Summer Drive-In Movies
Part of my personal collection of old car movies is Targets from 1968. It stars Boris Karloff in his last on-screen performance, and while not necessarily a “car film,” there are plenty of in-the-day rides in it, as well as great scenes in the San Fernando Valley. The Valley I grew up in.
And the final part of the film takes place at the Reseda Drive-In Theatre, where my parents took my brother and me on many weekends. The shots of that place in Targets really bring back memories of going to the drive-in on a balmy summer evening.
Recently, my wife and I got to relive those experiences somewhat at a drive-in movie theatre right in downtown Los Angeles. Electric Dusk has been around for a couple of years, and currently uses the foundation of a demolished building just east of Staples Center and L.A. Live.
It’s just like the drive-ins of long ago, but on a much smaller scale. There’s a huge inflatable screen at the front, smaller than the old drive-in screens but much bigger than anyone’s home theatre TV. There’s a snack bar, some portable restrooms, and even a faux-grass Astroturf area for those who prefer to sit in their own lawn chairs rather than in their cars.
Just like the old drive-ins, you queue up at the entrance and file in. But at Electric Dusk, employees marshal the cars in one-by-one so there’s some order to the way the spectators’ cars are arranged. After all, you wouldn’t want to be there in your Miata only to have a Suburban park right in front of you.
We got there pretty early for a showing of Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, and had a spot reserved for us thanks to Lincoln. (They have a sponsorship with a short film they had commissioned for the Tribeca Film Festival, screened before the feature film.) Once in place, we got to take in the great setting of a bunch of people gathered in the ruins of a former warehouse or factory.
I loved the fact that there were some classic cars in attendance, helping with the feeling of nostalgia. A ’57 Chevy wagon and a ’66 Dodge Dart wagon were among several there that night. But right next to us, a Toyota Prius, parked right in front of another one. Talk about an eclectic mix!
The sound is transmitted through an FM frequency to your car radio, and there’s a large speaker in front as well. With the breezy, warm July evening, we had all the windows open and could hear the sound fairly well when the ignition’s “accessory” setting would time-out. That was the only hassle of the night – continually having to hit the ignition button of the Lincoln MKZ to keep the sound coming.
Before the movie starts (8:30 this time of year, as obviously they have to wait until it’s dark) there’s a tailgate party atmosphere going on. Music is played, and the organizers ask trivia questions for prizes. Some people who were obviously regulars had arranged their SUVs off to one side, and were picnicking with food they had brought.
Yes, you can bring your own food and whatever you want to drink. Most people up in the Astroturf area had done this, and a few had full-on spreads laid out on small tables. The event is also pet-friendly, and several people brought their pooches with them.
They pause the film about halfway through for a short intermission. The lines for the portable restrooms got a little long, but since this is a pretty intimate event, they don’t resume the showing until they know everyone’s back in their cars.
When the movie was over, the attendants patiently help everyone get backed out of their parking spaces and out the exit. We were on the Harbor Freeway headed home within about 15 minutes.
Admission prices are about what you’d pay to see a new release at a regular theatre, with group discounts available. Obviously, they don’t show first-run films, but popular classics.
What a great evening that brought back memories. We’re definitely going back!
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz