Our English cousin Charlotte is visiting, so we decided to give her the full Canadian
cultural experience: took her to a lacrosse game, ate at Tim’s, complained about Americans, bragged about how modest we are.
Then we went to a drive-in movie.
“Why do I have to ride in the trunk?” came her muffled query.
Good point, since admission to the movie, shown on a temporary screen in a mall parking lot, was free.
“Tradition,” I replied. “Creates the illusion of illicit thrills, makes for a better viewing experience.” Apples stolen from an orchard taste better than those bought in a store.
Drive-ins are not, of course, really part of the Canadian landscape anymore, and that’s a pity.
They proliferated across North America in the 1950s and ‘60s in tandem with car culture itself. Families would enjoy a cheap night out before driving off with the speaker still attached to the window. Some of the teens at the Revenge Of The Return Of The Planet Of The Apes dusk-to-dawn marathons actually watched the films.
But the drive-ins died off, forced out by rising property values, multi-channel television and a summer-only, once-a-night business model that depended on good weather. Long gone are the likes of the Skyway in North Kamloops and the Sundown in Valleyview.
Recent years have seen a limited revival of open-air, blanket-and-lawnchair events.
Langley-based FreshAirCinema stages 400-450 shows a year from B.C. to Quebec, one-quarter of them actual drive-ins like the Mayfair event.
Unlike the 1970s, when four-storey-high R-rated wobbly bits would send passing motorists veering into the ditch, modern outdoor shows show nothing raunchier than PG fare. The parking lot movie we saw was Grease, which had Charlotte and my wife singing and dancing in the front seat while I hanged myself in the back.
It’s all very wholesome, which is a bit like hockey without the fights. That’s what separates it from the passion pits of old, where the farther back from the screen you parked, the steamier it got.
More than 40 years ago, my family took Charlotte’s grandmother to the Skyway to watch Airport, a good movie, though not half as engrossing as the show put on by the couple testing the suspension of the car next door.
Even better, we knew the girl who was fogging up the back windows: “Dad, look who it is! Dad, let’s go say hi. Dad, you’re not listening . . .”
That’s what’s missing now, the aforementioned illicit thrills that once caused Quebec to ban drive-ins on moral grounds — which is why it’s nice to learn of something called guerrilla drive-ins.
Guerrilla drive-ins aren’t passion pits, but are still vaguely, if harmlessly, lawless. They involve small groups who — armed with laptops, projectors and low-frequency transmitters — pop up in the middle of the night in odd locations, typically empty parking lots, for impromptu movie nights. The idea is to slip in and out without anyone ever knowing you were there.
If only there were a reason to arrive in the trunk, it would be perfect.
Jack Knox, Kamloops born and raised, writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.