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Case Number 13648: Small Claims Court

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Drive-In Movie Memories

Janson Media // 2001 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // May 16th, 2008

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker suggests you stock up on popcorn and hot dogs now, because the review starts in two minutes.

The Charge

"I don't think they have the fun that we had. I don't think they have the nostalgia or the mystery that we had."
—Actress Ann Robinson on today's drive-in deprived youth

The Case

Like many people, I have fond memories of youthful nights at the drive-in. Also like many people, I have a) little-to-no recollection of what movies were actually playing, and, b) an awareness that my memories are a bit rose colored. It's a lot more fun remembering being an 8-year-old who was bundled into pajamas and thermals, crammed into a car filled with raucous siblings and friends, whisked off in the middle of the night (on an 8-year-old's clock), fed enough grease until someone vomited, and watching some re-released Disney epic during an ice storm or heat wave than it probably was experiencing it.

But the drive-in was all about the experience, and Drive-in Movie Memories is a loving, if brief, look at the story of this American institution.

The film mixes archival footage with interviews from people like critic Leonard Maltin, B-movie actresses Beverly Garland (It Conquered the World) and Celeste Yarnall (The Mechanic), producer Samuel Z. Arkoff (The Abominable Dr. Phibes), Joe Bob Briggs, and a host of others—some famous, some not—to give us the history of the drive-in, from its dawn in Camden, New Jersey, in the 1930s, to its twilight (as VCRs became popular, multiplexes proliferated, and the value of land boomed), to its small but steady renaissance in the past few years. Along the way, we are treated to facts and figures, tidbits and trivia, and anecdotes and (of course) memories.

Much of this is very entertaining—actress Jeanne Carmen's story of a drive-in date she had with Elvis Presley, for instance—and a fair amount is kind of mundane. The film is broken into chapters with title cards—"Concessions" or "Gimmicks" or "The Passion Pit." These segments are generally short—usually less than five minutes each—and a lot of information is crammed into them. Thoughts are sometimes started by one interviewee and finished by another, and there are a lot of very quick sneeze-and-you'll-miss-them sound bites on topics like popcorn and teen movies.

And here is the problem with Drive-in Movie Memories: with a total running time of less than one hour, everything goes by too quickly. Producers Don and Susan Sanders authored a fun pair of books on drive-ins, Drive-in Movie Memories: Popcorn and Romance Under the Stars and American Drive-in Movie Theater. While the film works as a nice companion to those books, on its own, it's just too much information and too little time. There are hundreds of archival stills and clips here, but most of them zip by so fast, they barely register (although clips of fireworks and swap meets get a fair amount of attention). Same thing with the interviews; we hear from a couple of dozen people, and while they're all interesting and informative, it's hard to connect with the speakers or really digest what they are saying. The film tries to include everything—history, nostalgia points, personal recollections—but its reach is just too ambitious for its resources. Surprisingly, there's not a whole lot here about the actual "drive-in movie" genre, save for a few mentions of '50s teenage films and '60s beach party movies.

Still, it's not a bad way to pass an hour and will likely conjure up some pleasant memories on the part of the viewers.

The film is very low-tech, with the interviews apparently shot on video, and much of the archival stuff is scratched or damaged, but this kind of adds to the ambience. Audio is a standard stereo track. Most of the extras are on-screen text pieces, but there's a fun, 18-minute rundown of vintage snack bar ads.

Drive-in Movie Memories is a nice, TV-style doc and worth at least a rental for those interested in the subject.

Guilty of being a pleasant diversion.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 73

Perp Profile

Studio: Janson Media
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• About the Producers
• About the Director
• Archival Footage of Snack Bar Ads
• Screening Information and Reviews


• IMDb
• Official Site

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