The drive-in theater is pure Americana. We became an automobile nation in the 40s and 50s, and enterprising business owners catered to the hordes of motorists taking to the roads. From eating to banking and even a drive-in ferris wheel, it only seemed natural to take our movie entertainment outdoors and do it all from the car.
Nearly 4,000 drive-in theaters were built during the heyday of the 50s and 60s. Today, that number is about 368. And one change is coming this year that may drive many of the remaining screens out of business: the switch to digital.
By the end of this year, most major Hollywood companies will stop distributing movies on 35mm film. Most indoor theaters have already converted to digital making the old celluloid, as it is sometimes called, obsolete.
Unfortunately for drive-ins, the average $70,000 conversion cost may be the final straw in keeping a business alive that, while nostalgic and romantic, is still on the verge of extinction.
The Calvert City Drive-In in nearby Calvert City, KY had problems with getting movies as the change to digital took place in indoor theaters. The drive-in, which features new movies that have typically been out for a few weeks, relied on prints that had already been run elsewhere. As the number of physical prints diminished, the challenge of finding first run movies became more and more difficult.
Calvert City Drive-In employees would often have to drive overnight to pick up canisters of film from hundreds of miles away in order to get them back just in time for a show. Add to that that most every night is a double feature, and the difficulty increases by a hundred percent.
The winter of 2013 then became a make or break moment for the theater. Either they would become completely obsolete and go the way of many other drive-ins, or they would make the switch to digital. They chose the later.
The old film projector was removed months ago, and this week, the new digital projector installed. The theater enjoys immense popularity in Western KY, and they see no reason to give up now. The upgrade to digital, while not pure, classic movie theater for purists, is necessary in order to survive. Prints will no longer be available, and, sadly, many drive-in theaters will not be either. Such is not the case for Calvert City.
Tonight marks the start of the 2013 season with two big family films, Escape from Planet Earth and Wreck-It Ralph. Admission is $7 per person for both movies with kids 12 & under getting in free.
For the drive-in, life is fun and nostalgic, but it is also about survival. The magic of the movies is too much to let die, however. As the Kinks sang in Celluloid Hereos:
I wish my life was a non-stop hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain.
And celluloid heroes never really die.
Fore more information on Calvert City Drive-In, visit http://www.calvertdrivein.com/
Here are some photos we took at the Drive-In in 2010: