Want to go to the drive-in with me?
That’s not a hypothetical question, either. I’m genuinely curious how many of you in the Southern California area would want to participate if I organized an outing to the three different drive-in theaters that are currently playing new releases within about an hour’s drive from where I live.
Today, if you go to Google’s front page, you’ll see the latest of their themed Google Doodles, an actual animated film saluting the opening of the first drive-in theater in America on June 6, 1933. 79 years ago. And while the theaters did not endure in great number, it gives me a smile to know that right now, I can go see movies in three different drive-in theaters, and that my kids are going to be able to have that experience.
The appeal of the drive-in is the sense of community when you attend with friends, I believe. Everyone goes and pulls their cars in and sort of camps together… and it’s great fun. I did it a few times when I was at Ain’t It Cool, always with the assistance of the great Jack Morrissey, a fellow movie theater nerd with a real love of classic Americana regarding where and how we watch films. I don’t just remember the movies I saw as a kid… I remember where I saw many of them, and I remember the greatest screens I saw movies on. The actual physical experience of seeing the films that influenced me were often part of the impact the films had on me.
For example, the first time I saw “Close Encounters,” at the age of seven, I saw it at a drive-in. I’ll talk more about that a little later today, but the relevant part is how tactile my memories are of my grandmother’s car, of the speaker box we used to play the sound, of the car next to us with the kids who were drinking and smoking. I remember the mosquitoes. I remember the two trips we took to the concession stand. I remember moving to the back seat so I could start to fall asleep during the second feature, something far more grown up and, for seven-year-old me, far less interesting. I remember listening to the movie and not seeing it, and then drifting away.
I remember when my cousin was living in an apartment building that had a good view of the screens of a nearby drive-in. I remember figuring out what radio signal to tune to if we wanted to actually hear the movie. I remember a long night of harmless ’70s titty comedies that we watched with the volume as low as possible, paranoid like we were the Watergate burglars, sure we were about to be caught but thrilled that we had just cracked the code to free movies.
And, yes, I remember the last time we went to one of the drive-ins here in LA. Or, more accurately, in City Of Industry. I remember all the friends who showed up. I remember trying to watch “Anacondas” in the not-nearly-dark enough hour before sunset. I remember the way the evening got better and better as we pushed on through three films. And I remember the long drive home and the enormous sense of joy I seemed to ride the whole way.
I think drive-in theaters are very special, unique among screening experiences. It’s one of the reasons Tim League’s Rolling Roadshow through the Alamo Drafthouse is so inspirational. He’s literally taking a drive-in movie theater around the country and having it pop up on the site where the movie that is playing was actually shot.
That’s super genius.
At heart, though, the drive-in itself is such an unbelievably odd idea that I can’t believe (A) it every really got big in the first place and (B) that it ever fell out of favor once it was big. I would think people would become addicted to it if they had a drive-in close enough to go often. An hour and twenty minutes is just enough for me to consider something a very special event, something not to be done every weekend. Disneyland is close to me, but it’s far enough away that I would hate to drive there ever day or even every week.
That’s why I’d like to pick a date, something during June, where we all go to the first of the three drive-in theaters. Then a date in July, when we go to the second one. And in August, we’ll go to the third one.
We’ll vote as a group. Anyone who goes to all three screenings is part of the vote. And we’ll decide which one we’ll go back exclusively the following summer.
Come on… tell me you don’t want to be part of a drive-in group. Tell me you don’t think it would be fun to audition all three places. Think of how much fun we can wring out of getting together for drive-in night.
Let’s be clear… I’m not doing this with the theaters. This isn’t a deal where I have a venue locked down and I’m offering you a chance to attend a HitFix event. I just realized that my kids don’t know what a drive-in theater is yet, and that has to change.
I love that Google saluted the history of this particular piece of Americana today, and I hope some of you feel like participating in what could be a great way to spend a few nights this summer. If it starts to come together, I’ll publish more details.
In the meantime, how about you share your drive-in memories with me below? I’m curious to see if any of you have the same sort of affection for them that I do.