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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: September 16, 2015

Classics at the drive-in: Catch 70s & 80s favorites like ‘E.T.’ and ‘Jaws’ at two Maine drive-ins

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Cars park at the Bridgton Twin Drive-In for a showing of movie “Inside Out.”

Cars park at the Bridgton Twin Drive-In. Press Herald file photo

Watching movies, once an intensely communal experience, only becomes more isolated as time goes on. Television lured audiences away, then home video made television even more attractive.

Streaming video services sapped viewers’ will to even leave the sofa to go to the video store. Now we watch movies alone at home on computer screens, making the physical act of watching a film not only more sedentary and insular, but also smaller and smaller. Movies used to be spectacle; now they’re disposable – just another flickering little rectangle in the living room. But what can a real movie lover do against the march of homogenous progress?

Go to the drive-in.

A drive-in movie is a deliberate choice to resist the idea that a movie can be shrunk down and carried in your pocket, a conscious, defiant whoop of motorized glee at the sheer, ebullient joy of going to the movies.

Movies getting smaller? Here’s a movie 50 feet high. And I’m watching it from my car, surrounded by hundreds of other people doing the same. And we just might honk at the good parts.

Going to the drive-in is an experience disappearing even faster than going to a traditional movie theater. (See sidebar for the depressing details.) But here in Maine, we’re among the lucky ones to have a few of these glorious cinematic dinosaurs to choose from, and we’re even luckier this time of year, as the approaching end of summer has prompted two Maine drive-ins to throw us a season-ending movie celebration.

First up is the Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theatre, which is presenting a double feature designed to showcase exactly what the drive-in experience was made for. From Friday to Sunday, it’s showing “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” followed by “Jaws,” still two of the most thrilling summer blockbusters ever, both from the king of summer movies, Steven Spielberg, at the height of his popcorn-munching, audience-delighting powers. Have you seen them both (probably a dozen times)? Of course, don’t be silly. But have you seen them at the drive-in, where they were meant to be seen? Then buckle your literal and metaphorical seat belt and head up to Bridgton. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., “Raiders” starts at 7:30, and admission is $7.50 per person ($5 for kids 5-11, free for anyone younger than that with a $15 minimum per car).

Then, how about a free double feature? That’s what’s going on at the Saco Drive-In Theater on Friday and Saturday, as they say thank you (and goodbye to summer) with a double feature of family classics “E.T. – The Extraterrestrial” and “The Goonies.” (In case you’re keeping track, “E.T.” makes the third Spielberg flick chosen as a drive-in classic – the guy knows his stuff.) Running one of the oldest drive-in theaters in the country, the folks in Saco know full well the unique joys of the drive-in experience and are inviting Mainers to a free party to, as they say on their Facebook page, “end (their) 76th season with a bang!”

Admission’s free, but they only have capacity for 500 cars, so I’d get there when the gates open at 6 p.m. (Oh, and they have to make some money, so no outside food is allowed. Besides, fresh-made popcorn is part of the whole experience – don’t be that person.)

So enjoy a crisp Maine night under the stars. The mosquitoes are gone (or extremely logy), and those of us blessed with bench seats (or spacious back seats) know that trusty car blanket is made for cuddling (and hiding whenever that shark pops up unexpectedly).

As the gathering chill of the Maine autumn has us longing to stay inside to watch our movies in numbing, unadventurous solitude, why not break out for one last outdoor, big-screen adventure – at the drive-in.

FACTS

The first drive-in movie theater (originally called “park-in theaters”) opened in 1933 in New Jersey. Admission was a quarter a car and an additional quarter for each person. The first drive-in film ever shown was the now-forgotten 1932 British comedy “Wives Beware,” where Adolphe Menjou fakes amnesia in order to chase women. People came back anyway.

At the peak of the drive-in boom in 1960, there were some 5,000 drive-ins across America.

Nowadays, its estimated that fewer than 400 drive-ins remain. (The website drive-ins.com claims the number of active drive-ins in 2014 was just 336.)

The largest drive-in was reportedly the All-Weather Drive-In in Copiague, New York. It covered 28 acres and could accommodate 2,500 cars. Claims are also made for the Troy Drive-In in Detroit and the Panther Drive-In in Lufkin, Texas, both of which laid claim to 3,000 parking spaces, but that’s crazy-talk.

At first, the movies’ sound came from three booming speakers supposedly positioned just right around the drive-in screen. Two small drawbacks: 1. Cars further away from the screen caught the dialogue so far after seeing the picture that everything looked like a dubbed Godzilla flick, 2. Neighbors got a taste of the movie, whether they liked it or not. (They did not.) Later solutions included individual car mounted speakers and the ability to tune your car radio to the soundtrack.

There’s a movement called “guerilla drive-ins” advocating small, DIY mobile pop-up drive-ins around the country. The website (http://mobmov.org/manifesto/) explains the concept (and the challenges involved).

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

Camden International Film Festival (camdenfilmfest.org)

Thursday to Sunday. One of the world’s most prestigious and exciting documentary film festivals takes place right here in Maine. As we wrote about last week, this year’s roster of films has something for everybody—for Maine film fans, it’s time for a trip up the coast.

Nickelodeon Cinema (patriotcinemas.com)

Thursday and Wednesday: “Plant Pure Nation.” From the creators of the popular documentary “Forks Over Knives” comes another film to tell us all how we’re eating all wrong. The story of a grassroots movement to advocate a plant-based diet (which proponents claim can prevent not only obesity, but cancer, diabetes, and other diseases as well), the film should appeal to thoughtful eaters, health advocates, and all fans of green, leafy things.

Frontier (Brunswick) (explorefrontier.com)

Tuesday: “Infinitely Polar Bear.” Indie heartwarmer/breaker stars the always-excellent Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana as a couple struggling to raise their two spirited daughters in the face of his manic-depression and her career goals, attending Columbia University’s MBA program.

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