The open-air cinema, with its considerable development in America, requiring special installations and architectural arrangements, started just before the last war, and its birth was probably quite by chance. This way of seeing a film, seated in your own car, cannot be separated from the customs and habits of a country with consistent and constant road traffic. Such a cinema doesn’t recruit its audience from those living in the same district or in the neighbourhood. How the idea took shape and was realised can be easily imagined, even before anyone had examined the project and decided how best to exploit it.
Americans are not great travelers, meaning that the middle classes do not willingly go away on lengthy trips. Their nomadic instincts, handed down from pioneering traditions, are easily satisfied by frequent excursions to the countryside, or to the closest bathing spots, and of course to the “national parks”. Their enthusiasm for Nature – so characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon mentality – is expressed with a candour, a passion, that for Latins and Europeans may sometimes appear slightly childish. I have taken part in picnics and other trips with eminent American university professors: it would be difficult for their pupils to emulate them, to be more excited or noisier.
After nightfall, on returning to the town, the excursionists stop along the way to fill up with petrol, drink a coca-cola, and stretch their legs. Close to the car park a white screen has been erected, on which advertisements are projected, alternating with comic variety shows. Even twenty years ago, at Oakland, Santa Cruz, Carmel, etc., and in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I certainly saw something of the kind, with the queues of cars following each other in an orderly manner along the great highway stopping to watch the provincial show. […] Little by little, this entertainment was organised and improved and, at holiday spots and in intense tourist areas, it became outdoor cinema.
Although the land required for setting up this kind of entertainment is considerably more than is needed in a city to build an air-conditioned cinema, it is suburban land or farmland and consequently costs little. Much less, too, are the expenses for decorating and furnishings, etc. In the last few years in America, cinema audiences have plummeted, so that no one wants to increase the number of picture houses to await a ghost audience. In this other manner, however, the cinema captures a motoring audience, providing entertainment without even asking people to get out of their cars.
[…] Even less formal (if we wish to use the descriptions given) are the Drive-In, Fly-In “theatres” at East Dennis, in Massachusetts.
A glance at the photograph is sufficient to clarify the set-up and operation, with a screen that – to tell the truth – is arranged rather uncomfortably too high, and the robust loudspeakers essential for such a vast area. The shack containing the bar is on the left. The entrance ticket for the “theatre” costs 1 dollar per person, whether you arrive by car or by plane. In fact, as the name of this parking area suggests – Drive-In, Fly-In – and as shown in the photograph, it is accessible both to cars and small tourist aircraft.
In Florida, however, famous for its beach and holiday resorts, and more precisely near Jacksonville, is what would appear to be one of the most perfect of these theatres or amphitheatres, ingeniously subdivided into two half-moons facing each other, in the middle of which rises the screen. Overall, the two half-moons provide parking for 1156 cars. Each of the two sections has its own restaurant, with rest-rooms, toilets, etc. For those who prefer it, the film can be viewed from the terraces over the bar. But the child staying in the car with his nanny is more interested in his bottle of milk than the screening: and he may just about be right!