Wednesday, May 13, 2009

EMPS: Let's All Go To the Drive-In

Yesterday for Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #37: Theaters. I showed you the Gaslight Theatre, a venue that shows musical comedy/parody melodramas such as Harlie's Angels, or Clues But No Cigar. The other theater I photographed on Monday afternoon was completely different.

From my Picasa album EMPS

I'm pretty sure it's the last surviving drive-in theater in Tucson: the DeAnza Drive In Theatre. It still stands just south of 22nd St. at Alvernon Way, a relic of a time when people would happily give up a bit of sound quality to watch a double feature together at a family-friendly price. When I was growing up, I almost never saw a movie indoors, except on tv. Several times each summer, we'd be loaded up in the station wagon (the Rambler, and later the '67 Dodge Coronet) with pillows and maybe jammies, and head out to DeWitt Drive In. That's where I saw Lilies of the Field , Goodbye Charlie, Thunderball and Son of Sampson, and against my will, because Yellow Submarine was on tv that night) The Towering Inferno. That was a long time ago, in metro Syracuse, NY, but I imagine it was much the same for the DeAnza in Tucson. The difference would be that in Tucson, you could comfortably watch a movie in your car all year round.

Times change, of course, and drive ins have gradually been going the way of the buggy whip, the typewriter and (most recently) the travel agency. There have been technological advances in the little speakers you stick in your car window; I think now it narrowcasts to your car radio at some theaters. But it's still unlikely to compete favorably with the audio of your own tv or home theater system when you rent from Netflix, or the stereo surround sound at an air conditioned theater in a shopping mall somewhere. But if you have a family of four or more, the discount is still attractive compared to the indoor theater, and you can see the film sooner at a drive in than on DVD, if they're showing films on a first run basis. In the old days, second run was good enough, but now everything's out on video right away, so the second run market is pretty much gone. In fact, I heard a year or so ago that DeAnza was closing. But look! It's hanging in there! It's actually showing Star Trek! In fact the film line-up seems well-chosen for blockbusters and date night and action films.

Behind the screen and the marquee, the set up is still very basic. There's a fence, and signs to tell you which direction to go depending on which double bill you want to see. Then you're in a lot with four screens, and posts bearing speakers, or maybe transmitters. My favorite drive-ins when I was a kid had a playground up near the screen to keep us entertained until it got dark and the movie started. The DeWitt Drive-In didn't have that, but the one in Liverpool did.

At the DeAnza, there isn't just a fence keeping people from sneaking in. There's a nice floral hedge. The movie screens can be seen from a distance, but not necessarily at a helpful angle, and of course you wouldn't get the audio. Really, these days, who would bother?

Dusk arrives, and the lettering on the back of the screen lights up. How many carloads will the DeAnza get tonight? No idea, because mine won't be one of them. But I hope it's enough, and that everyone buys lots of popcorn.



Martha said...

Cool! I sure miss having drive ins, they were always such fun! Oh and thantks for the reminder to post my EMPS! I've been home for three days and am still ridiculously behind!

Carly said...

Hi Karen

I miss Drive-Ins too! This looks like a really nice one. :)