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Drive-In Theaters: Happy Birthday

  • Blog Post by: James Lileks
  • June 7, 2013 - 12:30 PM

Every summer has to have a story about Drive-Ins. It’s the law, apparently. Well, this year has a better reason than most: Eighty years ago yesterday, the drive-in movie theater was created.

The craze caught on — but not until the early 1940s when in-car speakers were invented, which heightened the experience. The 1950s were the heyday of the drive-in, with over 4,000 theaters across the country. Audiences primarily watched B movies, since regular theaters usually had dibs on screening first-run films. And yes, there were some X-rated features shown at drive-ins. That seems awkward, but remember that drive-ins were a mecca for public makeouts and steamier shenanigans. Still, drive-ins were largely a family venture, since babies and young children could be tended to during the film without interrupting fellow viewers. Hollingshead advertised his theater with the slogan: "The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are."

Growing up in Fargo, we patronized the Star-Lite. (Moorhead, across the river, had the Moon-Lite.) I have a dim memory of running around in the playground, right below the screen, in footie jammies, but perhaps I just like to think I did, because it’s such a perfect example of idyllic childhood summer nights. I know I went there in college, and saw bad B-movies with friends. Heater going. Windows fogged. Crackly dialogue coming from old speakers that weighed nine pounds.You know, these things:

 

 

Want more? I have more.

 

 

Apparently you could buy a drive-in as a kit. Three levels, starting with the Poor Boy:

 

 

 

Anyway. The best memory of the Star-Lite: before the interstate came through, we drove home from the Sunday visits to the farm on Highway 10, and as we rounded a curve that took us into Fargo, I could see the big movie playing silently on the screen - a sight that filled a five-year-old with wonder and awe.

Some ads from the golden era of the drive-in:

 

 

 

GAMES From Doug TenNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim, a “new adventure game made of Clay.” It’s a stop-motion project being funded through Kickstarter:

 

 

Minnesota’s own Mike Nelson from MST3K is doing voice-work as well. Since it’s a Kickstarter project, it relies on the fans to fund it, but many goodies are offered for those who pledge. The Kickstarter site is here.

(Obligatory disclosure: Mike’s a friend; I heard about this from Doug through Twitter, and I have no financial interest in the project. They’re just good talented guys and I’m helping to get the word out.)

 

TOLD YOU A few days ago I wrote about the obvious successor to Google Glass - contact lens that do the same thing, connected to some wearable computer that chats with the Great and Powerful Oz in the clouds. I figured it was a decade away, perhaps. Well:

 

Are you sufficiently creeped out by Google Glass? Does the possibility of face recognition, covert surveillance, or on-the-go pornography make you want to move to the middle of the woods? Well hold on to your butts, because scientists are making strides toward electronic contact lenses.

I’m not sure how grasping one’s buttocks prepares you for smart lens, but who am I to say how other people cope.

 

SLEEP TIGHT “The Purge,” a scary movie with people wearing masks doing horrible things, is supposed to be the next big summer hit. It cannot be as frightening as this. I post it at noon so you’ll have the rest of the day to forget it before you sleep tonight.

And good luck with that.

 

 

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