Drive-in cinemas have been a staple of Americana for decades.
Beginning life in the 1930s, they are as embedded in US culture as burgers and fries or the high school prom.
They only began to pop up in the UK in recent years and, as it turns out, are an ideal ‘going out’ activity during lockdown.
On July 6 @TheDriveIn put on a screening of Grease in south London’s Blackheath.
The film was shown on a big screen, and the sound could be picked up via a car radio, on a specially reserved frequency.
It was a seamless experience, and you soon forgot you weren’t in a conventional cinema.
Grease is a 1978 musical romantic comedy, set in 1958, when the concept of being a teenager was relatively new.
The situation was very meta.
The audience were in a nostalgic setting, in which they watched a film that itself harks back to the 1950s.
This was amplified by the fact that Grease features a scene set in a drive-in.
Before the film, there was a programme of activities with mixed responses.
‘Suzuki says’, an on-brand version of Simon says, tried to get people to engage by flashing their lights and moving their windscreen wipers on command.
This was the drive-in equivalent of the pictionary that appears before the trailers at your local multiplex, and it felt like scraping the barrel.
It is unclear whether Caraoke, which does exactly what it says on the tin, was a success.
People were encouraged to sing along in their cars to big cinematic numbers like Dirty Dancing’s (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, but it was impossible to hear how many actually did.
Then there was lucky licence plates – a game of bingo using peoples’ car registrations.
It was made clear before the event that you weren’t allowed to toot your horn, but like social distancing on Bournemouth Beach, this was actively flouted.
During the stand up comedy section of the evening’s entertainment, tooting was deployed instead of applause.
Comedy doesn’t work at a drive-in because it relies so heavily on the dynamic between crowd and comic.
Ivo Graham delivered his extremely self deprecating brand of stand up, and Andrew Maxwell played up to the strangeness of the situation, having never before done a gig where he couldn’t hear if the audience found the material funny or not.
DJ Yoda brought his audio-visual mix of film soundtracks and clips.
The video part was borrowed heavily from the internet, with watermarks from various websites popping up intermittently in the corner of the big screen.
The DJing cleverly combined instantly recognisable themes with pop songs, as well as Yoda’s own scratching and beats.
It was a keys-in-the-ignition, steering wheel-tapping journey through the world of cinema.
Circus Field in Blackheath is part of one of the biggest open expanses of land in London.
Everywhere is flat for as far as the eye can see, which makes the sky look enormous.
The sunset supplied an ambiance that you couldn’t replicate indoors.
As far as food was concerned, there wasn’t a great deal of choice and only one vegan / vegetarian option.
Orders could be made by scanning a QR code on your phone, and were delivered straight to your car by staff in face masks.
The event as a whole was professionally handled from a coronavirus safety point of view.
All the staff were well protected and each car had an individual bay with room to get out and stretch your legs.
Overall the event was a bit brand heavy.
The master of ceremonies used the name ‘Suzuki’ in virtually every other sentence.
The preamble especially felt overly corporate, but it’s a decent enough activity for the unusual summer we are having, particularly if what annoys you about going to a normal cinema is not being insulated from other people.
As for the film itself, most of the cast look to be about 40 and the dialogue is ropey to say the least, but the colours and choreography give it pure entertainment value, and the songs are catchy as anything.
@TheDriveIn will be presenting its programme of films in locations such as Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool and East London.
Films on show include Toy Story, Back to the Future, Jaws and A Star Is Born.
Featured image credit: James North.