Last fall I stumbled on a wonderful documentary about a group of die-hards in Mahoning, Pennsylvania, a completely dedicated group of movie enthusiasts who revived a beloved drive-in with genuine elbow-grease. Reminded me of 1976 and the St. George, except these guys succeeded! By the time I was aware of the Mahoning, they were closing out their season, so I contented myself with writing a rah-rah blog post, which focuses on the film vs. digital controversy at the heart of the Mahoning’s story. I’d wait for spring.
Well, April 24, they had planned to open for the season with their ritual first-night double feature: The Wizard of Oz followed by Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, lovingly projected in 35 mm, just the way God intended. Of course you know what happened.
I had hoped drive-ins would be a golden exception to quarantine, but no dice, at least not a month ago.
Now, it seems, some governors, including ours, have given the go-ahead. Here in New York State Governor Cuomo has designated May 15 for tennis, landscape gardening, and yes, drive-in theaters. Did he know that the owners of an Astoria Queens diner have already jumped the gun, showing movies in their parking lot, while filling carry-out orders? That’s reinventing the drive-in!
I’ve skulked around the Mahoning’s site, and am happy to find that Pennsylvania’s good to go — soon. The last weekend in May will, it seems, be the new grand opening: Dorothy, Toto and Willy Wonka will finally stop shifting impatiently from one foot to the other.
As for me, also shifting from foot to foot, I can perhaps temporarily abandon my stockpiles of pasta, Purell and tomato soup. Maybe I’ll see that wide screen in the middle of rural Pennsylvania after all, snuggling with Dean in the safety of my car. Plenty of opportunity to practice social distancing, since the only people we’ll likely see will be in the glass and steel bubbles of their own Subarus, Volvos and Toyotas.
Could this be the year of the drive-in?
It’s about time. This treasured American institution has somehow never quite disappeared, despite the fact that numbers have dwindled from 2400 sites in 1980 to roughly 338 screens today.
So far, there are around fifty drive-ins planning to open. A friend recently sent me a link to the Dixie in Ohio, who’ll be testing out their orange neon sign this very weekend. In the week that follows, they’ll be showing (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday) Trolls World Tour, The Invisible Man, Dolittle and The Hunt.
Nine dollars adults, four dollars children. Let’s go!
1. This just in: According to Timeout, “A newly announced partnership between Tribeca Enterprises, IMAX and AT&T is hoping to increase...[the] number [of open drive-ins] through a summer program that will play a curated selection of films and special events at drive-in theaters and other venues all around the country. The initiative, dubbed Tribeca Drive-in, will launch on June 25.”
2. I’ve been writing about drive-ins as a phenomenon for some time. For a history of this very American institution, how they got started, etc., check out my blog post, Movies: Indoors and Out. And if you’re interested in the international community of drive-in theaters, especially in India, don’t miss this blog post: The Movie Starts at Dusk.
3. Thanks to the Dayton Daily News and far-flung correspondent, Thom Moon, for some wonderful pictures.