Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sa-a-a-ad Movies, Always Make Me Cry-y-y...

Drive-in movies were extremely popular during the 60's and before.

I recently read a mini biography about Richard Hollingshead who was the inventor of the drive-in movie. Through various trial and error attempts, he was able to project a film from the hood of his car onto a screen and use a radio for sound. Eventually, he perfected his technique to create the open air drive-in experience. The first drive-in movie theatre was opened in New Jersey in 1933.

We lived near two such theatres during my teen years, the Odeon Bay Ridges and the Te-Pee Drive-In. The former was on land near the current site of a large shopping mall, Pickering Town Centre. The latter, has been replaced by a Supercentre and a Japanese restaurant. I believe the Odeon was open year round and provided heaters which fit onto the car window along with the speakers. I'm not certain how popular this was during the winter season although I know the lot held nearly one thousand vehicles.

I was so excited to attend my first drive-in movie with a friend, her dad and brother. We drove up to the long narrow building with a teepee shaped structure on top, and paid the admission. After carefully selecting a prime location in the lot, next to a post with a speaker attached, we eagerly waited as the sky darkened. The speaker hung inside the driver's side of the car and the window was rolled up as far as possible. Since the hook which secured the speaker onto the glass was enormous and metallic, just enough of an opening remained to allow infestations of buzzing mosquitoes to enter and eventually feast on their captive audience.

I remember my first movie vividly. It had scenes of bloodshed, bank closures, poverty, missing children, homelessness, sadness, humour and fantasy. The credits rolled over colourful scenes and  blaring music caused the window reverberate. Finally, it began. Julie Andrews was perched on a cloud, and descended to earth. Yes, it was "Mary Poppins" on the giant screen.

In 1966 my parents tried to smuggle me into a restricted movie. By today's standards the movie would have been classified PG-13. My parents were raised in Europe where there was not really a legal age for much. Parents were expected to use common sense and good judgment when raising children. Dad thought they'd let me in to see the film since I was with my parents. I'm not certain whether he was prepared for the question that came from the ticket seller.

"What's the year of her birth?" She pointed to the back seat.

Startled, he quickly responded with "1939".

"Her? Her in the back?" was the question that came back at him.

My mother, unfazed, came to the rescue, explaining that he was confusing my birthdate with his sister's, that they were my parents, and that I was old enough to see the movie.

I believe I fell asleep part way through a slow moving British flick entitled, "Georgy Girl".

I know that even now, almost fifty years later, there are still drive-in movies in existence around the province. In fact, there has been a small revival of this type of theatre. I checked a website found some twenty three in Ontario. Most are in far outlying areas where the cost of land is not akin to the value of the contents of Fort Knox.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to this town, drove up a nearby road, "Theatre Road" and found a functioning drive-in. So once again, now in my "later life" I am living close to a drive-in theatre. I'm not sure when, if ever, I'll be attending a show there, but perhaps the experience will become another story to tell.

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