A Blast from the Past: The Drive-In Movie Theater

Posted: July 11, 2012 by Dion in Film, History, Technology
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While on a much-needed honeymoon to the Lake George region of upstate New York (if you’ve seen or read The Last of the Mohicans, then that’s the lake it all occurred on), my bride and I took in a custom that I thankfully have been enjoying since since childhood, which was see a double feature at the old drive-in movie theater.

This passed June marked the 79th anniversary of the drive-in, as we discussed in our Sci-Fi Schlock Double Features podcast, so I was really looking forward to going up there and visiting the old theater. I’ve been vacationing there all my life, and one of the traditions for my family was packing into the Chrysler mini van and visit the old Drive In.

The Glen Falls Drive In has been around since 1958, and luckily hasn’t changed a bit.  It boosts 2 screens, which both play double features that start at dusk. We had a choice of The Amazing Spider-Man and Brave, or Ted and That’s My Boy, so like any sane person, we picked the former, which ironically turned out to be a true “creature-feature”. The theater opens at 7pm, and costs only- wait for it!- $8 for 2 brand-new movies! When it costs nearly 20 bones to see a damned 3D movie nowadays (which the man then has the gall to try and get you to “recycle” your glasses you just spent $5 on- like they’re not just cleaning them and repackaging those suckers!- but I digress), it is quiet refreshing and rewarding, if I may be so bold as to say, to pay $4 per film and also, have them be brand new films to boot (though at those prices, I’d pay to see anything there).

The very large “turnstiles” of the Drive In Movie

We arrived around quarter after 7 and found a space next to an old pole that still held an old-school RCA speaker, so you could put it on your window, which I really loved. Just to think how many movies and for the matter, how many classics have been pumped through those bad-boys since 1958! But alas, if you’re not quite as retro as my wife and I, you can tune in on your FM dial and find the film’s audio there.

There she is: a original RCA Drive In speaker

It was slowly turning to twilight when we parked the car, applied bug-spray, opened the windows, and started to devour two books as we waited for sunset. To our delight (though it could have easily turned to our dismay), the lot slowly filled up, until there was not a spot to be had by movie time.

It was wonderful to see parents our age, or grandparents now my parent’s age, bringing their kids to share in this timeless experience of going to the drive in. Luckily, no one parked a mega “Excursion” or “Expedition” SUV in front of us, but it really seemed any space could yield you a perfect view of the screen, lest the guy in front of you is driving a “Peterbilt” 18-wheeler Semi.

As dusk started to slip over us, we ventured to the large snack bar building that sat between the two lots, for some fresh popcorn and whatever else you heart desired.

The Amazing Spider-Man was the first film to kick-off on our screen at about 9pm, once the sun had completely disappeared from the sky, and as I alluded to before, we realized we were really watching a “creature-feature”, filled with monsters, superheroes- everything you’d expect to see on a classic drive-in double bill. Though this drive-in seems to be only open seasonally, if I were the owner, I’d try to rent older prints too and have classic horror nights, grindhouse double-features- you name it, I’d try to bring the audiences in for a pure retro experience.

The intermission hit and spliced in was a truly ancient, pure late 60’s/70’s short highlighting all the food that’s available at the snack bar. Ah, it was amazing. The faded colors, the deep scratches in the print, and the “vintage” ambient music track really brought you back to the days when going to the Drive In with a date was the norm.

The “Refreshment Stand” short in between the films. That’s actually mustard being applied with a popicle stick to a hotdog, circa 1976. Yep, freakin’ sweet…

Brave followed and before you knew it, it was passed 1am, and the night was over. I tell you, if I had a place like that closer to me, I’d be going ever week for those prices.

Drive-in’s are really a doorway to another time, and luckily like vinyl, have somehow managed to stick around, be it in very small pockets of the country. There’s been a resurgence in the drive-in experience in the early 2000’s, so let’s hope just like the re-interest in buying vinyl, some new drive-in’s will pop up in a town near you. But you’d be surprised to find that there may actually be one already in your area that has been able to stick it out, much like the Glen Falls location, so do a quick search.

Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a night at the drive-in. It’s an experience, and something you can one day tell you kids about… or God willing, take them to.

So ’til next time, keep those headlights off, and make sure not to accidentally pump the brake.

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