A true American tragedy is taking place across this fine land of ours. A cultural icon, the drive-in movie theater, is on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile Cineplexes (the Wal-Mart of the theater industry) are cropping up quicker than protests against the current administration. This flashier form of viewing the latest movie releases, complete with needless décor (plastic ferns really don’t add a lot to my viewing pleasure) and gratuitous lobby seating (does anyone really sit and ponder the woes of the world on these strategically placed polyester covered benches?) is quickly devouring the small town drive-in. Making this transition from the drive-in to the Cineplex is like trading in a classic red Corvette for a shiny new ’06 version. Just because something is the latest, greatest incarnation of a standard does not mean that what it offers in any way replicates the experience of the real thing. It may in fact do a disservice to the original (the Brady Bunch movies come to mind.) In the midst of all of this innovative Cineplex pretension, it is clear that the drive-in continues to offer us three distinct advantages over the indoor theater; comfort/convenience, economy, and basic charm.
First, let’s discuss comfort/convenience. The drive-in allows you to pull into a spot, park, and never have to move your body again until the movie is over, and then only to manipulate the least number of extremities needed in order to restart the car and drive back home. The drive-in asks nothing more of you that this. Sure there is some slight stretching involved in order to pay the tickets, attach the cast-iron speaker to your window, and repetitively move your snack-filled hand to your mouth, but basically physical exertion is minimal. Unlike going to the indoor theater, which involves multiple tiresome movements. First there’s the schlepping from your comfortable car to the never-ending line outside the theater, which just so happens to be filled with angst-ridden 13-year-olds whining about the wait as they bounce gum wrappers off the back of your head. Once you finally make it inside you still have the notorious “shuffle to the best seat” event awaiting you. This involves taking numerous, tiny steps which never actually allow any one of your leg muscles to fully extend, but instead results in the illusion of movement, combined with mild cramping. This whole scene occurs due to the 20 confused people in front of you performing the same exact Cineplex rite-of-passage while making their seating decision. When your turn to be truly seated finally arrives, you get to twist and contort your body past those fellow shufflers already smugly seated. This last move is performed, of course, while apologizing profusely for placing certain areas of you body in eyes-view of certain areas of their body.
Not only is the drive-in a lazy man’s paradise, it offers exceptionally more comfortable seating than is offered in an indoor theater. The tiny, way too close for comfort, “Hi, I don’t know you, but let’s press our shoulders and thighs against each other for the next two hours” seating available in the Cineplex can’t even compare with the luxury accommodations of your car, or hey, even the often used family lawn furniture. There are no rules about where your legs may or may not be propped, and there is no guy decked out in a bow tie wielding the power bestowed upon him by virtue of a glaring flashlight to remind you of such rules. You are the king of your domain and what you say goes. At the drive-in you can talk during the movie if you want and conversely be spared the experience of the “talkers” who we all know and detest being seated next to in the indoor theater. You know who I mean, those people who feel they need to comment about every . . . single . . .thing that happens in the movie, or the person that laughs just a little too loud for a little too long at every . . . single . . . joke. And if you are a “talker,” then rejoice. The drive-in movie theater was made with you in mind, so go forth and flap on.
Now let’s talk economy. First, the drive-in offers you two . . . two . . .two movies for the price of one. And that’s only on a regular viewing night. Come the 4th of July and we’re talking three, sometimes four movies and a wiener roast/continental breakfast to boot. Not only that, but the drive in appreciates cars jam-packed with people, thus the much anticipated “Wheat Penny Night,” or “Car Load Night.” That’s right, all the people you can legally or otherwise cram into your car for one low price. Secondly, the drive-in has no rules about what food you can or cannot bring through its gates. You don’t have to face the discerning eye of the Cineplex ticket ripper, as he looks you over for unexplainable bulges on your person that are concealing contraband, imported junk food. You also don’t have to pay $2 for 12 ounces of soda. Does pizza sound good? Bring it on in. Coolers brimming with drinks, bags of popcorn as big as a toddler, and bulk candy of all varieties are welcome at the drive-in. Don’t be deceived by the nonchalant Cineplex snack bar attendant who innocently asks if they can get you anything else to go with your small popcorn and ice water. They know good and well that you’ll be running back up that aisle of shame in search of a $3 box of stale milk duds before the coming attractions roll.
But the biggest advantage that the drive-in has to offer is its charm. The drive-in has a history. It is a classic American institution, like fast food. Where else can you see a Three Stooges or Mr. Magoo cartoon as a lead in to the Feature Presentation? Or hear the rapturous chorus of horns honking in unison indicating that it’s show time? We can’t sit back and let the dream of the baby boomers before us die. If you have been fortunate enough to experience a movie under the stars, then you have a responsibility to future generations to ensure the tradition continues, and if you haven’t experienced this delight for yourself, you should. We must not be lured away by the abundant movie choices offered by the Cineplexes, we cannot let ourselves be seduced by their stereo surround sound, or enticed by the prospect of clean, well-lit bathrooms. The Cineplex offers us these superficial niceties at the price of a bona fide nostalgic experience. The price is too high . . . literally and figuratively. Life without drive-ins is a lot like elementary school without recess. It’s not an absolutely necessary part of our existence, but it sure makes the experience a heck of a lot more fun.