Tuesday, May 22, 2007

IT'S SUMMER DRIVE-IN SEASON 2007!

There was no better place to see Grindhouse this past April than at the drive-in! (Photo courtesy of Akira Hanabusa)

Three years ago I had pretty much given up drive-in movie theaters to my increasingly musty memory, convinced that there was only one lot in town—the Vineland, way out in the City of Industry. Then my nephew came to town for a week of summer movie fun and his mom said he wanted to see a movie at the drive-in. I told her I’d take him, naturally assuming we’d be headed to the Vineland. But a quick look on Drive-ins.Com revealed that there was one drive-in in the nearby area that I’d never been to, and locals were dropping comments on the drive-in site about how great it was and how it just had a new high-powered illumination system installed. There was also mention of a open call for ground-floor membership in a new drive-in movie appreciation society. I signed up immediately, and then my nephew went out to see this drive-in for ourselves. The drive in was, of course, the Mission Tiki Drive-in in beautiful downtown Montclair, CA, and that night was the start of a rekindling of a love affair with the drive-in that, on the crest of the summer of 2007, is still going strong.

And of course, that little club I joined in July of 2005 was the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society. There were eight people present for that initial meeting in the snack bar of the Mission Tiki. By the time we next got together, at the Van Buren Drive-in in Riverside later that month, two had been pared away and a core group of fanatics had emerged. We started out simply as a fan club—we all traded stories of our favorite drive-in experiences that first night, and one member, Kathy Beyers, an avid drive-in historian, showed off a prodigious photo album full of great shots of drive-ins active and deceased from all over the world. But none of us really had much of an idea that it would ever be more than that. Three years later, SoCalDIMS (as it will be referred to hereafter) has its own Web site, designed by founding member and defacto SoCalDIMS lightning rod Sal Gomez, and an e-mail membership roster boasting at least 300 names, addresses and e-mail addresses.

The club has also established a fruitful association with the DeAnza Corporation, owners and operators of the Mission Tiki, the Van Buren and the Rubidoux Drive-ins here in Southern California, and several others in such far-flung locales as San Diego, Tucson, Arizona and Atlanta, Georgia. SoCalDIMS was instrumental in helping conceive and promote last summer’s ginormous allday-all night 50th Anniversary Party for the Mission Tiki, and Sal’s heavy-duty footwork ended up securing a half-hour of prime airtime during KCET’s September 2006 pledge drive for a program devoted entirely to the Mission Tiki and drive-in nostalgia hosted by popular TV personality Huell Howser. And through a bit of dogged determination, SoCalDIMS established a relationship with Juan Gonzalez, the manager of the Vineland, and helped him convince Pacific Theaters, which owns the drive-in, to install Technalight on all four of their screens, the last ones in the Greater SoCal area to not be so brightly illuminated.

And who knows what’s coming up for 2007? One thing that we’ve decided to do is get out of the snack bar. For the past two years, we’ve established a monthly presence at a drive-in and set up camp near the refreshment counter, talking to folks, listening to drive-in stories, making friends and establishing connections. But this summer we decided that we wanted to be out on the lot too. From now through the foreseeable future, SoCalDIMS “meetings” will take the form of tailgate parties that’ll take place right there on the lot. The good folks at the Mission Tiki facilitated our very first tailgater in April—the weather was a little drizzly, but nobody cared because the movie we were there to see was Grindhouse and it was great fun gathering about 40 or so drive-in fans together a couple of hours before the movie for fun, food and heavy anticipation of the evening’s entertainment. Someone even brought along his full-size propane grill and did up dogs and burgers right there under the screen!* Opinion was divided on Grindhouse itself—I should say, everyone seemed to love Planet Terror and be utterly put off by Death Proof, whereas I thought Planet Terror was loads of fun that was one-upped by the formal and thematic triumph of Death Proof. But that didn’t dampen the evening. Nor did the fact that everyone left after Grindhouse, leaving me alone as the sole survivor to witness the evening’s second (third?) feature, the grisly but forgettable The Hills Have Eyes 2. The get-together was a rousing success from the standpoint of getting a bunch of drive-in fans together to enjoy a movie that couldn’t have been a better fit for the whole experience. That night Sal and I decided that this party atmosphere was the perfect format for all our future SoCalDIMS meetings.


Which brings me to this weekend, when the next SoCalDIMS Drive-in Movie Tailgater will get under way, this time at DeAnza’s charming three-screener, the Rubidoux, a little further out in Riverside, but well worth the trip. Ex-Tiki projectionist and SoCalDIMS friend extraordinaire Jeff Thurman is threading the reels at the Rubidoux these days, and there’s simply no one better at what he does than Jeff. He’ll make sure that the evening’s feature, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, will be shown off in all its spectacular visual glory through the magic of Technalight on their big Scope-capable main screen, and that’s where SoCalDIMS will be parked this coming Saturday night, May 26.

If you’re in the Southern California area and would like to join us under the stars and the SoCalDIMS banner Saturday night, say no more! You’re in! Just show up at the Rubidoux (here’s how to get there) and look for the SoCalDIMS banner. A word to the wise, however: We have made arrangements through the management for early admittance to anyone who identifies themselves with SoCalDIMS.


But here’s the caveat: though it was previously announced that we would be allowed us through the gates early-- 6:00 p.m.-- in order to get ourselves situated before the big crowds start coming in, we’re gonna have to get there a bit earlier. Sal and I were out at the Rubidoux last weekend for Shrek the Third (I don’t wanna talk about it), and we found out just how early folks that regularly go to the Rubidoux get in line for opening weekend of a blockbuster release. How early, you ask? REALLY EARLY! By 6:30 p.m. the front section of the lot showing Shrek was nearly full-- remember, these lots are not nearly as big as the ones at the Mission Tiki-- and the show didn't start until 8:20 p.m.!

We've since communicated with management again, and they suggest that if you're planning on attending May 26th with SoCalDIMS, you should be at the front gate, parked in the auxiliary parking lot, NO LATER THAN 5:30 p.m. This will ensure that everyone will be there and ready to enter the lot by 6:00 pm. sharp. The reason this is important is that the box-office will be opening very shortly afterward to accommodate the gigantic crowd expected for all three screens that night (Pirates, Shrek & Spider-Man) and they don't want traffic backing up onto Mission Blvd.

You are most definitely invited to come out with SoCalDIMS at the Rubidoux this coming Saturday night. Just remember-- you must be there and ready to go inside by 5:30 p.m., otherwise not only may you not get parked together with our main group, but you may not get in, period.

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There’s also a whole lot going on this summer on the drive-in front besides SoCalDIMS. All four area drive-ins—the Vineland, the Mission Tiki, the Rubidoux and the Van Buren (home of the world’s best drive-in snack bar) are going full steam with a full slate of summer movie entertainment as only they can feature it. Yet there’s a new game in tgown as well—the first new drive-in in Orange County, and in all of Southern California, for that matter, in several decades. It has all the familiar drive-in trappings, yet it’s not exactly traditional—what it is, is inflatable. Yes, folks, welcome the Star-Vu Drive-in, and it premiered last weekend with Shrek the Third to packed lots and rave reviews from drive-in starved folks in and around the Costa Mesa area, where the drive-in has set up camp—on one of the parking lots at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Sal, SoCalDIMS founding member Christ Utley and I were invited to the preview party last Thursday night. I couldn’t make it, but Chris and Sal did, and despite some initial reservations, both were duly impressed. Sal filed this report for SoCalDIMS:


“On May 17th members of the local media as well as drive-in aficionados were treated to a preview of a new concept in drive-in movies.

In one section of the parking lot on the Orange County Fairgrounds, a group of baby boomers have given birth to the NEW Star Vu Drive-In. Mary Jean Duran, Jeff Teller & Bob Deutsch (forgive me if I missed someone) decided that Orange County had long been without the drive-in experience. They have now changed that for the foreseeable future. Not since the last drive-in in the O.C. was demolished over 10 years ago has there been a drive-in to cater to local families and those from other neighboring cities. The closest they could come was the Vineland Drive-In in the City of Industry or the Mission Tiki in Montclair.

The Star Vu Drive-In is located near the main entrance of the O.C. Fairgrounds. The Westside Grill, Snack Shack, as well as the restroom building are all existing structures that have existed since the fairgrounds were upgraded several years ago. The Westside Grill building also houses the projection booth. Here is a short video clip that was shot with a small digital camera on preview night. It will give you an idea on the set up for this drive-in.

Several members of the media and their families were in attendance and the management of the drive-in spared no expense. The Snack Shack served up hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, soft drinks, bottled water, finger pastries and a large celebratory cake that was cut and served to all the evenings guests. Oh, and did I mention this was all complimentary?

Pre-show entertainment was provided by a DJ with his own light show. Elvis also made and appearance to help kickoff the inaugural season, and in conjunction with the evening’s screening of Shrek 2, Austin Powers was in attendance to spread around some good MOJO for a long and profitable life as SoCal’s newest drive-in.

A post-viewing critique: This drive-in is a work in progress and the owners fully admit it. They were very open to suggestions, and I am sure if you attended last night or this weekend’s showings you will begin to see changes in ticket-taking procedures, parking assignments and other infrastructure details that dedicated drive-in theaters may not need to deal with.

The one suggestion I have is that the larger SUV/Truck parking may need to be assigned, because the sight lines may not be the best for these larger vehicles. What I mean is, the screen, although large enough, does not sit tall enough to provide a clear view if you are sitting in a high profile vehicle and happen to be parked behind another high profile vehicle. These larger cars may need to be staggered as the rows grow from two to three to four deep.

As far as picture brightness is concerned, some of us have been spoiled with the wonderful Technalight presentations we’ve become accustomed to at the Vineland, Mission Tiki, Van Buren and the Rubidoux. And although the Star Vu does have a fantastic state-of-the-art projection system, the 7,000-watt lamphouse is really going to need to work to overcome the outside lighting that will bleed onto that inflatable screen.

Yet, I still I cannot stress enough how much we need to support this venture. With the soaring cost of land in major urban areas and the loss of enough open land, this type of drive-in model may be the norm for future drive-ins in metropolitan areas for years to come.”


Thanks to Sal for filing the report from the Star Vu. It’s good to have the input from a dedicated drive-in fan to balance the generalized TV and newspaper reports that highlighted this newsworthy opening.

UPDATE 5/23/07: Here's Entertainment Weekly's Chris Willman on the Star Vu: "A Drive-In Grows in the O.C."

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I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to clue all drive-in fans in on an upcoming film (still in production) that should be a pretty comprehensive and worthwhile treatment of the state of drive-in theaters in America. Filmmaker April Wright has been on a journey throughout the country shooting drive-ins, the ones that are dead and gone as well as the ones that are thriving, for a new documentary she’s directing entitled Going Attractions: The Rise and Fall of the Drive-in as an American Icon. The title sounds somewhat grim and pessimistic, but Wright’s movie promises to celebrate the memory and the renewed interest in the drive-in as well as its checkered history. She even corralled me for almost an hour during last year’s 50th Anniversary Tiki Invasion for an long interview, pieces of which might just make it into the final product. Of course I’ll keep you abreast of all new developments on this project, and I continue to wish April good fortune in the production of this movie.

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And speaking of fascinating developments, Shawn Levy, film critic for the Portland Oregonian (and SLIFR friend and supporter) has been following a story since February that bodes well for Oregon drive-in fans (a membership in which I count myself)—owners of the Clinton Street arthouse in Portland have apparently bought up the entirety of a drive-in in Oceanside, California—projectors, snack bar, everything—and moved it up to Portland with the plans of rebuilding it on an as-yet-unspecified site and programming it much as they do the Clinton Street—indie fare, arthouse hits and cult movies. Now THAT sounds like a road trip to me! (Eh, Blaaagh?) It’s been a while since I’ve read any updated material on this story, so I’ll try to find out where the project stands (a lot can happen in four months) and file a follow-up in the near future.

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And if we're mentioning Oregon drive-ins, I must note that it’s been a while since I’ve been to the 99W, Brian Francis’s lovely little drive-in on the outskirts of Newberg, Oregon. So when I stumbled across this great cartoon from Oregon writer-blogger M.E. Russell, not only was I delighted, but I was also shocked—I was there at the 99W that summer for the very double feature he attended! (Join me now in a chorus of “It’s a Small World,” won’t you? No?) Russell captures the experience exceptionally well and with good-natured humor. Here’s hoping the 99W lasts for many more years— it, and owner Brian Francis, are among the really good guys.

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EASTBOUND AND DOWN!!! Finally, just because it’s drive-in season all around the rest of the country now (in Southern California, it’s always drive-in season), here’s two links you need to click on right away to get you in the mood. First, check out SLIFR favorite Wagstaff’s outstanding tribute to one of the great drive-in movies, Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit, over at Edward Copeland on Film.

And if you’ve got several hours to spend idly paging through a great collection of ads and other drive-in-oriented delights, please check in with Charles Bruss’s newly updated Drive-In Thru Wisconsin Web site, a thoroughly cheerful and entertaining tribute to the drive-ins of Mr. Bruss’s region that will convince you that drive-in fever knows no geographical restriction.

(Thanks to Mr. Bruss for the great original Smokey newspaper ad!)

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Have a great drive-in summer, wherever you may be! And if you’re in or near Riverside County this Saturday night, come on over to the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society, bring a bucket of chicken, have some potato salad, some chips, and shoot the shit with us for a while. Who knows? It might even be more fun than the movie!

* UPDATE 5/23/07 9:39 p.m. A couple of items: First, I got an e-mail this morning from the management of the Rubidoux requesting that anyone who does join us for our little outdoor soiree please refrain from grilling at this event. They are anticipating sell-outs all around and are concerned about danger to other patrons. Second, you may have to enjoy this tailgate party without me, because about a half-hour ago somebody rear-ended me on the freeway on my way to work. Luckily, my rear fender and taillight took the brunt of the hit, and neither my daughter or I were injured. But the drive-in wagon may be in the hospital for this one. I'll keep you informed!

UPDATE 5/27/07 9:07 p.m.: Well, as expected, my little driving misadventure ensured that I would not be attending last night's SoCalDIMS tailgater at the Rubidoux Drive-in. But I almost feel like I was there due to this excellent report (complete with video) filed by stalwart SoCalDIMS siren Sal Gomez. Sal, you've definitely sailed the high seas for this one and made me regret even more that I couldn't be there. True, we'll always have Grindhouse. But there's always June too!

6 comments:

Adam Ross said...

Sad to think that outside of Newberg there are only three other drive-ins in Oregon (LaGrande, Milton-Freewater and Dallas). The multiple-screen Clackamas drive-in was a first-rate operation for quite awhile (only charged by the car, I believe).

Newberg's an odd little town, I read a few years ago that its skate park was ranked No. 1 in the world by some skateboard magazine.

Sal said...

Glad to hear you and your daughter are both fine. That's the important thing.

Oh, and I see you like that picture of yourself taking a picture of me taking a picture of you, huh. What did I just say?

Anyway, the drive-in movie theater is alive and well and growing. Now lets see about getting Pacific Theaters to install DIGITAL Stereo Sound into the great Vineland Drive-In.

Brian said...

Glad to hear you're okay, though it sounds like quite a scare!

One of these summers I hope to make it to a drive-in theatre, something I haven't done since seeing STAR WARS at one with my family years ago.

The nearest ones to me are in San Jose and Sacramento. But I do have a few friends with cars, so maybe this summer...

The Shamus said...

Glad to hear you're OK, Dennis. And the little one.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Adam: Have you been to the 99W recently? It really has a lot of charm-- a perfect little small-town drive-in. The only problem: Brian is fighting the encroaching light pollution from Newberg's expanding outskirts. It is strange to think that in a state where there's so much open land that the drive-in would have suffered so many losses. But the ones I knew of in Portland and Eugene were all way inside city limits and fell victim to high cost of property and the box-store phenomenon. My hometown drive-in, safely on the outskirts of a town that posed absolutely no threat of growing too big for its britches, died in 1981 when a winter storm literally tore the screen in two. The owner used it as his ticket out of the exhibition business altogether-- he never reopened the drive-in and shortly after sold his indoor theater as well.

That news of the California drive-in moving lock, stock and barrel up to Portland-- to show indie-art house fare-- is really interesting news, however!

As expected, the sudden absence of the Drive-in-mobile has put a kibosh on this weekend's drive-in tailgater. For me it was all about the company, though-- I'm not sad about missing Pirates 3.

And thanks, everybody, for your concern. I was rear-ended with my other daughter in the car when she was only two weeks old, so I guess it was the younger one's turn. The young one's reaction immediately after the hit Wednesday was this hilarious, deadpan "What was that?", as if it were a rock getting kicked up under the undercarriage or something, and THAT was a big relief to hear. Such a scare sure makes one skittish to get back behind the wheel for a while, though.

And Brian, if they ever get that bullet train working up and down California, I supect we might be seeing a little more of each other. When you make your trip to L.A., we will definitely have to make sure you get out to the drive-in! Let's just hope there's something more enticing than Pirates 3 or Shrek 3 to show off the experience. I saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin outdoors a couple years ago, so I'm hoping Knocked Up will translate equally well to the drive-in.

I sure hope everyone has a great weekend, with a little bit of rest
and relaxation scheduled for all.

Sal said...

One side note... I got the chance to see P3 on Thursday night at the Vineland. Don't sell this film short Dennis. It was utterly enjoyable and the perfect film for the drive-in. P3 is just as good as the first film and at no time did it seem like a 3 hour film to me. The people that made it out to the drive-in that night really had a nice time. They laughed in all the right places and whooped and hollered as Jack Sparrow did his thing.

All in all I think you'd be pleasently suprised.