Sunday, July 6, 2008

Remembrances - Drive-In Theaters

I know this is a long post. Hopefully you will enjoy it.

Earlier this afternoon my wife and daughter were watching Grease. I remember my mother taking my sister and I too see this film three times in the theater. I really dug the opening animation and Frankie Valli singing “Grease is the Word” just puts you in the mood for a good time. The Broadway production and the movie have stood the test of time and remain entertaining.

There are many directions I could go regarding commentary on this movie. Today I choose to focus on one scene that caused me to wax nostalgic. It’s the Drive-In scene where Danny has just asked Sandy to go steady. Sandy is thrilled as she accepts a promise ring from Danny. She says something about how she now knows he respects her. To which Danny is a bit dismayed because tonight his thoughts really were not in the nice guy department. He sits quietly next to Sandy but soon he can’t help himself and he makes a move he should not make. Typical guy… Sandy gets angry, gets out of the car and throws his ring back. Danny quickly realizes that he really blew it. Queue the music for “Sandy.”

I love this part of the scene it takes me back to the days when the Drive-In was a popular place to go. My family went all the time when I was a kid. We always filled a grocery sack full of popcorn before we left the house. My sister and I would bring blankets and pillows because my family always stayed late. Back in my childhood days the Drive-Ins around here would play the main feature twice, with a second feature in between.

Between films, there was always time intermission. You would see various short ads for the snack bar which would be edited into a count down clock. Just like the one playing behind John Travolta.

We saw A Star is Born, Young Frankenstein, White Line Fever, and countless Burt Reynolds movies. Growing up we had a quite a number of Drive-Ins around town. The Capitol, The Pioneer, The SE 14th Drive-In, The Plantation, and The West View.

Of these five I would say that the Capitol was the most like the one in Grease. Simply because it had a swing set out in front of the screen. Of course each Drive-In was very unique. I liked the entry to The Capitol. It had a large neon clown on the back side of the screen. He was called Cappy. Go figure. Sadly all that remains of this Drive-In is the concrete footing that once supported the entrance marquee. The Plantation was the cleanest and I believe it had the largest screen.

Some nights if the bugs were out, you might see an advertisement for this product.

The snack bars in these places are another one of those things that I just can not find the words on how to express they way I felt. Because I know it sounds odd when I say I really liked visiting the snack bar. There was just something about being up late and getting to put your on condiments on your foil wrapped burger or dog.

You could also order a pizza. When it was ready the snack bar would announce it across the speaker system. I never found that annoying. It was just part of the experience.

Yes you read that right I said speaker system. Back in those days you did not use your FM radio tuner to pick up the show. You listened by taking a corded, metal enclosed speaker from a pole and hanging it inside your car window. Pure mono all the way. And I loved it. Invariably these would become unattached from the poles because patrons would forget to remove them and drive off. Hence the Drive-In would run spots between and after films reminding you to place the speakers back.

By the summer of my junior year in high school only the SE 14th was left in Des Moines. My friends and I went nearly every weekend. On holiday weekends such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day it was not unusual for the theater to show five films.

Here is an add I recall seeing at the SE 14th Drive In.

Another thing that you might see was something called subliminal advertising. A typical example of this could be found during intermission. The film I recall seeing had a bunch of nature scenes in it that rapidly changed with the upbeat music underneath. Every so many frames a picture of a food or beverage would be slipped in. Sometimes it was not a picture it was text. DRINK COKE. Things like that.

Here is obvious example. The films I am talking about were much more subtle.

Here in Iowa we only have two operating Drive-Ins. One is located in Newton and the other is in Maquoketa.

For current attractions at the Newton Valle Drive-In. Click here.
For current attractions at Maquoketa 61 Drive-In. Click here.

If you have a Drive-In please make it a point to go out and support them this summer. We are rapidly losing this wonderful entertainment venue. For further information on Drive-Ins click here.


Doc Terminus said...

Thanks Jeff for the brief trip down memory lane. I remember sitting atop the family station wagon in my pajamas - pajamas with hard soled footies built right in (talk about efficient). Hardly ironic we watched SONG OF THE SOUTH. The hang up speaker next to the vehicle was like listening to the movie through a running window air conditioner, but who knew any better.

Many years later, I took a date to a drive-in in my Pontiac Fiero to relive the experience. Almost immediately we had to leave because my radio did not work (the hang-up speaker went the way of lead paint, I guess)

As afar as GREASE goes, I could right a whole web page.(Actually, I have). I find GREASE one of the few movie musicals that is better in the film version. Not only does the film put more focus on the Danny/Sandy story (the stage version is highly more ensemble), but it also drastically improved the songs. I felt the song you mentioned (SANDY) was quite an upgrade from the stage versions ALONE AT THE DRIVE-IN MOVIE. So successful was the film 'version' that almost every stage version no interpolates film songs in place of the older films... Those songs may include HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU, GREASE (IS THE WORD) and even YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT.

Wow, I'm writing like this is my blog... Thanks for the reminiscence...

Now, let's all go to the lobby...

Chris said...

Ahhh, the Hartford Drive In. Well, it's gone of a couple of years ago...bummer. Well, the house I grew up in was two streets away from the drive in, and we could actually see the screen from the roof (upper roof...not exactly did my brother talk me into that...). Occasionally the folks would take us up there for movies. They still had the metal box speakers at that point, and what about the in-car heaters? Honestly, the only movie I recall seeing is "Class of the Titans"....I think I'm a little younger than y'all.... ;-)

Basil said...

Good stuff Jeff!! I'm fortunate enough to be able to say that I still have a drive-in just 20 minutes away from home. The good ol' Welfleet Drive-In. I've definately taken it for granted though, and don't go nearly enough.

My favorite time to go was always late September/early October. A lot less crowded, earlier movies, and nice crisp weather.

Chris said...

What's up with the typo's....I meant "Clash of the Titans"....and what's up with me re-reading my posts! LOL And what's the deal with Star Wars movies 24x7 on Spike TV! Return of the Jedi tonight, very cool....

Enough out of me though, when is the next "dam" race? :-)