Indie Documentary Review – Back To The Drive-In

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The only experience of drive-in cinemas that I’ve ever has been seeing them on American films and TV shows and one time talking to Jill about when she took her niece to see Palm Springs at one. To be honest, drive-ins were in the same category as homecoming, downtown, and yellow buses and taxis…things which I’d heard of, probably seen on a screen, but never experienced in real life and wasn’t one hundred per cent sure actually existed. I mean, can you really use them in the summer when it doesn’t get dark until nearly midnight?

So when Back To The Drive-In popped up I thought that I’d just be viewing it almost like an alien life form with no actual way of making a connection. However, director/writer/producer/cinematographer/film editor April Wright managed to make a delightfully engaging and entertaining documentary exploring the running of eleven drive-in cinemas scattered across the contiguous forty eight states. To be honest, I’m not sure if they were particularly large or small ones as I don’t have anything to compare them with.

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I’ll Have One In The Two And Nines Please

The thing is, I just would never consider watching a film while sitting in my car. I don’t know why but I can drive for hours and be perfectly comfortable. But when I have to wait ten minutes for my wife I get all manner of aches and pains. The pedals mean that I can’t stretch out so I start to get cramps. The very thought of sitting in the car for a couple of hours holds no appeal whatsoever. Besides the lack of comfort there’s the condensation situation; I can’t help but think that all the windows would be steamed up before the trailers were half way through.

Anyway, none of my moaning has anything to do with Back To The Drive-In. What April Wright has done is to visit a number of drive-ins and show us the people who are running them and what they are having to do now. The first one opened in 1915 and the peak came in the sixties when there were over four thousand drive-ins…or is it drives-in? However, colour TV, cable, home video recording were all nails in the coffins of many of them. The energy crisis of the 70’s helped bang those nails in a bit harder when people decided to stay home rather than use petrol driving out to a field on the outskirts of town.

Coming Soon!

Paradoxically, a life line came to them in the form of the COVID outbreak; they even started opening up over here! Traditional cinemas had to close during the pandemic but someone, somewhere twigged that you could go to a drive-in and maintain your “domestic bubble”. I’m not sure whether or not that was what you called your household grouping over there but I’m sure you get my drift. The upshot was that drive-in cinemas saw a renaissance among entertainment starved cinema goers.  As is often the way, though, these things are short lived and the cinema industry found ways around this problem. 

The home streaming boom meant that people could see premiere features on their own TVs and, consequently, they took to staying home again. Back To The Drive-In focuses on how the owners, managers, and staff are coping with life after the pandemic, now that we have out new normality. As you may expect there is the usual roll call during the end credits telling who has sold up, who has moved on, and who is still going strong. As befits this heartwarming documentary, it’s not as bleak as you may first fear; of the eleven featured drive-ins, ten are still in operation.

Movie Grade: A-

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  • Michael Fields

    I LOVE Drive in’s and there is still one here in Las Vegas. There is just something about “Sneaking in” a full Pizza but still going to the snack bar, roll down the windows and fell the breeze, and not have to worry about someone sitting in front of you, talking or using a cell phone, just you, your snacks and a nice big screen to watch the movie on, reminds me of going to the drive in when I was in my teens and more. And there is nothing (No streaming, no 65″ TV or surround sound that will compare to watching a movie on the big screen, and that is why I still go to the movies every week

  • Rob Williams

    Thanks for that, Michael, you make drive-ins sound much more appealing!

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