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Drive-In Movie Envy

by Alex Godfrey
17 October 2012 3 Comments

Everyone remembers the scene in Grease when they go to the drive-in movie, so exciting, so cool and so American, it's something Britain has never been able to emulate, here's why...

I suppose a tit up’s out of the question

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to go to a drive-in movie. Well, not as far back as I can remember. As far back as I can remember, I cried at the school-gates, had trouble controlling my bladder at night, and had a curious obsession with Prince Charles.

But at some point during my formative years, the bit in Grease where they all go to a drive-in firmly lodged itself in my pubescent brain, and never left.

I love that scene. Everyone’s making out, fighting or smoking, Danny tries and fails to get to second base with Sandy, and there’s that great tracking shot where Rizzo confides in Marty that she’s pregnant, and the news goes from car to car until it reaches Kenickie, who confronts Rizzo, bringing the information full circle. Cigarettes, girls, cars and movies: I wanted in. We didn’t have anything like it in Britain; it was certainly never in vogue here. It all seemed so exotic, so exciting, so… American. So when I heard the legendary Pinewood Studios had temporarily converted their water-filming backlot into a drive-in cinema for a few weekends, I settled on an early evening screening of Mission: Impossible and blagged a spot from their press department, who helpfully hooked me up with the good people at Classic Car Club, which means I got to rock up there in a vintage Mercedes instead of my shitty old Corsa. Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Danny Zuko. Or so I thought. Foolishly. A minute or so after I’d arrived at the Pinewood gates, my drive-in hard-on went a little limp.

 Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Danny Zuko

The season ran for a few weeks at the end of last year, screening films that were shot in Pinewood. The night I went they broke a world record by projecting onto the world’s biggest ever cinema screen, which was indeed immense, and very helpful before the film for informing people where the toilets were. There’s a sort of glamour involved, knowing that the water tank next to the drive-in has been utilised for a host of underwater sequences, from 1960′s Sink The Bismarck! through to Casino Royale and the upcoming Clash Of The Titans remake. On the other hand, sitting in a concrete car park just west of London on a cold November evening is about as glamorous as sitting in a concrete car park just west of London on a cold November evening.

My seven-year-old godson has ideas for horror films which would be great to see at a drive-in

So, it hit me. America just does certain things better than us. This wasn’t California. It wasn’t the 1950s. And I’m not John Travolta. The fundamental thing missing was, it seems, the most essential thing: atmosphere. There was no electricity, no anarchy. Just a few cars being herded into spaces by shivering stewards wearing luminous yellow safety jackets. There was no reason to leave the car. Alcohol was forbidden; drunkenness (and presumably drunk-driving) is frowned upon at the Pinewood drive-in. Where were the James Deans with their flick knives? Where were the girls slapping the guys for touching them inappropriately? And the waiter who came from car to car hawking popcorn and chocolates (in the overpriced VIP section only, mind) was an affable young chap named Rod, which is all very nice, but not exactly what I had in mind. I suppose my vision of a mini-skirted Heather Graham zooming about on rollerskates was too much to ask.

Atmosphere excepted, it was nice to be watching the film outside, surrounded by trees and stars, and it looked great on that humungous screen. I’ve always been partial to the first Mission: Impossible, which has aged well, a great, ridiculous suspense thriller, and it was cool to know that some of it had been filmed in one of the buildings on the lot. But it was a bare bones viewing experience; I might as well have ram-raided my local Odeon. I’m up for them doing this in the summer, and showing proper 50s B-movies, or grindhouse films, something silly, something fun. My seven-year-old godson has ideas for horror films which would be great to see at a drive-in. Unfortunately they don’t exist, but I want to see them. I like his plan for a film about killer fish, called Get Out Of Town, but my favourite is one he came up with recently called The Parking Space. When you park there, you die, apparently. I think he’s the next Roger Corman.

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Dale 3:47 pm, 17-Oct-2012

Interesting you mention Prince Charles, as I was at the drive-in on the night Princess Diana died. It was in rural Maryland - they announced it over the PA right before the film started: Austin Powers.

Owen Blackhurst 6:57 pm, 17-Oct-2012

Only been once, in Hicksville Michigan. Film was shit, da Vinci code, but loved everything else

Pav 12:28 am, 10-Dec-2012

Was couple of times, outback Oz and Toronto and rural Ontario. Always great experience, even sh...est movie looks much better in drive-in. Would really like to attend one in Britain but always find out too late...

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