Tuesday, May 05, 2009


UPDATE 5/13/08

The days are starting to get long(er) again, which means two things in the SLIFR universe-- baseball and movies under the stars. Well, the Dodgers just beat the Diamondbacks 7-2 to make it 11-0 at home (matching the 2003 Kansas City Royals) and 19-8 overall, the best record in the majors so far the season. They go for the all-time major league record for wins at home tomorrow night. This season the boys in blue have made watching baseball uniquely pleasurable for this particular Dodger fan—I began watching baseball and the Dodgers in earnest in the strike-shortened 1994 season, which meant my introduction into the love of the game was an endurance test played out during the grim Fox years, when the team was sold by the O’Malleys to Rupert Murdoch and a decade of agonizing disappointments to test the mettle of any fan would begin. It is nice to see that things seem finally to have turned a corner. I know, I know, it’s early yet—only 135 games to go. But I’ll be damned if I will deny the smile on my face and the spring in my step that this team (live and on my new HDTV) has amply supplied.

For those drive-in fans around the country, the winter wait can be a long one, and the curtain (if drive-ins indeed had curtains) is only now just teasing upward. But when we get into May around these parts, the nighttime weather is just starting to warm up enough to welcome in a new official summer season at the drive-in, even in temperate California, where the annual drive-in season extends straight through winter. I’ve been to the drive-in three times so far this year—once in January, once in April and once just this past weekend—and only on the most recent visit did the temps by the second feature stay above teeth-chattering levels. (Driving home after the Observe and Report/I Love You, Man double bill at the Mission Tiki Drive-in last month, the temperature on the bank sign heading toward the freeway registered a somewhat brisk—for SoCal, anyway—44 degrees. Try that sitting in your camp chair without a jacket and a big blankie!) And now it’s finally time to start thinking about heading out to on the many drive-ins still in operation around the country and making outdoor movies a part of your summer entertainment schedule. Many drive-ins are not as up to snuff technically as are the four complexes (the Mission Tiki, the Vineland, the Van Buren and the Rubidoux) here in the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay in San Diego. But even if it means a bit of a downgrade in presentation, the dollars saved during economic days like these can make all the difference for a family looking for a night out at the movies that won’t run them into triple digits for tickets, snacks and parking.


If you live in other parts of the country you may already know about a drive-in near you, but just in case you don’t here are some stories that may lead you to a drive-in a whole lot nearer to you than you may have realized: seasonal updates coming your way include ones from Hull’s Drive-in in Virginia, the Amazing Jonathan Drive-in in Nevada, the Big Mo in Moretta, South Carolina, Bengie’s Drive-in in Maryland, the Admiral Twin in Oklahoma, the Star Drive-in in Glasgow, Kentucky, free movie night at the El Rancho in Sparks, Nevada, rare news of a drive-in opening in Richmond, Virginia, news from Becky’s Drive-in in Pennsylvania, and a report on the 99W Drive-in in Newberg, Oregon, one of my favorites, courtesy of 99W employee and drive-in historian Steve Swanson. If you live in Texas you probably know where the drive-in nearest you is, but wherever you live, the best place to start your search is at Drive-ins.com-- this site bills itself as the definitive resource for drive-in information, and that is no lie.


If, however, you call Southern California your home, there are a couple of things I want to let you know about the upcoming drive-in summer. First of all, the group that I helped co-found four summers ago, alongside current members Sal Gomez, Kathy Byers and Lanna Pian, the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society, is setting up for a full swing through the area drive-ins with a at least one tailgate drive-in gathering per month through October. Last Saturday night we gathered at the Mission Tiki Drive-in, which has served as one of the two central hubs for our group (the other being the Vineland), for our initial official gathering of the summer. We toasted Diet Cokes and popcorn buckets over X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an inauspicious beginning to the summer quality-wise, but let it be said that SoCal DIMS has never let the mediocrity of a movie get in the way of celebrating drive-in movie culture. And no matter how good, bad or indifferent the picture, being at the Mission Tiki is always fun. The renovations that began four years ago are virtually completed now, and the place looks and feels better than any drive-in I’ve ever been to (except the ones that have been committed to my memory and encased in nostalgic amber). Clouds, rain or shine, every visit here has been a bit of drive-in heaven. And this summer the snack bar has been vastly upgraded and improved, service and food quality-wise. Though they are still a notch below the freshly grilled carne asada tacos and burritos found at the Van Buren, the Mission Tiki now has reasonably priced burritos and tacos of their own (chicken and carne asada), as well as a very tasty Angus beef cheeseburger new to the menu and, the piece de resistance, the incongruously dubbed Tiki Dog. No, it’s not a thin wiener with a dousing of pineapple and coconut shavings. Those familiar with the delectable sausages served every which where on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles will know this beauty as an L.A. street dog, and just like its urban cousins, the Tiki Dog is a big sausage wrapped in bacon and grilled with onions, and it can be augmented to perfection at the Mission Tiki’s excellent condiment bar, which features chopped onions, tomatoes, salsa, jalapenos and mas fresh cilantro. I really must not have three of these every time I go out to the Mission Tiki, but you, being much healthier in general than I am, must make sure to have one, and feel free to take up my slack while you’re at it.

The Southern California Drive-in Movie Society has a published tailgate schedule listing all the places we’re going to be gathering this summer, including our very first run out to Barstow at the Skyline Drive-in (seen above), a quaint little two-screener nestled on a plateau which features the twinkling lights of the desert city (and the bright desert night sky) as a spectacular background behind its screens. You can check out the schedule and meet up with us all around the town all summer long.


But there is another special event that I’d like to announce with this post that I hope will be a great event for Southern California drive-in fans and, even more specifically, readers of this blog. Every once in a while there comes a movie that seems perfectly suited for the drive-in. Two years ago drive-in fans were in hog heaven at the opportunity to see Grindhouse outdoors, a tribute to the drive-in aesthetic actually shown the way God (aka Samuel Z. Arkoff) intended it to be. At the end of this month I think we’re looking at yet another similarly well-suited opportunity, and I like to take advantage of it. Therefore, I’m announcing the first SLIFR Night at the Drive-in to held at the Mission Tiki this coming May 30, where we’ll be gathering under the stars to celebrate the resurgent popularity of this uniquely American way of seeing movies by taking in the latest from a director whose roots are very much found in the pulp energy of B-horror genre films. I’m talking about Sam Raimi and his new one, Drag Me to Hell, a return to Evil Dead territory after the director's foray into the goldmine Spider-Man franchise over the past few years. I’ll be taking RSVPs for the SLIFR Drive-in Night here in the comments column of this post and also at my e-mail address: powser2@earthlink.net. If you’re a Southern California-based reader of this blog, it would be honor to meet you at the Mission Tiki Drive-in and spend an evening reveling in the singular experience of seeing a (hopefully) taut and terrifically fun horror movie on a drive-in screen. And if you’re reading this, Mr. Raimi, you are most certainly invited as well! I hope to have a couple of prizes of a surprise nature for folks who can make it out with us and stop by to say hello, or perhaps we’ll just have an impromptu Tiki Dog-eating contest before the show. But whatever we end up doing, this will not be the last time I mention this gathering over the course of this month. So mark your calendars, tell your friends and make plans to join us on May 30 for Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell at what I hope will be the first of many SLIFR Nights at the Drive-in!


Finally, just a word about a new documentary nearing completion that will be of major interest to anyone with a drive-in in their heart. April Wright’s Going Attractions: The Rise and Fall of the American Drive-in Movie Theater chronicles the the history of drive-ins in America, their downfall in the ‘80s, and the optimism behind their current small-scale resurgence. Wright has been filming and editing the project for going on three years after having visited every state in the union (except Alaska), and she’s projecting a completion date for the film in early 2010. You can contact her for more information at info@goingattractions.com or visit the Going Attractions Web site, where the new trailer is now playing!

I sincerely hope that you can catch the drive-in fever somewhere this summer. If you’ve never been, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss. And if you have and you know what you’ve been missing, well, you’re probably already making your plans. I’ll see you out there at dusk.


(For further drive-in reading, check out my drive-in primer published last summer by GreenCine Daily, and a wild and woolly horror-tinged drive-in overview by Renfield courtesy of Horror-wood.com.)


UPDATE 5/13/08 Here's a brief video report filed by SoCalDIMS member Warren Myers on the first tailgate meeting of the club on May 2.



yourblindspot said...

YES! Truly, I don't know what I'd do without the Starlight Six here in Atlanta. They showed a Burt Reynolds triple feature of 'Smokey and The Bandit', 'Sharkey's Machine' and 'White Lightning' a couple of years ago, and it is one of my most cherished movie memories to date. I can't wait for their "Drive Invasion" fest this August, when I get to fulfill my dream of seeing 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure' at the drive-in!

Mister Ooh-La-La said...

I would love to screen my film at an old school drive-in.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You'd probably have to strike a 35mm print to do it, but it might be worth doing that just for the long-term anyway. I'd have to look into it, but I don't think digital projection for drive-ins is quite there yet. It might be worth your while to strike up a conversation with Brian Francis at the 99W in Newberg about it. Also, have you met Phil at the Darkside in Corvallis?

My review of Earth Day IS coming, I promise. I'm still marshaling my resources!

Joshua: If you can find a drive-in that occasionally dips into the past, as you seem to have done, you've found a real treasure. The ones around here are strictly first-run, but every once in a while they do specialty programming and that's always a can't-miss!

Steve Swanson said...

Dennis, you're getting soft in your old age :o
Last year's opening weekend at the 99W, 32 degrees.
The snack bar roof was frozen over. Need I remind you of your 'Dirty Harry' drive-in night.
Hope you have a good summer, the May 30th gig sounds enticing.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I had a feeling some wisenheimer Oregonian was gonna chime in and make fun of me! The snowbound Dirty Harry triple feature was frosty, all right-- I was gonna say "Well, at least we were in a car," but until those ancient old speaker-pole heaters got going somewhere in the middle of Magnum Force, well, we might as well have been sitting outside!

le0pard13 said...

This post has been going back in time--remembering all of the times at the drive-ins in L.A. during my youth: South Gate (my local), Rosecrans (where I took in The Godfather after high school graduation), The Centinela (site of the famous drive-in shoot-out sequence of Michael Mann's Heat), and I even headed out to Chatworth's Winnetka once with friends from the valley. A wonderful venue and age.

Thanks for reminding me that the Vineland is still in operation. I'm planning on taking the wife and kids (first time for them) to the drive-in this summer.

Anonymous said...

This is a fine piece, Dennis.

When I was a kid, we lived about a half a mile from a drive-in. My dad would pile us five kids into the station wagon -- a Chevy Bel Air -- and head out. We fought a lot for the best seats, me being the oldest didn't help much. I remember their being a lot of Disney and a lot of double features. Now it's an apartment complex.

blaaagh said...

Oh boy! What a perfect kick-off to Summer. I've got to get back down there and head out to the Mission Tiki with you someday in the near future. It's like the dream drive-in come true! Still, I have the 99W much closer to home, and I have no excuse for not making it a destination in early Summer '09!

I agree with Mister: EARTH DAY would be a perfect drive-in movie, and yes, I guess there would have to be a 35mm print...aren't there grants for this sort of thing?

It's strange to think of all those drive-ins I used to go to as a kid in the Portland area: the Super 99 in Milwaukie, the 82nd St. Drive-In, Foster Drive-in, Canyon DI in Beaverton, I forget what else...as well as all those in Eugene and especially in LA I once had access to. I remember my folks taking us to many drive ins (in our 1963-ish Plymouth station wagon, usually): DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and whatever co-feature I slept through when I was four or so; DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER; ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (later, when my folks were divorced but my mom was still game to take a carful of us in her Mercury Montego), etc. etc. Thank God for modern, bright-enough-to-see projection light systems, come to think of it.

Anyway, thanks for a wonderful article.

George Reis said...

If you are really into retro drive-in events, please check out my Drive-In Super Monster-Rama in PA this September:


Dennis Cozzalio said...

George, that program looks truly awesome! It serves me right for flaunting the L.A. drive-in scene for so long that you've served up something here to make me incredibly envious, as well as sad that there's no way I would be able to attend. But I will give it a plug, for sure! Thanks so much for sharing your great idea with us, and for running the kind of drive-in I wish was a little bit closer to my part of the country.