Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Come as you are, but stay in your car

Here's another taste of my book I'm writing about growing up in the 60s in the San Fernando Valley. It's 1967. I'm in high school. I'm going out with Eleanor, but I'm not getting very far with her. And trust me, it's not for lack of trying.

I didn’t fare much better at the Drive-In either. Drive-In theatres were big in the 60s. Gigantic parking lots with a huge movie screen. The novelty here was being able to watch movies in your car. In 1967 if someone opened a medical clinic where you could get gall bladder operations in your car people would flock to it. Usually B-movies booked into Drive-Ins – cheesy horror flicks or Jerry Lewis comedies.

Drive-Ins are highly romanticized but I never really got it. The sound was always atrocious. You would attach these clunky portable metal speakers to the driver’s side window. Everything sounded muffled and distorted. You were always going, “What did that mad professor say?” Today’s teen would last exactly two seconds with that fidelity.

There was usually one snack bar, a bunker that was a half-day ride on a bicycle from wherever you parked. Someone from your car would go to the snack bar and you’d see him again at the ten-year reunion.

The big attraction of course was privacy… well, semi-privacy. You could smoke dope or make-out unseen except for all the lost souls walking by, tapping on your window, asking where the snack bar was. Eleanor was too self conscious to let me do anything more than kiss her. Besides, she was very engrossed in the movie. How could you not when THE HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND was playing?


Unknown said...

1960's American teenagers fascination with "drive-ins" always intrigued me. Drive-in movies, drive-in diners, etc.

Nothing's changed. Now these same people who were teenagers then use drive ins today - drive-in pharmacies, drive-in banks, drive-in dairies, drive-in national parks (see the Grand Canyon from your car!).

Anonymous said...

My friend and I loved to see movies like, "One Million Years B.C." at the drive-in. We would turn down the sound and make up our own, Noel Cowardish dialogue. "Oh, my dear, I love what you've done with your cave!" "Thank you. Care for another scone?"

Michael said...

And yet, with my parents (I was as yet too young to drive) I saw both Hud and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the drive-in. My wife, who was B&R in NorCal (Hayward, to be specific), called/calls them the "motor movies".

Anonymous said...

One cool thing about drive-ins: as a very young child, I saw Jungle Book with my parents at the drive-in. I'm sure I drove them fucking nuts, but I didn't drive anyone else in the theater nuts.


Alan Tomlinson

Bob Claster said...

Drive-ins were also great for parents of young kids who could just let them sleep in the back seat. Much cheaper than hiring a sitter.

Anonymous said...

There is still a great Drive In Theater in San Luis Obispo, CA.
Sunset Drive-In - San Luis Obispo
255 Elks Lane, San Luis Obispo, CA - (805) 544-4475

Now showing Shrek Forever After, and Prince of Persia. Still fun to go to.

Richard Y said...

A 4 screen complex, the De Anza, closed in November 2009 here in Tucson AZ after almost 50 years or perhaps a bit longer. Those horrid speakers gave way to listening on your FM radio. One of the screens is still standing tall.

Mike Barer said...

The best Drive-ins charged by the car, rather than per person. In Walla Walla where I grew up, there was one in Milton-Freewater (just across the Oregon border) which charged by the car, and one in town that charged per person. Sometimes, you could hide customers in the trunk so they would not be charged.

YEKIMI said...

Yeah, the drive-in theater I manage went to FM stereo sound a few years ago, sounds way better than those crappy speakers [I did a little research and found out that old style dial phones had a better frequency response than the drive-in speakers]. If you want to see what the place looks like then & now:

Ken, if you ever get to Cleveland for a baseball game and you have an "off" night, you're invited to travel about 40 miles south of Cleveland and visit us and help swat Mosquito's that rival a C-130 cargo plane in size. You can also bang on car windows and tell people to knock off the BSA {Back Seat Action], I figure if I'm not getting any, why should they?

YEKIMI said...

damn typo!

RolloSuplex said...

Ah, drive ins. What few, fond, marijuana-crippled memories I have of working at a drive in. Several I worked for in Ohio are still around and the experience is pretty much the same as what you described.

Mark said...

The worst of the worst was when you double dated to a drive-in and the other couple made out while you couldn't get to first base. Let me tell you, Blood Feast is considerably less entertaining under those circumstances.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

One night in that wonderful summer of '67 I took my girlfriend, Mary, to the Van Nuys drive-in on Roscoe blvd. to see a double bill (that's what they called 'em in those days). We didn't wait long to jump into the back seat of my '65 VW Bug and push the front seats forward. Well, I had finally gotten her clothes off (not a lie & and in a VW), when one of the guys on the bicycles that worked at the drive-in tapped on my window. I thought we were about to get arrested. We quickly covered up, I rolled down the window and he said, "you left your fog lights on". Damn it, ruined the whole mood...there was NO way I could perform after that! Those WERE the days.

D. McEwan said...

"Drive-Ins are highly romanticized but I never really got it. The sound was always atrocious."

Who went to drive-ins to see movies? You smoked pot, you had sex or at least a lot of foreplay. It was fun.

I loved drive-ins. Like Anonymous, I saw 1,000,000 BC in a drive-in, the Fountain Valley Drive-in as a matter of fact, which at that time, had the largest movie screen in the world. I saw Rosemary's Baby at that drive-in also.

During high school, I lived one block from the Hi-Way 39 Drive-In in Westminster, CA, and if I went up on our roof, I could see the movie, though not hear it, of course. When The Ten Commandments played there for a week, I went up every night at the same time, just to watch The Parting of the Red Sea without having to listen to Charleton Heston. (Stripping the dialogue out of a Cecil B. DeMille movie always improved it.)

When Goldfinger opened locally, after 6 months in exclusive engagements, at the HiWay 39 Drive-In, Memorial Day weekend, 1965, I went with a carload of school friends, and just about everyone I knew on earth was there, so it became a big, open-air party. Man, that was a fun night.

Or the night, at that same drive-in when I was in college, when three friends of mine and I went in my tiny little Renault Dauphine, which barely sat one, and saw The Magic Christian, while smoking so much dope, it looked like there was a fog bank inside the car. Perfect way to see that movie. We laughed so much and so hard, the reverberations are still going on. Dad drove that car to work the next day, and arrived at work with no idea why he was arrived at work in a good mood.

I remember seeing Roger Corman's House of Usher, Pit & the Pendulum, The Raven, and The Premature Burial in a quadruple feature at a drive-in with a couple friends. You could hear muffled screams coming from the cars all over the theater at peak shock moments. Great fun!

And bad sound? You bet, but I saw Woodstock at a drive-in, because we could get into the vibe better when we could smoke pot all through the film, and get naked as well.

I even remember what the very last movie I saw in a drive-in was: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, not a movie dependant on sound.

I miss 'em.

D. McEwan said...

Oh and there was one other fun aspect of drive-ins, driving past them. You could be cruising up a freeway, or down a boulevard, and suddenly be confronted by a GIGANTIC Raquel Welch, or someone's enormous tits. rising up beside the road without warning. Such a greta distraction. I wonder why they didn't cause more accidents.

Mike Schryver said...

I was a pre-teen in the '60s, so I caught the end of the drive-in phenomenon. I remember "Wild in the Streets", a Shelley Winters movie about a youth revolution, and "Barbarella". I was forced to hide my eyes during Jane Fonda's topless scene in "Klute". (If my parents had only known then how little any topless woman would mean to me.)
Chilly Willy cartoons, those terrible late '60s WB cartoons, the Pink Panther too. I don't remember seeing "Horrors of Spider Island", but I later saw it the way God intended - in the waning days of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Charles H. Bryan said...

@Bob Claster

My parents tried that once; they thought I'd sleep in the back seat while they watched Bonnie and Clyde.

I watched the whole damn thing. Boy, did I hate Michael J. Pollard, that fink.

Cap'n Bob said...

When I was a kid there was a drive-in in Norfolk, VA, called Wilder's that had hard wooden seats in front of the car spots. For ten cents, a dime, the tenth part of a dollar, you could walk in. I think people in cars paid a quarter each.
For another dime you could stop at Woolworth's and get a bag of popcorn as long as your arm. Great times, then.

Debby G said...

I went to the Van Nuys Drive-in a lot in high school. Ahh, my cute blond boyfriend, the shell on his truck, and peppermint schnapps! Good times!

What? They also showed movies there?

l.a.guy said...

I worked at a Drive-In in the summer of 1978 and for the entire three months I worked there the Eyes of Laura Mars and Midnight Express were playing. I worked the "snack bar" (if you think card board pizza and stale popcorn qualify as snacks), and our "break room" consisted of sitting on a bench outside, facing the screen, but without the benefit of sound. Because our breaks were on a regular schedule, I invariably got to eat my food while enjoying the visual imagery of someone getting stabbed in the eye (Laura Mars), or a guard being impaled on a wall mounted coat hanger (Midnight Express). Mmmmmmm... tasty!

On the plus side a few months of that was enough to convince me to enroll in college if I didn't want to be stuck making pizza the rest of my life.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike Schryver said...
I remember "Wild in the Streets", a Shelley Winters movie about a youth revolution,"

I don't think I've ever heard Wild in the Streets described as "a Shelley Winters movie" before. She is certainly in it, as one of her over-the-top screechy harridan mothers, who later becoems a stoned hippie mom, but she was hardly the focus of the film. Christopher Jones, at his beauty, was very much the center. (It's also Richard Pryor's screen debut.)

I loved it back in the day. I saw it again recently, for the first time in like 35 years, and while it's incredibly dated, it's still pretty fun and kind of rawly witty, and I still love the songs in it. I had the soundtrack album. It is, after all, a musical.

But for places that aren't really about the movies, isn't it interesting that we all seem to remember specific movies we saw in drive-ins, and which drive-ins we saw which movies in. There wsa something forever memorable about it, even if it's just trying to eat cardboard pizza while watching someone get stabbed in the eye.

D. McEwan said...

Crucial word missnig from my sentence. It should say: "Christopher Jones, at the height of his beauty, was very much the center."

I must remember to type all the words in the sentence.

jbryant said...

I love that the song "Shape of Things to Come" from WILD IN THE STREETS got popularized again a couple of years back in those Target commercials. Catchy stuff.

Recently moved back to my hometown area and was sad to see the Starlite Drive-In is gone--demolished, landscaped and home to the new fire department. I think the last time I went, I saw DICK TRACY.

Mike Schryver said...

Yes, it would have been better if I'd said "a movie with Shelley Winters", or not mentioned her at all.
I had no idea the movie was remembered by so many people. And I absolutely agree about Christopher Jones.

D. McEwan said...

"jbryant said...
I love that the song 'Shape of Things to Come' from WILD IN THE STREETS got popularized again a couple of years back in those Target commercials. Catchy stuff.

The last time it ran on TCM, I recorded it, and ran it for a friend of mine who had never seen it. The next day I saw that Target commercial for the first time. As soon as it ended, my phone rang. It was my friend, who was watching the same show at his home, calling to freak out over hearing The Shape of Things to Come in the ad when he'd just seen the film for the first time with me the day before.

Plus, it's a good song.

Hell of a cast: in addition to Christopher Jones and Shelley and Richard Pryor, there's Hal Holbrook, Millie Perkins, Ed Begley Senior (who is very funny in it), and Bert Freed.

Francine said...

Growing up in the valley 50's - mid-70's, drive-ins were the place to go with family as kids, then with your dates and friends as teenagers. Live in San Luis Obispo now, where I took my kid and his friends to the Sunset Drive-in when they were little. It's still open - and has a huge flea market every Sunday. Francine