Matt’s been belly-aching about his favourite movie rental place biting the dust while the rest of us saw it coming for – what? – the past 15 years or so? Only teasing, Matt. Elgin Street Video was THE place; it managed to be a neighbourhood fixture and also a city-wide go-to for its eclectic catalogue that was worth getting your knees dusty for. The original owner was a bit of Luddite, like Matt, unwilling to believe that new technologies could topple his empire, having famously quoted to the Ottawa Citizen in 1994 “We certainly know the value of this so-called information highway has been grossly exaggerated in the media” but alas the internet finally caught up with his legacy (he died in 2008, his video store outliving him an impressive 7 years thanks to friends and family who vowed to keep it going). The store will shutter for good at the end of the month, and in the meantime, the store’s contents are on sale and everything must go. Everything? Even the wacky memorabilia? Even John Candy’s pants? Well, that remains to be seen.
So while Matt’s throwing a funeral for the crumbs of his nostalgia, I’m still indulging in mine.
The drive in. Oddly enough, the drive-in was almost done in by videotape. It nearly vanished when people could simply rent a tape at Blockbuster and take it home to their living rooms instead. They’ve been going extinct for 40 years now, but here’s the thing: they’re not dead yet. And unlike DVD (or VHS!) rentals, there seems to be a throwback factor that’s keeping their faint hearts beating.
Why do I love the drive-in? What’s not to love about seeing a movie under the stars? About the sense of community involved in pointing our cars in the same direction, tuning in to the same radio station, honking our horns in unison to tell the projectionist we’re ready, flashing smiles along the way as we make the dark stumble towards the bathrooms, greet each other over popcorn, walk our dogs during intermission.
By the late 1950s, one-third of theaters in the US were drive-ins. It was an affordable way to see a movie (and often two or three), the drive-ins relying more heavily on concessions and the ticket prices staying quite low, often a set price for a whole carful of movie goers. Turns out that wasn’t a super sustainable business model and today there are fewer than 350 operating drive-ins in the US (there are about 40 000 indoor screens, by contrast). But there are some things that deserve a resurgence, and like vinyl records currently enjoying a comeback, so are drive-in theatres.
This weekend, our local (the only local) drive-in theatre showed its first double bill of the season (drive-in season in snowy Canada is tragically short). It never matters what they’re showing; Sean and I go every other weekend, which is as often as they bring in new movies. The movies are almost always movies we’ve already seen paired with a movie we had no intention of seeing, but we go. We bring blankets and pillows and mosquito netting and a picnic, and a bottle of champagne. We watch the movies with varying degrees of interest, sometimes with rapt attention from the edge of our captain’s chairs, other times stretched out in the backseat, half an eye on the screen and someone’s hand up someone else’s shirt. Being at the drive-in reminds us old married fuddy-duddies of the art of making out. It inspires us to learn new ways of doing old tricks so that the Volkswagen doesn’t get to a-rocking. It gives us a new appreciation of the suburbs – the night sky, the fresh air, the full moon, the fireflies. I can’t say exactly why we love to go, but we do.
Maybe it is a form of reminiscing. As kids, Mom would have us all put on our jammies before piling into the van. We’d negotiate amongst ourselves for who would sit in the middle seats, and who would go way back. There’d be cheesies and juice boxes during the first film, the family one, and during the second we were expected to sleep. I remember sneaking surreptitious peaks at the screen during Crocodile Dundee 2, a movie only tantalizing to someone who’d been told it was off-limits, “too grown-up” (it was rated PG).
Now we have the luxury of leaving if we don’t like the second feature, but we rarely do. The movie is secondary at the Templeton Cineparc. Foremost is the holding of hands, the nuzzling, the ability to talk through the movie without being shushed, smuggling in a whole pizza if the mood strikes, and having privacy but still enjoying the communal aspect of watching a movie with your neighbours. We’ve only just been and I’m already itching to go back.
Do you have childhood memories of the drive-in? Do you still go? Do you have one near by?