DVD: Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-In Movie (2013)

April 9, 2015 | By


GoingAttractions_sFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Very Good

Label: Passion River

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  September 2, 2014

Genre:  Documentary / Drive-Ins Film History

Synopsis: Detailed chronicle of the history of the Drive-In theatre, from invention to boom, and its present status as a still iconic niche venue.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with director April Wright / 5 Short Featurettes: “R.I.P. Drive-ins Lost” (1:18) + “The Beverly Drive-in” (1:28) + “The Original Admiral Twin” (2:36) + “Reopening Santa Barbara” (3:36) + Hollingshead Ceremony” (:49) / Original Trailer.




April Wright’s feature-length documentary began around 2006 when the writer / director / producer became fascinated by large abandoned fields beholding huge screens or disintegrating neon signs which harkened back to the heyday of a uniquely American invention, the drive-in cinema.

Over 7 years, Wright trekked across the United States, taking stills, video footage, interviewing current drive-in operators, and unearthing a pretty impressive trove of rare stills of long-gone cinemas designed for the mobile-minded, especially families searching for a chunk of hours to fill, during which the kids could play, enjoy some rides, chow down on comfort food, and catch a double-bill of movies before heading home for bedtime.

After WWII, the drive-in became a phenomenon, and according to Wright’s research, there were at one time more drive-ins than hardtop cinemas, but in the coming years TV would steal some of the thunder from outdoor and hardtop cinemas, with home video and urban sprawl ultimately reducing the once profitable outdoor business to a serious gamble.

It’s expected that Wright’s doc provides a history lesson of the drive-in’s debut and its iconic status in fifties pop culture, but some of the real surprises include examinations of the architecture, the murals, the elaborate neon signs, the concession counter adverts, and projection systems. There’s also the issue of urban sprawl, which boosted property taxes, packed residential homes right beside the giant multi-screen setups, and forced many drive-in owners to sell their businesses to developers. When the land is more valuable than the business, it’s tough to hang onto a labour of love.

The fact drive-ins still exist may seem amazing – the ideal environment remains outside of the glow from city and suburban streetlights – but it’s also indicative of the business being very community oriented, and the fact many owners went back to the original offering of movies, food, amusements, and using the land for other community-based activities during the off-hours and seasonal down-time.

Among the many interviews are vivid recollections, sociological assessments of the drive-in’s success with families and teens, and the key attributes which make sitting in / near one’s car under the spring-summer-fall stars so attractive to many.

Going Attractions offers a great deal of info and imagery, but there’s one big flaw that makes the film really frustrating: either due to a need to fit the narrative into a roughly 90 minute running time or a chosen fast-paced editing style, it’s often tough to appreciate let alone absorb the visual information of stills due to fast edits.

Perfect examples include a great montage of the towering concrete screens built to display both the films and on reverse sides, murals and neon signs which flip by too fast, or have text splayed across the details; and several before / after comparisons between stills and the Walmarts that now sit on the expansive land. Wright’s research resulted in myriad ads, stills, and her own film footage of abandoned or long-gone drive-ins, but the rhythm of the editing is more typical of the DVD and promo featurettes honed by the film’s editors rather than a doc needing a more measured pace. Wright’s film is still a treat and worth snapping up, but one may need to hit the pause button now & then to absorb some of the fascinating stills.

Going Attractions is available in the U.S. as a digital download in SD and HD formats, but the DVD may offer a better value and more archival details for drive-in fans. The bonus featurettes are mix of short pieces on past / present drive-ins and some deleted material, but the gem is Wright’s steady commentary track (oddly, it’s not stated on the DVD sleeve nor on the film’s website) which adds great additional info on the film’s production, and many personal views on a niche business that’s gone through tough times. Fans of home video and video rental shops will find stark parallels with the drive-in’s history – cheaper movie alternatives (Netflix), the struggle to compete and update technology – as well as the devotion of the owners who’ve chosen to stick with or in some cases start new drive-ins.

The sad statistic is the restoration and emergence of new drive-ins hasn’t boosted the existing venues in the U.S. – many continue to close – but the owners of those that remain seem to have shored up their business models with savvy ideas, and learned from past industry pitfalls.

The depth of Wright’s research is really a joy when it comes to the architecture (which she rightly finds unique and striking in scope and design) and some fascinating aerial stills where the remains of old drive-ins now resemble the faint imprint left by overgrown Roman amphitheatres. (The fact one can spot the pie-cut with rippled grade for parked cars is amazing.)

Also of note is a section on the Autoscope, where a movie was beamed to separate mini-screens using mirrors – a system that kind of resembles those LCD screens on the backs of airplane seats. Not exactly qualitative moviegoing experiences, but certainly a more private way to watch a flick.

The DVD transfer is fine, but the 1.77:1 fits the 16:10 ratio, and some of the interview footage seems to come from different cameras, hence the occasional change in standard and widescreen ratios. The rather heavy use of music is presented in a gentle stereo mix, which works for a doc about films that were originally heard by patrons from tinny window-mounted speakers before short-range stereo broadcasts.

Wright’s coverage includes myriad interviews (Roger Corman’s probably the biggest name among the cast), and the film’s Facebook page offers updates on assorted drive-in info, restorations, and gorgeous marquee signage, proving the outdoor cinema is far from dead.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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