You owe it to your country to go to the drive-in movies this summer.
There may be nothing quite so American as apple pie, but drive-in movies should be next on the list. Even if their heyday is long gone — the first drive-in opened 85 years ago — if you take a spin out to local operations like the Redwood in West Valley, or Riverdale's Motor Vu, you’ll be in generous company.
As a kid growing up in that joyous and absurd melting pot of 1980s pop culture, trips to the drive-in on warm summer weekends in my family’s ’83 Honda were a cherished tradition.
I remember seeing movies like “Tron” out at the old Davis Drive-In in Layton, but most of the time we’d wind up at the Redwood, which was great because if I got bored with the movie I was watching, I could turn around and catch the ending of “Star Trek III” on one of their other screens.
As I got older, expeditions with family turned into visits on dates or with groups of friends, but as old haunts like the Davis closed, I started to worry that another piece of my childhood was fading out of existence, like Bob Kellersburger’s beef jerky or the McPizza.
Imagine my joy, then, as I rocketed along Scenic Highway 32 one summer and discovered The Spud, an iconic drive-in outside Driggs, Idaho. Every time I see a drive-in that is still open, hope flickers back to life like Marty McFly’s siblings in that old photograph (I saw “Back to the Future” at the drive-in, too).
In a day when multiplex theaters are using IMAX screens, 3-D presentations and luxury recliner seating to pry customers away from their home theaters, it may seem silly to suggest people watch a movie at a theater where the sound is broadcast on your car stereo and Bring Your Own Seating is the rule. But that misses the point.
You don’t go to the drive-in for the movie; you go for the experience. You go for the same reason most people go to baseball games: not because you care about the score, or the teams or the ERA of the guy on the mound. You go because baseball games and drive-in movies bring summer to life.
Is it any coincidence that they both offer double-headers?
Going to the drive-in is about sitting in a bean bag in the back of a pickup truck, watching the blue sky fade as your movie gets started. It’s about showing up early and throwing a football around. It’s about comically long lines coming out of the restrooms between features, and weird, rippling parking lots that go on forever. If the movie’s any good, that’s just a bonus, and sometimes the bad movies are even more fun.
One of my favorite pictures was shot for Life magazine back in the 1950s. It shows a drive-in theater in Salt Lake City, playing that big-screen epic “The Ten Commandments.” With a Saltair sunset in the distance, the Red Sea-parting hands of Charleton Heston’s Moses are stretched across a bright drive-in movie screen as rows of illuminated cars cower silently in the foreground. It’s a compelling image, all the better because of the Utah connection.
As I started thinking about this column, I decided to head out to the Redwood and see if I could put together a tribute to that shot, and the theaters I love so much. With permission from the Redwood’s manager Larry Healey, I came out one night and set up my camera while a fleet of trucks and cars and SUV’s gathered to watch “Infinity War” on the second weekend of the season.4 comments on this story
Up in the booth I met Earl Shaffer, the longtime Redwood projectionist who showed me the old war horses that still stand next to the new digital projectors that were installed four years ago. As I took pictures I thought about all the times I sat in the back of the family Honda, eating red Twizzlers and Mr. Salty pretzel twists as I watched movies like “Ghostbusters” over my parents’ shoulders. They stopped making those pretzel twists a long time ago. Sometimes nostalgia can be a bittersweet thing.
It was good to see things still going strong at the Redwood. I want to go back sometime and take more pictures, if they’ll let me. More importantly, I want to go back and take in a double feature.
You should, too. It’s the American thing to do.