Drive-in Movies

One of the few remaining (and rundown) drive-ins in Victoria, Australia
Dream Screen in the Dark
At the peak of their popularity, in the 1950s/60s and even 70s, drive-in movie theatres could be found dotted all over the place - come nightfall, thousands of people would slip into a parking space in front of the giant open air screen, roll down their windows and hook up to the theatre sound system - each car a personal viewing capsule.

Eats at half-time in the snack ba
There were certain advantages to the drive-in set -up. In the privacy of their own car, patrons could eat food brought from home, smoke, drink, get romantic and/or put their young  kids to sleep on a mattress in the back of the station wagon. For the kids especially, the drive-in was an exciting adventure...a landscape of machines, people, dark skies, rumbling sounds and the flickering of the dream screen.

Often there would be a playground and tables, so families could enjoy a romp and a picnic before settling down in the car for the feature  film. Or at interval, they could zigzag their way through the parked cars and join the rush for the snack bar for the the usual over priced fare of coke, hot dogs, choc tops etc.

Occasionally, people would be surreptitiously stuffed in the boot, in order to avoid the entry fee and let out when the coast was clear. For amorous teenagers, to whom the car was a portable motel room, the drive-in presented a raison d'ĂȘtre to escape the watchful eyes of parents and others.

A Fallen Fad
The drive-in was a US concept, invented by a man called Richard Hollingshead Jr, who took out  a patent on the idea in 1933 and the very first drive-in opened the same year in New Jersey, screening the ominous sounding  Wives Beware with Aldoph Menjou and Margaret Bannerman. The concept spread to other states, peaking in the 50s and 60s, when there were then 4000 drive-ins across America and from America, Hollingshead's invention  spread to various parts of the globe.

 1960s drive-in in Tehran. Source
Drive-ins in Australia 
The first structured, US style drive-in to open in Australia was in 1954, in Burwood, Victoria, although open air films had been shown in some remote, outback places since the late 1930s. It was Hoyts (our home-grown cinema chain) manager, George Griffith Jr, who discovered  drive-ins on a trip to the US and decided they would be just the thing for Australia. He was right. Drive-ins proved to be so popular here that throughout the 50s and 60s, 330 were built in various parts of the country; usually in the outlying areas of suburbia, some with 3 screens.

A big part of the decline of the drive-in can be put down to real estate development - the outdoor cinemas often sat on huge tracts of valuable land and as the population expanded, it simple became more profitable for owners to sell to developers than run the drive-in. Of course, apart from the other main negative, which was inclement weather conditions,  the accessibility of videos, DVDs and high tech entertainment systems contributed to the fall and for those who still like to watch big screen films, the drive-in just wasn't as good a cinematic experience as an enclosed theatre.

Like the classic roadside motel, the drive-in was a particular fad, born of the mid-century boomer culture - fun and exciting when new but as time went by, taking on a slightly seedy, tarnished ambiance of out of date neglect and decline.. Mind you, I have fond memories of the drive-in and I'd be sorry if they completely vanished - they were great in their own unique way. In the US there's been sparks of a revival, with urban spaces being reclaimed for picture screens, such as the Liberation Drive-in in Oakland , California - described as a guerilla drive-in theatre. Sounds fun.

                          The Lunar drive-in in Dandenong Victoria. One of the oldest and longest lasting of the Aus.  drive-ins and, as far as I know... still open for business. Source