In the Movies: Drive-In Movie Theaters

Image Credit: Flickr user bound_4_freedom

I miss going to the drive-in, a movie experience unlike any other yet a quickly disappearing icon of early American car culture. The differences between going to a drive-in and a regular theater are numerous. I remember looking around at other screens when the movie I was watching grew slow, the obligatory repeat visits to the concession stand, even sneaking in via the trunk to save a few bucks.

When real estate became too valuable, these operations were forced out for development, and they just started vanishing. Even improving the audio experience -by replacing those awkward, often broken speakers with a signal beamed to the local AM/FM band- hasn’t stopped the extinction. Even the film world is somewhat devoid of scenes involving one, but there are a handful that I can think of.

Heat

Warner Bros.

The Centinela Drive-In in Los Angeles was already closed up when Michael Mann filmed this scene for Heat there. The rows of small inclines, placed there so patrons could angle their cars up for premium viewing experience, make for some exciting driving as the characters react to a violent double-cross. The land is now a middle class development. (More Heat filming locations at the link.)

Back to the Future III

In order to send Marty back this time, Doc sets up at a drive-in movie theater with a decidedly western theme. How appropriate. As the DeLorean accelerates to 88mph, it’s headed right for a wall mural featuring a tribe of Old West Indians riding fiercely on horseback. After he jumps, Marty is instantly surrounded by the same thing, only it’s real this time. How clever!

Blue Thunder

In this Roy Scheider/Malcolm McDowell helicopter thriller, there’s one scene where Scheider’s girlfriend has to retrieve evidence left in a dumpster at an L.A. drive-in (probably not the same one as Heat).

The Outsiders

Zoetrope Films

Drive-in theaters weren’t strictly a park-and-view experience. Many, especially in the 1960s, included playgrounds, patio dining, and a bandstand type seating area for pedestrian moviegoers – or greasers who sneak in under the fence, like in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic.

Twister

In 1985, the Spotlight 88 drive-in theater in Pennsylvania was destroyed when an F3 tornado ripped through it. Afterwards, before it closed and became a flea market, the management changed the marquis sign to say “Now Playing: Gone with the Wind.” In Jan de Bont’s 1996 action movie, a twister of similar magnitude surprises a late night screening by chewing right through a screen showing The Shining. As a somewhat ham-handed tribute, de Bont has the screen and funnel meld together just as Jack Nicholson delivers his “Here’s Johnny!” line.

Grease

In the Broadway production of Grease, the scene is the same, but the song Danny Zuko sings is actually called “Alone at the Drive In.” It’s a more bebop-ey, era-accurate song than “Sandy” could ever hope to be, but updating is nothing new. Also, nice inclusion of the animated snack bar ads. Everyone loves it when the hot dog jumps into the bun.

Targets

 

via The Internet Movie Car Database

This gruesome gem was director Peter Bogdanovich’s first movie, edited by Jaws‘ Verna Fields, and starred Boris Karloff in a kind of self-reflective role. He plays a former monster movie actor whose style is outdated; the people need scarier monsters now. So¬†another character decides to go on a shooting spree, at one point shooting people from behind the drive-in movie screen they’re all staring at. Whoa, deep.

Jesus’ Son

Another fairly unknown movie that gets a lot of repeat viewings at this household. Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Jack Black, Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper. How’s that for a “Who’s in it?” Anyway, great cast and a life-affirming journey. In one crazy scene, after Crudup and Black have ingested some sort of hallucinogen, they come across an old drive-in, weeds growing tall and just the posts left where the speakers used to hang. Crudup’s character thinks he’s walking through a graveyard, then beholds his love up on the giant screen. And someone’s feet is playing an organ. It’s weird. Cool, but really strange.

Herbie Fully Loaded

Yeah, well that’s what I’ve heard.

Christine

Columbia Pictures

It was wise of John Carpenter to alter the scene in the book where Leigh almost chokes to death on a hamburger, and place it at a drive-in instead of outside of a fast food place. It just feels more natural to have a car like that 1958 Plymouth Fury at a drive-in theater. Right? And instead of a hitchhiker, we just get someone who was in the next car over to save her, at Arnie’s expense.

As with many of the aggregate posts I write, I’m sure I missed some. Any ideas?

Wiki

Don’t miss my other In the Movies topics, Elevator Shafts, and Dams.

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