Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Take the Virginia Drive-In Tour

Summer may be winding down but there's still time to indulge in one of the time-honored hot month activities - watching a movie at a drive-in movie theater (even if you have to drive a little bit to get there).

While there are no drive-ins left in the eastern part of the commonwealth -- none in Richmond (boo hoo) -- the Central and Western Virginia areas can boast of several outdoor cinemas. Some of these big screens are picturesque survivors of the drive-in's original golden era (the '50's) and some are newer constructions. Yes, that's right, at a time when drive-ins have all but disappeared nationally, Virginia still builds new ones.

I've been fascinated with drive-ins since I was a kid, and over the years I've written articles for various publications about this cool but disappearing experience. For The Roanoker magazine, I wrote a piece on the Hull Drive-In in Lexington. The Hull, a great place to see a flick,  is still flourishing, overseen by an organization of preservationists called "Hull's Angels."

Frank Kulesza stands perfectly calm while ribbons of thick celluloid travel precarious pathways around his head.

“I’m having trouble right now,” the manager of Lexington’s Hull Drive-In Theatre says matter-of-factly, showing me the destination of tonight’s first feature as it travels into a lighted metal shutter.

“Right now I’ve got a paper clip holding it all together.”

“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” unfurls through various wobbly spindles and around corners, twisting and re-spooling onto a large dish that looks like a yo-yo turned on its side.

This is occurring in a cramped projection booth no bigger than your Aunt Deborah’s old storage closet. The Hull’s monstrous Brenkart-RCA movie projector, which has been with the theater since it first opened in 1950, takes up a large portion of the space; the flickering beast seems more like something out of “Forbidden Planet” – Robby the Robot’s older brother – than the sleek and sophisticated digital equipment we’re used to fiddling with at home.

The nation’s only nonprofit drive-in, the legendary Hull still does it the old-fashioned way, with a paper clip if necessary; keeping alive that peculiar American small-town phenomenon – watching movies in the car.
Click here to read the rest of "See You at the Movies."

Also for The Roanoker, I put together a Western Virginia "drive-in tour," compiling all of the surviving screens and documenting their stories. Since the article was published, alas, the Hiland Drive-in in Rural Retreat has closed, and so has the Fork Union Drive-in outside of Charlottesville (a place that was practically a hangout for me at one time). But we've also seen the opening of a new drive-in just outside of Hadensville and it looks like it is thriving. I profiled the Goochland Drive-in and its hopeful owners in a Style Weekly piece called "Screen it and They Will Come."

Take the "Western Virginia Drive-In Tour" by clicking here.

And read "Screen it and They Will Come" right here.

... and please remember to replace the speaker on the post when you exit. The management thanks you.

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