The Weekly Moviegoer - It's Outdoor Movie Season!
by Christopher Campbell
April 27, 2009
It's outdoor movie season! Well, it is for those of us in the north, where we actually experience seasonal changes, and where we have just finally brushed off one of the coldest winters in years. Over the weekend we greeted our first hot temperatures in New York City, just a couple days after the Tribeca Film Festival kicked off the outdoor moviegoing season with a free showing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That same night, Rooftop Films, a non-profit organization that presents tons of great indie film screenings on the tops of buildings throughout the summer, held a comedy show featuring live stand-up and short films. Well, it actually took place indoors, but the event was at least a reminder that the outdoor series is approaching.
I attended the TMNT screening, which Tribeca exhibited as part of its non-automobile-friendly "Drive-In" program, mainly because a friend is a huge fan of the franchise. The setting was appropriate, as I could alternate between watching the film playing on the inflatable screen and looking up at the Manhattan skyscrapers surrounding us. I figured that, for a TMNT fan, seeing the movie in the shadow of the city buildings might be somewhat akin to seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the base of Devil's Tower - an experience I wish I could have had when Alamo Drafthouse Cinema's Rolling Roadshow held such a screening four years ago. The only thing more suitable, obviously, would be to show TMNT down in the sewers. And the fans, some of whom wore costumes or at least Ninja Turtles t-shirts, were loving it. You could tell by their excited screams and continued chatter, which often overpowered the audio of the film.
Fortunately, the movie is really silly and hardly well made, so the noise from the audience wasn't too much of a nuisance, yet all that cheering and talking made me realize that I have a real love-hate relationship with outdoor movies. In theory, the idea of sitting outside, often on an uncomfortable ground, braving insects and cold and damp weather (even in the summer) for two hours doesn't sound very appealing. And I'm not even one of those internet writers who never goes outdoors. I love hikes, beaches, beer gardens and other exterior settings/activities. But when watching movies, my preference is for a comfortable seat in a sheltered auditorium. Of course, in theory, because I like so many other outdoor pastimes, I should also appreciate lying on a blanket and drinking beer outside while a good movie screens before me.
Once I'm having the outdoor movie experience, the reality is similar to what I've theoretically expected. The worst part of the TMNT screening, more frustrating than the talking (which moviegoers seem to believe is more acceptable at outdoor screenings), was the cold temperatures we suffered while sitting in a riverside plaza for so long. Though I constantly defend strong air conditioning in indoor cinemas, since heated auditoriums have a tendency to make people fall asleep, and moviegoers can always just bring a sweater if it gets too frigid, I hypocritically cannot stand when outdoor screenings occur on cold nights. I have to admit, though, that even with cold weather, even with rocky grounds to sit on, even with peripheral distractions and, yes, even with loud conversations going on around me, I've always have at least a generally good time at outdoor movies.
As long as the movie doesn't require too much attention and as long as there are friends and other movie lovers in my vicinity, the pros usually outweigh the cons in most outdoor moviegoing experiences. I just have to appreciate that these experiences just happen to be more casual and communal than those had at regular movie theaters.
That said, I don't really understand the appeal of drive-in theaters, which have a kind of outdoor moviegoing experience, lacking much of the community aspect. I understand that they are a good deal economically, which is why drive-in theater business is increasing during the present recession. And I understand the mythology and nostalgia behind them. But otherwise I don't know that I would enjoy the drive-in theater experience if I had access to one. I admit that I'm not a big fan of cars or the culture that revolves around them, so I'm obviously a bit biased. Still, I can't even picture my younger car-owning self being comfortable watching a two-hour movie from the driver's seat of my old sedan. So if anyone has a non-stereotypical, non-mythological, non-financial reason for enjoying drive-ins, please comment below.
Photo from the Tribeca screening courtesy of adeleray on Flickr.