Why the Drive-in Should Be Resurrected, and Who Should Do It

Why the Drive-in Should Be Resurrected, and Who Should Do It

Dec 05, 2012

Movie fans have seen several "species" we loved go extinct over the years: beautiful two-screen movie palaces, VHS, mom-and-pop video stores, and—most lamentable to me—the drive-in movie theater. Though not quite extinct (scattered examples still exist around the country), these blips are all that remain of what was once not only a viable theatrical exhibition medium, but indeed a pop-culture landmark.

The national pastime of going to the drive-in was circling the drain before I entered my fifth year on this planet. I was not completely deprived of the joy of vehicular movie consumption, however; there was an uncorrupted, classic-style drive-in theater an hour from my home. And in fact, the road trip there, the loading of the car with enough supplies to trek over the Andes, was part of the fun. Even growing up in the last days of these theaters, it was still easily imprinted into my psyche that there really is nothing like the experience of seeing a film at the drive-in.

And it wasn't just the cool idea that you wouldn't have to get out once you parked. Drive-ins offered a glorious isolation; a very literal application of the escapism offered by cinema itself. Often surrounded by a perimeter of trees (or other barrier) in an effort to avoid easy access to the screen by those who did not purchase a ticket, drive-ins rustically severed the theater from the rest of the world. The solitude and privacy of one's own car was as close to being at home, where you'd feel comfortable and at ease whether watching in silence or gabbing throughout with friends and not worrying about other moviegoers.

If ever there were an entity capable and worthy of restoring the majesty of the drive-in, it’s the Alamo Drafthouse. The company's mantra has always been about creating the optimal moviegoing experience. Like a demarcating tree line, the Drafthouse gives cinephiles respite from the distractions of the world outside. The Alamo’s strict no-talking policy, in a sense, echoes the way a moviegoer's car insulated him from his neighbors. Its dedication to all things cinematically archaic (and sadly, that includes the notion of watching movies in respectful silence), makes it perfect for resurrecting this lost experience.

The Alamo is really halfway there already, as its Rolling Roadshow unit has been crafting amazing outdoor screenings for years. Recently, in fact, the Alamo unleashed upon film fans the Road Rage Drive-in series, a quartet of eclectic films exhibited in the outdoor, in-car format at Spiderwood Studios in Elgin, Texas.

“Texas is so large, automobiles are a necessity for Texans on the move," said event organizer Josh Jacobs. “Beyond that, Texans love their vehicles. It's a part of the culture. I think it's just a matter of time before we see more drive-in theaters pop up across Texas.”

For the penultimate film in the series, Road Rage brought us face-to-funnel with Jan de Bont’s disaster epic Twister. So, like Jo, Bill (The Extreme), and Dusty, a caravan of Alamo regulars burned rubber down dirt roads to the working, thriving film studio in the middle of some of the most beautiful terrain Texas has to offer. “I looked at several locations closer to downtown, but was taken with the idea of a road-themed drive-in," Jacobs said, "a celebration of automotive culture and film. Once that came together, the drive became part of the show.”

As the sun went down, Road Rage emcee Greg MacLennan took to the mic and informed us that the impetus for Twister’s inclusion in this series was the action set piece that takes place during a drive-in presentation of The Shining. Actually, most of Twister’s major scenes of suspense and thrills happen while one or more characters are inside a vehicle. As we reached the scene where Jo and Bill are spun like a top inside their truck, the audio pumping through the radio filled our own cars with that completely absurd ADR tornado roar. There may not be a better scenario for experiencing Twister. Despite there not being a cloud in the sky on this perfect Texas night, a storm felt imminent. Everyone thought [Gregg] was crazy,” Jacobs said about MacLennan’s Twister decision, “but it ended up being the best-selling film of the series.”

Hopefully the Road Rage series was successful enough to inspire the Alamo to take up permanent residence at some out-of-the-way pastoral expanse where the decimated remnants of drive-in culture can be reassembled on a weekly basis. Would you like the drive-in to return from near extinction, and if so what movie would you most like to see resurrected on the drive-in screen?

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