A great perk of living in Southern California (and those of you who know me know I’m perfectly serious here) is the fact that there is no drive-in off-season. And when you’re surrounded by great drive-ins like the Mission Tiki, the Vineland, the Rubidoux and the Van Buren, every day can hold a little bit of summer (even if you have to bundle up against the occasional 38-degree desert night). Couple that with the fact that the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society has, like a baseball team with a whole lot of money, had a very interesting off-season (the metaphor breaks down here very quickly, as SoCalDIMS actually has no money) and you get some idea of why I’m chattering on excitedly about hitting the drive-ins in the relatively frigid months of January and February.
One of the things SoCalDIMS has been up to, besides meeting at local drive-ins once a month to beef up signatures for our e-mail list and raise awareness of the extent to which drive-ins are still thriving in Southern California (and the ones that are here are thriving, believe me), is helping, in whatever way we can, to prepare for the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration being planned for August out at the Mission Tiki. Not a lot of details are available for general distribution at this time, but I can say that what is being bandied about is pretty damn exciting, and if the folks at DeAnza (the company that owns and operates the MT) have their way, we’re in for a hell of a party—a real dusk-to-dawn affair—come August.
Teri Oldknow, who is heading up the organization of the big event, is a real treat, a wildly enthusiastic film fan with a really sharp head for what can work in a situation like this one. When SoCalDIMS member Sal Gomez and I met with her and DeAnza film buyer Frank Huttinger in January to discuss ideas for the big night, we bandied about terrific prospects and possibilities for a couple of hours and came away from the meeting wishing that we’d wake up the next morning and find that it was suddenly August, just so we could roll right up to the Mission Tiki box office that very day and take that jazzed feeling we were riding right into the big event itself. It’s nice to know that someone heading up a big drive-in 50th anniversary is well versed in film, particularly the variety of popular and exploitation fare that graced drive-ins in their heyday (Teri dropped references to Jack Hill and Samuel Z. Arkoff with delight) and that that person isn’t a bullshit artist, that she actually knows of what she speaks and can deliver the goods-- she’s the one largely responsible for swinging the wildly popular Drive-invasions at the Starlight Drive-in in Atlanta. There are a lot of other exciting prospects attached to the Mission Tiki’s 50th Anniversary celebration, and as they get firmed up I’ll be sure to keep you updated and informed. I can tell you this much, however—circle August 5 on your calendar now and keep it clear.
SoCalDIMS has also been keeping a close eye on developments at the Vineland Drive-in in City of Industry. When our group formed this past July, the Mission Tiki was the only drive-in that was fully Technalight operational, meaning that the super-clear illumination system was installed on all four projectors on site. We visited the Van Buren in August, and not long after that we were informed that DeAnza would be installing Technalight on all three screens there, which it has since done. And now the Rubidoux is Technalight complete as well. The Vineland, the only operational drive-in in Los Angeles County, was now the only ozoner in the immediate Southern California area still operating on the old school system. Sal had struck up a friendship with Juan Gonzalez, manager of the Vineland, and facilitated our group communicating to Pacific Theaters, through Juan, the merits of Technalight for the Vineland, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary this past summer. After some footwork by Sal, and a whole lot of effort by Juan, the Vineland’s first Technalight illumination system was installed in mid-December, and it looks spectacular (King Kong was the first movie to jump off the screen in Technalight there). SoCalDIMS made it back out to the Vineland last month to help Juan celebrate the Technalight revolution going on there, and we had a wonderful time, as usual, visiting with this genuinely affable and likable man who so loves the world of the drive-in and its history and isn’t afraid to say so.
Vineland Nights: SoCalDIMS member Sal Gomez, Me, Vineland manager/projectionist Juan Gonzalez, and SoCalDIMS member Kathy Beyers
We also got to meet a lot more people and sign them up for our cause, including Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman, a huge drive-in fan who was out with his family (as was I) to take in Hoodwinked. What’s interesting about seeing Technalight at the Vineland is that right now there’s a perfect chance to do a side-by-side comparison with the way things used to be. The screen showing Hoodwinked was perfectly serviceable in terms of illumination—perhaps due to the bright color palate of the computer-animated film—but all I had to do look to the left at screen #2, which was showing the dark-hued vampire thriller Underworld: Evolution to see just how much brighter, how much more vivid and clear a movie presented in Technalight can be. Even from a full lot away, it was perfectly obvious how much better that movie looked than the movie we were watching, from about four rows in front of our screen. The nice thing is, apparently Pacific Theaters representatives also a little comparing in the month since Technalight premiered at the Vineland, because Juan was able to tell us, with not just a little bit of excitement in his voice, than Pacific has decided to pony up for Technalight on the remaining three screens there. If all goes well, the Vineland will be completely Technalight operational by the inaugural weekends of the summer drive-in season. That means that whereas only four drive-in screens in Southern California were equipped with Technalight in mid-summer 2005, by mid-summer 2006 there will be 14 screens on which to enjoy spectacularly bright drive-in projection the likes of which we could only dream about at the drive-ins of our youth. Every single drive-in screen in Southern California will look crystal-clear and bright—the last real barrier separating the quality of drive-ins and indoor cinemas (at twice the price, not including snacks) will have been effectively eliminated. That is incredible news indeed, and news we could have never anticipated when the first meeting of the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society convened last summer.
To close out February, SoCalDIMS is headed out to the Rubidoux Drive-in in Riverside tonight-- sorry for the short notice—for our very first meeting there. If you’re a drive-in fan and have yet to join us on one of our excursions, I really urge you to come on out, stop by the snack bar and chew the fat with us for a while, and of course take in for a double feature under the Riverside County stars, beneath a Technalight screen that rivals those stars in brightness, if not beauty. This is the joy of a Southern California winter-- that we can gather in these open-air cathedrals of popular cinema year round. Add to that the fact that the drive-ins are themselves, every one, are of such high quality, thanks to conscientious and creative individuals like Juan Gonzalez at the Vineland, Frank Huttinger and Teri Oldknow of DeAnza, the mighty Jeff Thurman at the Mission Tiki, and Ron Bacon at the Rubidoux, whose acquaintance we look forward to making just a few short hours from now, and it becomes exceedingly clear that there are some very tangible blessings for film fans to be counted here. And as winter becomes spring, and spring becomes summer, it’s gonna be a lot of fun counting them with my good friends in the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society and all the rest of you who have kept the drive-in flame burning for a whole new generation to discover and come to hold dear.
A putrified post-script: My buddies Steve and Paul joined me on a 38-degree night (along with friends Haruka and Max Straight, not pictured) for a Sunday evening of fun and frolic at the Mission Tiki in mid-January. The double feature-- Hostel and Saw II. (Now you see where the fun and frolic comes in, right?) But the fun wasn't restricted to the silver screen, no! Mere seconds after this picture was taken, Steve, long-renowned for his gifts in the fine art of distributing the most foul flatulence imaginable (followed by an endearing cry of "There's nothin' on it!") let fly an epic blast worthy of the Scatology Hall of Fame. In the crisp, cold, open air, mind you, and from a distance of at least ten feet between either Paul or I and the, um, point of origin, it was dense and powerful enough to send us both bolting around the back side of my van in search of some leaking sulphur, or perhaps some rotten trash, which would surely cleanse our violated olfactory systems with a smell surely far less offensive than what Steve had just introduced to our little drive-in party. I'm sorry. I don't know why I felt compelled to tell that little story, except perhaps to illustrate yet another advantage of the drive-in-- if you're enjoying a movie at an indoor theater and somebody delivers something on the order of Steve's very thoughtful gift, there's nowhere to run, and you've probably got others sitting on either side of you, blocking the route to fresh, unpolluted air. But at the drive-in, you can do what Paul and I did-- you can run like hell and hope you live to tell your grandkids about the Man Who Pooed Too Much. Thanks for the memories, Steve!