The last picture
Locked ticket booths, rusty speakers, peeling paint. Time to run
closing credits for Americas drive-in theatres. Cue Elaine
Reed 85. As a requirement for her master of fine arts
degree, Reed traveled across the United States to document in photographs
the surviving drive-in movie theatres. Surviving is
perhaps an unfortunate adjective for outdoor movies, because it
implies a life that left long agodouble features, noisy families,
salty popcorn, necking teenagers and 59 Cadillacs. Reeds
photo exhibition and thesis are adapted here, from Drive-ins:
The Last Picture Show.
In June of 1933, the worlds first drive-in theatre opened
on a 400-car lot in Camden, New Jersey. R.M. Hollingshead erected
a screen on the roof of his machine-parts shop, graded his lot into
ramped semicircles, set up a 16mm projector and placed speakers
beside the screen. He must have acted in the throes of a powerful
visionone that illuminated Americas growing obsession
with the automobile and the mesmerizing view beyond the windshield.
Drive-ins did not take off until after World War II, during those
prosperous, automobile-obsessed years. There were 15 million more
cars on the road by 1952 than there had been in 1946, and drive-ins
increased proportionately. At the end of 1946, there were only 300
drive-ins: 12 years later, there were more than 4,700. During the
same period, the number of hardtop cars declined from 18,719 to
The rise of television and the middle classs flight from the
inner city helped drive-ins ride the crest of the suburban wave.
An ex-GI and his wife seeking a cheap evening of family entertainment
could pack the kids into the station wagon and head out to the new
Today drive-in theatres have almost disappeared from our landscape
about 593 remain. Some have become multiplexes with up to six screens.
Ive found that drive-ins cross many lines in American life.
Its easy to be cynical or melancholy about losing these cultural
artifacts, but regardless of age or socioeconomic background, everyone
has a funny story to tell about drive-ins. Those fond memories help
keep the drive-in alive in some way.
from spring 97