In my last post, I mentioned I had the pleasure of talking with the operator of the 99W Drive-In, Brian, about the drive-in business, and he informed me about recent documentary, Going Attractions, about drive-ins, and it was available for purchase at the concession stand. So we popped in and purchased a copy, along with some tasty treats that we enjoyed before showtime.
Director April Wright gives a very good history of the drive-in in America, chronicling its birth, boom after World War II, the downfall in the 1970s and 80s and the current state of drive-ins, complete with countless images of drive-ins from their heydays to the heartbreaking images of faded signage and broken neon.
The rise of the automobile in America made everyone want to do everything possible in their cars, including going to the movies, and by the late 1950s America was pushing 5,000 drive-ins. They were a place where families could come together and enjoy a night out, but without the hassle of getting dressed up, as the pre-show and intermission reels boast, “Come as you are!” Many drive-ins catered to families, offering playgrounds, some even had bumper boats and clowns! But as the years went on, drive-ins fought to get first-run movies, and lower-budget, B-movies became the norm, and the age of the teenager came to the drive-in, and that is when the passion pit days came. The 1970s saw not only an economic crisis, but a gasoline crisis as well, and fewer and fewer people were willing to go to the drive-in, which is when drive-ins really began to suffer, and many were forced to cater to the X-rated crowd to keep their gates open. Many also blame the shift in interior design in cars as a factor, as cars began to have bucket seats, and middle consoles, making the drive-in less comfortable. The advents of the VCR, multiplex cinemas and cable television in the 80s saw an even bigger decline in drive-in attendance. Today however drive-ins have seen a slight uptick. Some drive-ins have reopened, and even a few brand new ones have sprung up! Today drive-ins are back to their family state, with pick-up beds full of families hanging out on big inflatable mattresses and folding chairs out front.
Wright also interviews many drive-in operators and historians to really get a good grasp on the times that surrounded the birth, rise and fall of the drive-in. Unlike cinema in its broadest sense, the drive-in is certainly a product of its time, and is not a static entity. It fluctuates with not just the times, but the seasons and Mother Nature as well, and the owners of drive-ins offer a perfect insight into what troubles they faced in the past, and what issues they continue to face.
While not perfect (I found some pixelated photos and a few of the songs annoying), Going Attractions has its heart in the right place, and I admire its warmth, and in-depth look at the drive-in and its owners. One owner mentions that maybe the owners of the remaining drive-ins need to get together and do a Superbowl commercial, and I personally think that’s a marvelous idea! Drive-ins need as much coverage as they can get. These are mom-and-pop operations, small businesses to their core! They are not a part of a huge corporation. They are a part of a unique, and truly American history. The documentary makes mention that there are a handful of drive-ins in other countries (highlighting a few in Germany, Australia and Canada) but the drive-in was born in America and evokes an time period that many of us love and emulate on a daily basis with our clothing. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Going Attractions and sharing it with your friends and family! And don’t forget to support your local drive-in!
Going Attractions is currently available on DVD at many drive-in movie theatres, but is coming to other formats of viewing in the near future! Like Going Attractions on Facebook to stay tuned!