Last week, on a sweet summer night, we sat in a neighborhood’s backyard and watched — on a big outdoor screen — Hitchcock’s classic “North By Northwest.” A week before that, we sat in a big living room with friends and watched — and listened via a great sound system — Martin Scorcese’s documentary about The Band and their final concert, “The Last Waltz.”
I got to thinking about how much the movie-viewing experience has changed. It used to be movies were seen — exclusively — in places called movie theaters. That changed, somewhat, with the proliferation of the automobile in American culture — and with an accompanying phenomenon, the drive-in movie theater.
Same basic concept, except that you didn’t have to get out of your car when you got to the outdoor theater, and that parents could bring their kids (in their pajamas) and let them camp out in the backseat, and that the sound quality was tinny and thin, and that the drive-in movies also showed a commercial for the drive-in’s snack stand, with dancing hot dogs and soda cups and popcorn boxes urging our parents to buy us kids snacks before the main feature began.
I have a memory of being a wee lad and my young parents bringing me along (in my pajamas) as they went to the drive-in to see an Elvis Presley movie.
Drive-ins have pretty much disappeared, of course, but movie theaters have so far proven happily that reports of their death were somewhat exaggerated — although I have to note that the other night, when we went to a local “art” theater to see Woody Allen’s latest, the average age of the audience was about 90…and when we were on vacation a few weeks and go and made a rainy afternoon excursion to a local theater to see “The Butler,” I’d say the average age was “one foot in the grave.”
These days, of course, even DVD’s and the like are practically old hat. Now we can download movies on our computers and iPads and smartphones. We can order them from the cable company and pay way less than the price of a movie ticket.
And we can sit in a neighbor’s backyard or living room and watch a Hitchcock or Scorcese movie, and it’s kind of like the old drive-in days, except we sit in chairs, not cars; except that the quality of both picture and sound are light-years (or at least decades) ahead of those tiny, tinny speakers which hooked onto Dad’s slightly opened driver’s-side window; and except that Jerry and Mark remembered just about everything — except they forgot to get the drive-in movie versions of “North By Northwest” and “The Last Waltz,” the ones with the popcorn box chorus line and the smiling, singing boxes of Raisinets.