Film & TV Muse

Socially Distanced Cinema: An All-American experience

Elizabeth Walsh explores how the pandemic has given drive-in cinemas a new lease of life.

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Image Credit: Elizabeth Walsh

As with many traditions from Halloween to the end of school Prom, as a nation we continue to adopt American traditions. Most recently, the emergence  of the drive-in cinema. With cinemas up and down the country having been closed for the duration of lockdown, this new initiative has begun to take off. The concept is quickly becoming the latest trend in the British cinematic experience and is growing in popularity with events popping up across the country. Concerns surrounding the death of the cinema have, at least for now, been put at ease. Classic films have been given a new lease of life with major cities across the UK  introducing drive-in cinemas: a concept that enables film fanatics to enjoy the big screen from the comfort of their own cars.

Having made my way through the endless reruns circulating throughout the lockdown, I came to the conclusion that actually going to the cinema was an experience I have in fact missed. I wouldn't class myself as a regular cinema-goer,  however the idea of a trip out in any form has become a source of joy as of late. The continual advertising of the new pop up drive-in cinemas on Facebook caught  my attention.  As is often the case with anything enticing on the internet, and my non-existent ability to resist temptation, the tickets were booked almost instantly.

The chosen film was Grease, a timeless classic that you can’t go wrong with. The fact that it was first released in June 1978 and is still as popular as ever is testament to its wide appeal. The car park was brimming with enthusiastic spectators from families, to couples and groups of friends.The price per car was £25 and I feel that if you go as a group of four this is good value for money. However, having a full car has its limitations. Sitting in the back meant limited leg room and having to watch on enviously as the cars with only two people either side casually let their seats recline, with pillows and blankets at the ready (an idea we seriously wished we’d thought of). There was also the potential of a restricted view, although with three large screens at an equal distance from one another this wasn’t a problem.

Although the multiple large screens allowed everyone in the car a good view of the film, there are other factors, less easily controlled by the event organisers, that could seriously impact the overall enjoyment. The out-door experience, although innovative, is highly weather dependent. As part of the experience each car is instructed to tune into a given radio channel which works as the in-built audio for the event. While this is clever, bad weather could interfere with the signal, resulting in reduced audio quality. Notably, during the  ordinary cinema experience there is no possibility of this happening.  Equally, during the visit the threat of grey clouds was imminent. However, we were lucky in that the most we  experienced was a slight drizzle.

As the selection of films on offer is fairly limited, with nowhere showing new releases as of yet,  it could be seen as an expensive film night that could just as easily take place at home. But, where's the fun in that? I felt completely immersed in the all American experience, which was further enhanced by the typical American high school depicted in Grease. Watching at home on the sofa just wouldn't have been the same.

While the drive-in cinema was an exciting and unique experience, I don’t think the concept will be able to seriously rival cinemas any time soon.  I have come to this verdict  based on price and the fact that they are hosted outdoors meaning weather can be a significant factor in the overall experience. Having said this, a drive-in cinema is certainly something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Progressing from being a concept previously limited to  ‘as seen in the movies’, to actually being able to be a part of one  was hugely memorable.

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