Celebration of the drive-in. Today we see the launch of a new animated Google Doodle. It’s in celebration to Richard Hollingshead’s and his opening of America’s first drive-in theatre.
79 years ago… on the 06 June 1933, Richard’s vision to bring his passion of cars and movies together became a reality. Paying just 25 cents for their car, plus 25 cents per person, fans came together to enjoy a unique open air movie-experience where three main speakers were mounted next to the screen to provide the sound. The downside? If you lucked-out and found yourself to the rear of the parking lot it was wise not to expect the best sound quality!
This year, iconic Hollywood film studio Universal celebrates 100 years in showbusiness by releasing newly-restored films, and by setting loose an augmented Tyrannosaurus rex in Central London.
The studios have put out some of the most commercial successful films of the fifty years, including Jaws, ET, To Kill A Mockingbird, Schindler’s List and Out Of Africa, appearing regularly on critic’s ‘best of’ lists. These (and a further eight titles) have been painstakingly restored for Blu-ray and DVD for younger (and future) audiences to discover.
Individual negatives for films such as Stephen Spielberg’s benchmark terror Jaws had deteriorated over the last few decades, and this restoration programme will future-proof them – restoring faded colour or scratched frames using high-resolution scanners and clever digital manipulation. Each frame can take up to four hours to restore, and with 24 frames per second the whole project has been the cause of more than a few headaches. But thanks to the work of restoration artists, the sheer intensity of Robert Shaw getting gobbled up by a humungous, bloodthirsty shark can be ‘enjoyed’ as Spielberg intended.
For a forward-planning studio like Universal, their centenary celebrations needed something special. The concept of augmented reality has been kicking around for a few years now – first in films like Tron, The Lawnmower Man and Terminator 2, and more recently in BBC’s Sherlock. This overlaying images onto video-camera footage, merging the physical world with the virtual, has struck a chord with an increasingly tech-savvy public.
Here’s where the T-rex comes in. At the end of April, around 3,000 members of the public wagged their smart-phones about in Oxford Street’s HMV flagship store as Jurassic Park’s Tyrannosaurus rex stomped about and posed for pictures. Augmented reality platform Aurasma also enabled live action DVD/Blu-ray covers, including the Apollo 13 lift-off and some dancing Blues Brothers. Predictably, all of this appeared on various social networking sites within minutes. Watch a video of the day here.
One thing is certain: the lines between what is real and unreal are becoming increasingly blurred. The virtual world is slowly creeping into reality and soon, augmented reality will have a major presence in television, the internet and live events. And we’ll be seeing a lot more of this.
As technology hurtles forward, converting an outdoor cinema to digital (to offer greater choice and film quality) can cost well over $150,000 and the industry typically doesn’t make a great amount of profit. Many face a hard decision: convert, or close.
It was not always this way though. In post-war America, public appetite for entertainment was great so with a large screen, projection booth and ample car parking space, a new pastime was born. Cheap and cheerful, drive-in theatres captured the public mood and even began to shape the films made at that time. The teen film genre swelled in line with the volume of young patrons keen to huddle together in the twilight hours; this in-car privacy ignited the conservative press, which coined the cinemas “passion pits”. More wholesomely, families found that they could watch over their young children and enjoy the latest films without worrying about noise. By the late 1950s, almost 5,000 drive-in cinemas were in operation.
The format emerged when auto sales manager Richard Hollingshead, Jr. took the logical progression from the now ubiquitous ‘drive-thru’ restaurant (a metaphor for the new consumer). Some sources claim that his idea was inspired by his overweight mother’s difficulties with conventional cinema seating, while others saw it merely as a sales platform for his company’s auto parts. Whatever the truth, Hollingshead Jr.’s first drive-in cinema opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933 and had soon spread across the US.
Last year, only 371 drive-in theatres were in operation in the US. After its late 50s/early 60s boom the industry began declining due in part to rising land costs (and the relative profits of using the space for housing), and the restrictions that came from night-time, fair weather screenings. The advent of colour television, VCR and latterly TV on demand and online streaming have also been blamed, but the drive-in theatre is enjoying something of a comeback, albeit for artistic or nostalgic events. With the advancement of cheap, accessible equipment, it’s relatively easy to organise ‘guerilla drive-in’ showings online, which has brought the drive-in experience to a new audience.
There are a few original drive-in cinemas remaining, and well worth seeking out for an unusual date or family day out. Remember that warm clothes, collapsible chairs and mosquito repellent will make the experience much more comfortable. Horn-honking as a sign of appreciation is sometimes encouraged, but it’s always best to check. Why not try the following:
- Bengies Drive-In Theater (Baltimore, Maryland)
- The Harvest Moon (Gibson City, Illinois)
- Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theater (Orefield, Pennsylvania)
- Silver Lake Twin Drive-In (Perry, New York)
- Redwood Drive-In Theater (Salt Lake City, Utah)