Dead-End Drive-in: a 1986 Australian film directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and starring Ned Manning and Natalie McCurry. CREDIT:GREATER UNION

Are Australian drive-ins making a comeback?

Drive-ins are getting a lot of attention. Yep, with cinemas closed since March because of the pandemic, drive-ins that stayed open around the world have done well. And it makes sense: you’re out watching a movie but you’re also social distancing in your car.

And here? The Yatala Drive-In in south-east Queensland was the first cinema to re-open in Australia and was an immediate success. Then, as restrictions began easing, the Skyline Drive-in at Blacktown surprisingly opened for restricted numbers with social distancing measures last month. So they’ve led the way for the movie industry’s return in the coming weeks.

And pop-ups, too? At Moore Park’s Entertainment Quarter, the pop-up Mov’in Car Outdoor Car Cinema started a retro season with Dirty Dancing and another pop-up has opened at Fairfield Showgrounds with the council’s support. For a musical variation, Casey Donovan sang at “Australia’s first drive-in concert” at a carpark in Tempe recently.

They seem like such a fun way to watch movies. They always have been, though generally more fun in warmer months than mid-winter. The heyday in Sydney was the 1960s to the early ’80s – a time of postwar prosperity and big cars. There were Skyline drive-ins at Frenchs Forest, Dundas, Chullora, North Ryde, Liverpool, Warriewood, Caringbah, Fairfield, Matraville, Parklea, Bass Hill, Penrith and Blacktown. But gradually the lustre wore off as colour TV, videos and clubs showing movies became competition and the land became more valuable to developers. Blacktown is the last one standing.

There’s a lot of nostalgia around them. They are definitely icons of popular culture, famously featuring in such movies as Grease and Twister. In 1986, a Peter Carey short story was turned into the Australian film Dead-End Drive-In.

Were they as good as everyone remembers? They were great for young couples wanting to get close. Great for parents with kids who could wear their pyjamas and fall asleep before the movie finished. Great if you like to talk or smoke during a movie. Great if you like two movies for the price of one. Great for a different kind of movie experience. People really did try to sneak in so ticket-sellers would check the back seat and look for a low hanging boot and telltale fingermarks at the front gate. And when the movie finished, staff knew that someone was always bound to have fallen asleep, someone else would need a jump start and at least one couple would not have realised the movie had finished.

But … Back in the day, drive-ins were always stronger on atmospherics than sound and picture quality. The food was more bowling alley standard than fine dining: steak sandwiches, chicken burgers, Pluto pups and donuts. In winter, it always seemed like a long cold walk to buy a drink or use the rest rooms. When it was cold and misty, you had to turn on the engine to run the demister or get out to wipe the windscreen. There always seemed to be a crush to get out after the movie. And if you want to drink, you’ll need a designated driver…

… visit The Sydney Morning Herald: Bluffers guide: is the drive-in making a comeback? See also: SMH: Australian drive-ins have the chance to shine, even in the pouring rain

Main image: Dead-End Drive-in: a 1986 Australian film directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and starring Ned Manning and Natalie McCurry. CREDIT:GREATER UNION

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