Drive-in cinemas: the new movie normal, or old film hat?

Drive-in cinema
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CineSocial UK reviewer Claire Durrant – like all film critics – has been in ‘coronacinema’ lockdown for the past few months. Eager to experience the delights of the big screen again, she ventured with her partner to a drive-in cinema in Chichester, West Sussex. Here, she gives her views on the experience.

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As we all slowly progress in our still uncertain post-apocalypse like world, as the hospitality industries start to reopen their doors, we are still without cinemas.

With new films having their release dates constantly pushed back, larger cinema chains are following suit to ensure they can take full advantage of their timely distribution window.

Come closer as I tell you this film industry secret – they haven’t delayed their reopening because they care about the risks of Covid-19, it’s because they want to squeeze as much money from the public as possible when the demand for films is higher. Businesswise, more people will want to book tickets for a new release like Tenet, then a recent re-release like Bad Boys 3.

What they haven’t taken into much consideration is that for cinephiles and film fans alike, we are jonesing to venture out to watch a film on a big screen – Netflix and Amazon Prime on our TVs can only do so much to scratch that itch. Capitalising on this want of ours, are a vast amount of Drive-in cinema companies – all offering us a slice of 50s Americana with our movie watching needs. A socially distant event, yet it still feels like a special occasion – it’s a perfect set-up.

So naturally I wanted to experience it.

I chose to do the Secret Cinema drive-in. At Chichester.

I live in London.

What?! It’s a nice drive; I did not do the driving.

Arriving at our destination, we were handed a set of speakers to put on the dashboard and were directed to our parking spot. Originally I was nervous that the screen or the volume wasn’t going to be big or loud enough, but my worries were soon put to a rest. Obviously we did not have the same visual/sound quality as at the cinema, but the calibre of the speakers especially was pleasantly surprising.

Food and drinks could be ordered from your phone and naturally the hot food options were mostly burgers and fries to maintain the ambience. The staff getting involved in the atmosphere (all with vintage costumes. Some with questionable American accents) would deliver your order to the car, and remarkably were quicker than a lot of queues I’ve been in at the cinema.

Of course, going to a drive-in is not going to give you the same satisfaction as sitting in a dark screening room with the finest technology. Watching a film in a car – you are always aware of your surroundings.

Cinema on the other hand is engulfing. My closest cinema offered me little moments of tranquility and pleasure as I escaped from my life for a few hours. That being said, there is one element of the cinema experience that I find makes it a stressful one – the other people.

You always get those fuckers that sit right next to you even though the rest of the screening room is practically empty. The groups of douchebags who talk and heckle throughout the film. People who arrive late and can’t find their seat so they get their blinding phone torch out. People who bring their newborns in and won’t remove them when the little cretin undoubtedly starts wailing. You know, you have all seen/dealt with these types.

Best thing about watching a film in a car? You’re only sitting next to one person – hopefully a person you know, and you can just wheel up your window to block out any disruptive behaviour.

It’s also not just drive-in cinemas on offer. I’ve seen advertisements for drive-in comedy shows and even drive-in karaoke nights. Not everyone is OK with pubs and restaurants reopening, and that’s understandable. The threat of a second wave looms over us constantly. However, in these distressing times allow yourselves small instances of low-risk joys – drive-ins are a great way to allow yourself to relax in a sheltered and enjoyable way.

That being said, I do hope that more people during these past three months have understood why the cinema experience has been greatly missed. When cinemas do eventually reopen, support them (especially independent ones) if you feel safe to do so. I for one am looking forward to this future of socially distant screening rooms.

Special thanks to my partner, the one with the car. I’m sorry you had to drink the alcohol-free beer.

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