Drive-ins were the Glue of America
Reminiscing about Drive-ins and their importance to culture.
I saw my first drive-in movie in 1965 when I was 3 years old. The movie was “Goldfinger” playing at the Elmira Drive-in. I don’t remember much of the film from that time other than it being some thing about a fat German, a golden lady and some Scottish guy driving a really neat car. Oh, there was also a guy stuck in his car when it got compacted into a little cube.
My folks thought my little sister and I were asleep in the backseat of the car while they watched the film from the front seat. Unfortunately I blew my fake sleeping act when I piped up by asking why the Chinese guy was tossing his hat at everyone.
My mom looked at my dad who was fervently laughing and saying “Pussy Galore! Ha! I Get it!”
I had no idea why he found cats so funny.
I guess mom didn’t either since the next few years were spent only seeing Disney movies at the Drive-in.
But that Disney trend didn’t last long since 1968 was a banner year for great movies and my Dad needed to see them all, despite the tender little minds he towed along to these features.
First up was “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” playing at the Corning Drive-in. Dad said he’d been waiting for that one to come to town since it was released on US shores in 1967.1
Again, My parents thought my sister and I were asleep in the backseat of the car as they enjoyed the movie. My sister definitely was deep in slumberland throughout the film. As for me, I was wide awake for this Spaghetti Western masterpiece.
Being a fan cowboy movies at the time, of course I had to watch this 3-hour spectacle of violence and squinty eyes. However I don’t remember seeing the end of the film at that time.
I do remember my Dad getting pissed off when the fog rolled in from the nearby river and occluded his ability to see the finale of the film.
Years later he told me he skipped work one day, later that year, to go to a theater to watch the last half hour of the film without any rotten kids ruining it.
Next Dad insisted we go to watch “The Green Berets” at the Drive-in.
This film truly horrified my little 6 year old mind. I think the fact that this film was released at a time when the US was deep into the Vietnam War it might have been too much for little kids to see, and my Mom knew it. Especially when you consider that TV news was flooding family TV rooms with the horrors of the conflict.
Dad had to start the car and leave for home half way through the film.
I vaguely remember him grumbling something about mom disrespecting his own military service, and mom countering to ask what medals he earned peeling potatoes as a cook in the US Air Force.
Thankfully the following week, Mom let Dad drag me with him to go see “Planet of the Apes” at an actual indoor theater! Dad was very pleased that he finally got to see a film all the way to the end.
I was happy for him.
I thank my Dad for helping to foster my love of movies and especially those shown at the Drive-in.
Years later, when I was in my teens, my pals and I would hit up the local drive-in to see the latest movies when they played in town. During the mid to late 70s, Slasher/Horror flicks and Trucker Movies seemed to dominate Drive-in movies.
Drive-ins were a great way to have fun, hang out with friends and neighbors, and also meet new folks (i.e. Girls. Remember, we were teenagers).
During the 60s and 70s, Drive-in owners were fierce competitors who would do anything to pull in a crowd. Some even went so far as to push the limits of decency to cater to a crowd who were more…um..shall we say, amorous.
The Roxy Drive-in, just outside of Elmira, NY, was one of these more adventurous places. They played mostly X and R-rated sex movies.
I could never understand how they were allowed to do this since their features posed a distracted driving hazard. Anyone driving by on Route 14 could look down the hill and get an eyeful of tawdry delights …as they veered off the road!
I heard that eventually some bible thumper got their nose in a wrinkle and ruined the fun for everyone by getting the place shut down.
The Elmira Drive-in tried to their hand in this exploitation as well, but as you’ll read in the comic below, they’re titillation was less than adequate.
However also during the 1970s is when malls and multiplex theaters began to be built which began to negatively impact Drive-in Movies.
An outdoor movie business showing one or two films, and who relied on the fickle finger of weather for a good turn out, was no match for the climate controlled panoply of movie choices at a local multiplex.
By the late 90s most of the Drive-ins across the US were either shuttered or dusty locations for weekly swap meets.
It’s sad when you think about the demise of the Drive-in business. What better activity perfectly captured a blending of America’s love for car culture, movies, community, and good old capitalist exploitation?
To me the death of Drive-ins signified a carving away of a piece of the glue that helped bind Americans together.
Since their demise how much have we as a country become more antisocial, more self-centered, more indifferent to each other?
When drive-in were at the height of their popularity we all had cars with heights not overly high nor engines and sound systems annoying.
I can’t imagine going to a Drive-in these days.
Whereas before you once ran the risk of fog blocking your view of the movie screen, you now face trying to see over some chucklehead’s giant truck lift while breathing his hemi-powered diesel exhaust.
Welcome to a ruder, less friendly American movie experience.
And now onto this week’s comic (after the commercial break). This is a treat for you paying and special guest subscribers. It’s a sneak peek into another comic which will be getting published in a magazine in the coming month.
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