Thursday, June 25, 2020

A New NO! An OLD Way to Watch Movies is Back, and There's Nothing Like a Drive-In.

A Case of  Blue Film premiered at a  Drive-in Film Festival
Photo courtesy Dana Glazer
By Ashton Samson

Against the backdrop of the current state of the world, how can we retain our connection with one another, all while keeping our safety? That’s the question that everyone is pondering and I have the answer: Drive-ins. You might have heard this phrase from one of your grandparents as they reminisced about a Friday night hangout from the days of yesteryear. Come on this journey to learn about the time of its apex at a much more simplistic moment in history, its decline at the commencement of a much more technologically complex era and intertwined with it all through the ages, the power of cinema. It will help you to understand why we could really have the potential to return to the good old days of our parents and grandparent’s youth, so I entreat you to dream with me of the past, present and future.

The Lighthouse International Film Festival
in NJ had a drive-in component in 2020
Who would have ever thought that the first drive-in was in New Jersey? In actuality, the first patented drive-in was opened on June 6, 1933 in Camden, New Jersey. Originally, drive-ins, which consist of a large, outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand and a large parking area for automobiles, existed as a solution for people unable to squeeze into minuscule and flimsy movie seats. As car ownership increased, so did the population in rural areas. A multitude of drive-ins opened, attracting families seeking to spend quality time together.

There were many advantages to watching a movie at a drive-in.  Parents could watch their young children with ease, while enjoying a sensational movie, and teenagers and young adults found it to be an ideal date night. Drive-ins gained even greater popularity in the 50’s and 60’s, a simpler time when mobile phones, Alexas, and other material items hadn’t yet been easily thrown into the hands of our consumerist society.  But little did the unsuspecting “baby boomers” know that our current world was rapidly approaching and it would spell trouble for drive-ins. 

There was a sharp decline in attendance at drive-ins in the early 70’s due to significant changes in the household with regard to home entertainment. Many no longer felt the need to go to drive-ins because they could watch TV from the comfort of their homes. Additionally, the runaway inflation and real estate interest rate hikes in the late 70’s and early 80’s made the immense land tracts used by drive-ins very expensive. By the late 80’s, the number of remaining drive-ins in this country was less than 200. Had the decline only been in relation to economics, drive-ins might have remained. However, once VCRs, Blockbuster rentals and DVD’s became popular, the comfort of the couch seemed more enticing.

According to the website of the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association
 As of October 2019 there were
305 Theatre Locations in the USA 
549 Total Screens
Summer is finally here, and having endured several difficult months of isolation, now more than ever people are longing for a safe, healthy way to reconnect-at a distance. As we venture out, we will be pleasantly surprised to learn that drive-ins are popping up all around us. The revival has begun!

Boxcar has partnered with several towns to create pop up drive-ins across the state of NJ, a state hit hard during the pandemic. The craze is gathering momentum and I, for one, cannot wait to sit back in my car and see some of my all time favorites on the drive-in screen. You probably won’t find the cast of Grease or The Outsiders in the parking lot, but you may find that seeing Star Wars under the stars for real makes you stop and appreciate those simpler times. Maybe that is the lesson to be learned in the first place. 

And now a view from the Editor, who has been to many a drive-in:

It's no surprise to me that drive-ins are on their way back. For anyone that's grown up with them and loves the movies, this was one of my first thoughts as a panacea to the theaters that are still shut down (in NY and NJ, at least). I have vivid memories of being pajamed-up before heading to the drive-in with my parents in the front seats, watching some of the movie and then waking up in my bed at home the next morning, I also have vivid memories of the excitement of driving past a big screen on the road while as a child. Yes, we looked out the window because we did not have any devices and the am/fm radio was in full control of my parents. If we were lucky enough to see even a few seconds of a new movie, it was all we could talk about when we went back to school.

Better on a big screen: Star Wars                                                                                               (Courtesy Facebook)
But, I also have memories of bugs. And the weather. Drive-ins have their advantages and disadvantages. Technology will help out the sound aspects of it. Whether you consider it an advantage or disadvantage, you can get easily distracted in a car. There's no one "shsshing" you or telling you "NO TALKING and NO CELLPHONES". And you have to pick up your trash.

I just wonder how fixed on the movie the young people in the cars will be. And who knows maybe we'll even hear the term "necking" again.

Every empty mall lot that housed a megaplex could be turning those parking lots into outdoor theaters. In harsher climates, the window for good weather is not too big and with all the problems with the movie industry, I am glad to see that some areas of the country are jumping on it. It can only be good for the industry, and good for people to get out of their homes safely. Artemis Fowl which was just released online, Star Wars and many other movies are MEANT for a big screen.