today, numbers of drive-ins have dwindled to about 400 in the U.S, but that hasn’t stopped many folks from attending or even creating their own. Since 2002, there’s a DIY aesthetic to this outdoor moviegoing phenomenon, which includes the Santa Cruz guerrilla drive in, which hopes to "reclaim public space," and just celebrated a five-year anniversary, and MobMov, another guerrilla "mobile movie" movement group with members all over the world (thanks to TamaLeaver for the link). Of course, it makes sense that there should be an environmentally friendly version, and some have called for pedestrian-only or bike-only "drive-ins."

I guess I’d like to end this post by asking folks what their memories are of the drive-in, what they saw, and what really makes them so appealing today. If you never went to a drive-in as a kid/teen, would you go now? Does this make the moviegoing experience a more communal, shared one, rather than catching a flick at the multiplex? And does the movie even matter?

More info on drive-ins:
-A site dedicated to drive-ins, and here's another.
-Ross Melnick's great Cinema Treasures site lets you search for theaters and has an exhaustive, historical list of American drive-ins that are open and closed.

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