A Review of "DRIVE-IN BLUES"

by Rick Ouellette
Video Eyeball, volume 3, number 3. 1998/99.

1986, Director: Jan Krawitz. 28mm/color

Many aficionados of the drive-in may be unaware of Krawitz's folksy documentary that appeared on PBS in the late-80s and has since been seldom seen. Beautifully photographed in l6mm, Krawitz and crew must have worn down a few sets of tires in capturing the unique charm of this fading American institution. Along with extensive footage of drive-ins both closed and operational, Krawitz has dug up great archival material on outdoor cinema's early days. There's a pre-war message-from-the-management encouraging patrons to bring along an "invalid or shut-in friend" on their next visit, 60s-vintage admonishments for young lovers to cool their heels, and heaping helpings of washed-out refreshment stand trailers (included are those notorious plates of food that look like severe head injuries and "manly" popcorn featuring "specially prepared salt." Bon apetit!). The interviews here are not glib comments from celebrity fans, but homespun, no nonsense insights of people trying to stay afloat in a business they love. There's the proprietor of the S&S Theater who has constructed a three-bedroom house behind the screen, and another owner who built a picture-window motel behind the projectionist's booth. Despite ingenuity like this -- and the fact that some drive-ins survive and even thrive -- Krawitz recognizes the downward indicators and ends her piece with a melancholic montage of theaters laying in ruins. The film's most enduring image is a closed drive-in converted to an automobile junkyard, hinting at the disposable nature of American car culture as a whole.