Drive-Ins vs the Cineplex


I'm no Luddite. I love my laptop and my iPod, and though it's a love/hate relationship, I am never too far from my trusty Blackberry. Technology has improved all of our lives in so many ways it's almost impossible to quantify. I get that.

But in the days of newer-and-smaller-is-better and the global embracing of all things new-and-improved, we're placing less currency on anything less-than-current. And that ain't good. Case in point: the tear-it-down-to-make it-better school of thought of the 1970s. I'm a preservationist at heart. I live in a house built in the 1920s, own vinyl records and vintage dresses, and am sickened by the thought of Overton Park with an Interstate running through it. Some things are better in their original, simple form, and the drive-in movie theater is one of them.

The drive-in is more than just "going to the movies." It's an experience. Pack up the car, find just the right spot, tune your radio to whatever station picks up the audio, and settle in for what is essentially a private screening of your movie of choice.

The drive-in gives you options. Options are good. Spray on some Off and set up chairs or a picnic blanket, hop on the trunk, hunker down on the hood, whatever, and kick back under the stars. No one shuffles past you, fumbling and falling in the dark to get that perfect seat on the other side of you. No cell phone ring disturbs your cinematic reverie, and your tasty snacks and beverages — ahem — although not technically encouraged by the drive-in owners, aren't going to set you back a mortgage payment.

There's something about hitting a drive-in that forces us to step back from our over-amped, wi-fi, Internet-dependent lives, if only for a few hours. If we don't support these — the muse of many a rock-and-roll song and one of the ultimate American mom-and-pop success stories — they're going to be gone forever. And once gone, they're gone.

It's a timeless concept. It's an American tradition. It's where some of us were probably conceived. And yes, though Dolby Surround Sound and bone-chilling air-conditioning are part of the cushy indoor movie experience we've come to expect, when it comes to keeping the drive-in movie theater alive, we need to look past the big screen to see the big picture.

— Mary Helen Tibbs


A movie seen right — at the cinema, in the dark — is an intimate experience. We humans are a socializing lot, so we tend to take umbrage at the very idea of going to see a movie alone. But whether it's Ironweed or Iron Man, a movie is ultimately a multisensory exchange between a screen, speakers, and an individual. The more contained, the darker, the more locked-in a moviegoer can be over the course of two hours with the latest blockbuster, indie sensation, or even dramedy, the richer the exchange will be. All of which requires a roof (and walls) for optimum viewing.

My very first date with the woman I've called my wife for 14 years was at a drive-in. It was a Dan Aykroyd double-feature (The Great Outdoors and Dragnet). To say the very least, I was far more interested in getting to know my date than how Aykroyd might tolerate John Candy in a log cabin. The movies were incidental to a nerve-wracking — quite innocent, mind you — social experience between two 19-year-olds. All I remember about the second film was thinking this Hanks guy has greatness in his future.

My wife and I love movies, and we've seen countless since . . . in a theatre. We'll share a tub of popcorn, but we're not talkers. Once we submit to the story in front of us — it can be the rise of Jack Sparrow or the fall of Michael Corleone, Jimmy Stewart in black-and-white or Arnold Schwarzenegger in explosive color — our partnership takes pause. We'll respond independently of one another to the crystal-clear picture and Surround Sound. (And our responses aren't always emotionally rational. I really thought Riggs was going to die at the end of Lethal Weapon 2, so let it go.)

Since stadium seating — and armchairs with cup-holders — became the norm, the cinema experience has managed to gain ground in the race for our entertainment hour. You can now find espresso machines, gourmet desserts, even Internet access in the lobby before your feature presentation begins.And movie posters have never been better. Still my favorite form of public art.

Seeing a movie, ultimately, is an escape. A different world, a different time, different people from what you'll find when the house lights are turned back on. So when the credits start rolling, close the doors, set the thermostat on 70, and let me be. We'll talk after the show.

— Frank Murtaugh

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