Romantic and new, drive-in makes a comeback at The Grove

| August 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

AERIAL SHOT of the rooftop in drive-in movie mode, before the sun goes down.

The Drive-In Movie: a cultural staple of a bygone era that I, like many Generation Z’ers, have never had the chance to experience. With the continuous, rapid advancement of technology, the drive-in movie has joined the Game Boy, the Walkman and the rotary phone in the hall of technological relics discarded to make way for the newer and shinier. The drive-in’s demise is understandable, since not only do I have access to nearly every movie ever made by way of the Internet, but I can also enjoy this vast movie database from the comfort of my home while eating mac and cheese straight from the pot. This much cannot be said of the drive-in.

The drive-in, however, does have a lot going for it. It’s romantic. It conjures the image of handsome young couples sitting in cherry-colored Corvettes and mint Pontiacs, girls wearing gingham dresses and sipping sodas. We’re fascinated with the quaint, old-fashioned appeal of the ’50s and ’60s seen in movies, which explains the drive-in’s comeback in recent years. 

A brief history lesson will now follow, found on the New York Film Academy website: The drive-in was invented in the 30s, but gained its popularity in the 50s and 60s as an inexpensive activity for both families and couples. (One advertised draw of the drive-in was that kids were welcome and could be as loud as they wanted, for each family would have its own space.) The popularity declined in the 70s, during the oil crisis, when cars were downsized to save on gas. These new cars were uncomfortable to watch movies in, so to compensate for this loss of market, the drive-ins started targeting new audiences with horror and adult flicks. And then, the VCR came about and everyone decided to just stay home and watch movies there. And thus was the rise and fall of the drive-in movie.

Now, Los Angeles has only  a few regular drive-ins remaining. However, for those wanting to experience the drive-in movie, there is a local option, a summer series called “Level-8 Drive-In,” hosted by The Grove with the Petersen Automotive Museum, which provides classic cars to complement the movie experience. I attended a July 31 screening of “The Great Gatsby,” to see what this new breed of drive-in had to offer.

The 2013 movie was played on the roof of the parking structure, which was outfitted with a screen, lounge, bar, popcorn station, and luxury cars on loan from the Petersen for VIP guests. In one corner was the film’s actual 1932 Duesenberg, surrounded by lights that glanced off the glossy red paint. In addition, there were about 150 guest cars lined up, radios tuned to the frequency over which the movie’s audio would travel.

THE FILM’S 1932 Duesenberg, on loan from the Petersen Automotive Museum.

I found myself in the lounge, sponsored by Uber, nestled in a beanbag chair and enjoying the free popcorn as the sun went down and the movie began.

And I must say, I think the drive-in model works as well in 2019 as I assume it did back when. Sure, it’s not exactly the same thing. For example, the term “Uber lounge” would be gibberish to the movie-goers of the 1960s. But at a time when the movie theater is not novel or exciting but routine, when sitting down in a dark theater to disappear for a few hours is not magic but a go-to day-off activity, the drive-in is a much needed break from tradition. Nearly 900 movies were releasesd in 2018. With numbers like that, it’s easy to forget what a powerful experience film can be. So taking the time to experience one in a new way can be a refreshing change, and remind us why movies matter so much.

The series will conclude Wed., Sept. 25 with “Iron Man” featuring Tony Stark’s Ford Flathead Roadster. Tickets are free but space is limited, so visit to reserve yours if I’ve inspired you to check it out.

By Sidney Gubernick, who will be a sophomore at St. John’s College, Annapolis, Md. this fall.

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Category: Entertainment

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