Sunday, September 18, 2011

Revelations In Mono

As recently mentioned via Twitter, the discovery that one of the great fields of cinematic revelation in my lifetime, the Indio Twin Drive-In, was once owned by early B-movie producer,  Robert Lippert. This rang fascinating to me as this little piece of land on the outskirts of the near-desolate Coachella Valley was something of a wellspring of not only great mainstream movie memories, but also of works of imagination that couldn't be seen anywhere else. The weekend ritual of taking up the family's 1978 Chevy Luv, and lying in the back (as per the days when children flying out of the back of a pickup were sadly under the cultural and legal radar), as we hauled into the Drive-in for a double feature.

This was where I was exposed to not only second runs of recent blockbuster titles, but also of the occasional lesser known, often B-grade works that either later disappeared into obscurity, or eventually became darlings of the VHS era. Many times, I would catch a film that I had previously seen in a theater weeks before, linked up with something that could likely become a future guilty pleasure.

Earliest memories include being taken to see The Exorcist (Yeah, yeah..A balanced childhood.), only to be even more deeply scarred by the US trailer for Dario Argento's masterful ode to Disney, Suspiria. Or how about the brief period when screen one would carry family fare like Superman The Movie, while screen two just behind us was playing raunchy mexican porn? Perhaps these admissons explain a lot. Or perhaps this merely indicates to some just how liberated the concept of the Drive-in, along with the old movie houses of the past, operated. It was a much more "anything goes" environment, puncuated by monoaural sound that came through either the antiquated squawky speakers, or the later "upgrades" to radio signal that could either play through a stereo we brought into the theater, or a cheap rental from the Snack Bar. Other memories that may have contributed to the madness include the super-bloody martial arts movie poster that adorned the inside of the Snack Bar as you waited for your popcorn butter.

It was the place where I learned names like Roger Corman, Wes Craven, and even Jackie Chan. It was where we'd catch the latest offering of genre weird, and awards candidates were out of the question. And because of the lack of instantaneous information, one had to commit what they could to memory regarding those who made these shows possible, which was often helped by the choices often being so unique. About the blandest pairing I can remember was Muppets Take Manhattan, with Annie. As much as I'd like to pretend that I was always the dutiful son, there were indeed times when a parent would put their foot down as to what we were allowed to see, but it isn't as if both screens were always showing kid-friendly material. And since the drive-in eventually had a new kids playground installed in between screens, it was easy to sneak off to watch whatever nastiness was on the other side. (Saw Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator for the first time this way.) But that kind of sneakiness wasn't as often when other family members came along. If the majority ruled, there was still leeway for some horror. Key memories included catching much of the Friday The 13th, and Elm Street series this way.

Granted, the further along things went, and as VHS made its advance into the mainstream, we saw less and less cheapie fare, and more multiplex-safe films as that swiftly became institution. But it was quite interesting to live through those days to see the transition happen in real time. And naturally, there is a deep amount of sadness that goes with it. And again, this may seem to run counter to statements I have often made regarding nostalgia for its own sake. But the notion that a physical space could become a location where people could discover the unusual without merely looking at a video case, or even an online image to click for a stream, is a potent one. The idea that whatever people were doing at the Drive-in, regardless of the movies screening, there was an almost communal spirit that was encompassing, and in many ways emblematic of the movie experience of days gone by.

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