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.
Reader Feedback - 12 Comments
I agree with you
Scott McHenry on Apr 27, 2009
There is no way that a movie like 'Transformers' for example can be fully experienced on the screen at a drive in theater. Dramas as well. Could you imagine trying to stay interested in 'Gosford Park' while sitting outside on a gorgeous summer night? That being said, any light hearted comedy or B film that does incite a sense of ohh and ahhhs, laughter or just basic commentary IMO are fantastic candidates for a successfull viewing in the outdoors. There are a ton of cons of course and really the viewing of the movie comes almost secondary but the fun of seeing a double header on a great night makes it all worth it.
Widescreen Wonderland on Apr 27, 2009
As we've seen of its popularity in the 50s/60s, drive-in movies always had an underlying social platform to it. I wouldn't say that rooftop movies are a bad idea, you just have to know what kind of movie experience you're getting yourself into. With open-air 'events' like drive-in/rooftop movies, its more inclined towards popcorn movies - Movies that don't need a whole lot of attention to follow since half the audiences' attention is toward each other, making that movie being part of the experience/ambience. Its really the audience thats the center of attention, not the movie. If you're out with some friends to a rooftop movie showing Goonies, that would be a fun experience. If you're by yourself, well then, its harder for you to enjoy b/c you're putting all of your attention into the movie surrounded by talkative crowd, and that's not going to make for a fun movie experience.
Nick Sears on Apr 27, 2009
I understand your point, Nick, but Rooftop Films is quite successful at screening new independent films. I can't say it's the best way to see a documentary, but I enjoyed the experience I had with a rooftop presentation of King Corn awhile back.
Christopher Campbell on Apr 27, 2009
True Christopher, premiering new and fresh indies, as opposed to cult classics from back in the day, would have a crowd that's more willing to quiet down and enjoy the film(as it is ALL of their first time seeing it). I'm just pointing out the wide duality of the demographics/atmosphere that these rooftop films would bring with certain films - (for example) > highly anticipated independent film on the economy - to - A Boondock Saints party
Nick Sears on Apr 27, 2009
Oh, but I also don't mean to say the audiences are a lot more attentive for screenings of indie films and documentaries. There's usually a fair share of talking (though not as loud as at the TMNT event), seat changing, movement to the bar and bathroom, and other distractions at these screenings. I definitely wouldn't want to see something like No End in Sight on a rooftop, even if it was the premiere and therefore first opportunity to see it. The doc and short films I've seen at Rooftop shows didn't require too much attention, at least. Maybe I should go to some other kinds of films being presented this summer and report back.
Christopher Campbell on Apr 27, 2009
coldest winter in years? how unlike NY So Cal is. Just last week it already felt like summer, what with high 90s temperature. In any case, drive-in theaters are just odd. I went to watch Bourne Ultimatum at one of these, just for the experience since it was my first time. I missed most of the dialogue, and there were cars coming in and out of the parking area through most of the first half. Besides, it was hot as an a$$ crack. I really don't think it has anything to do with a like or dislike of cars, considering I'm a car enthusiast myself. Rooftop films sound like quite an experience, though. Reminds me of when they used to show movies at the lawn back in college. Well, at least where I went.
alfredo on Apr 27, 2009
Drive Ins are great for the novelty of it. You don't go to see a big time movie you've been waiting years to see, you go to see whatever just to say you've gone to a drive-in. The only reason drive ins are great is because they're great for dates, like you can bring your girl and totally FUCK THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF HER while some movie is playing
Kail on Apr 27, 2009
where i grew up there was a drive in movie theater open during the summer and no one ever went to it to enjoy the movie. it was always either a group of friends that went there to get drunk, or couples that went there to screw. What else is a drive in movie theater good for?
Butters on Apr 27, 2009
That's exactly what I'm asking, Butters. These businesses can't really be operating as sex dens and nostalgic attractions alone can they?
Christopher Campbell on Apr 28, 2009
I love watching movies in the privacy of my home in the dark with the surround sound blaring while sitting or laying comfortably on my couch. If I see a movie in the theater, I prefer to see it on the first screening of the weekend where I can take up a few chairs If I want to(not that Im large but I like to have space). That being said, I watched Jaws and Star Wars and a few old Zoros in the drive in and loved it!! I saw them in regular theaters first, then saw them again in the drive ins (and again and again at the screen down the street-SW, not Jaws) There was something communal about looking out at a sea of cars with familys in them (perhaps cause I was a kid and saw family friendly stuff so I didnt see the makingout? - yea, family friendly like jaws and star wars)). Perhaps its because I am a fan of the car and the private domain it provides, but I like the idea of the drive in! Now I havent seen one since Jaws, but would jump at chance to see something again, although it would have to be something that doesnt have outstanding sound design because Im a sucker for sound, but the thought of sitting in my car with my family on a saturday night watching a movie seems like fun more for the sake of a family outting than the sake of the movie experience! The idea of movies outside in general is a lot of fun, wether its a rooftop, or on a grass lawn, its just something that takes us outside of our general familair zone into a different setting, and thats something Im always up for!
lando on Apr 28, 2009
oh yea, not to mention, its perfect for our convenient prefab, drive thru, 24 hour culture!! you drive to the movies and you dont even need to get out of your car!
lando on Apr 28, 2009
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