The years following the Second World War were marked by the American lifestyle which greatly influenced everyday life. The desire for emancipation led to a drive towards progress and a more satisfying social system. That lifestyle made its way into the lives of Italians and into their culture, also making its mark on the world of cinema, of TV and of the theatre.
The seductive myth of what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic and what was arriving in Italy via shiny magazines and books, was making a deep impression, and every aspect of social life was bewitched by it. There were many attempts to emulate it, ranging from the world of music, through to that of fashion, of the theatre and of the cinema.
Thus the idea gained traction that a source of success which was in line with the new trends could be to give the Italians the gift of their own Drive In. In 1957 Rome saw the launch of the largest Drive In in Europe, the Metro Drive In. For the Italians it was a dream come true to be able to go and watch a film in the shade of the Roman pine trees, sitting in their cars, exactly as they had started to do in America!
In the USA, indeed, the fashion exploded onto the scene once Richard Hollingshead, a distributor of car spare parts, had the idea of experimenting at his home in Cambden, in New Jersey, with a private cinema. They say that the idea came to him because his mother was unable to sit down in the armchairs of the cinemas of the time, the Palace cinemas. These were cinema parlours which placed the emphasis on elegance, whilst sacrificing the comfort of the spectators. This is how Hollingshead had a flash of brilliance and in 1932 decided to create the home version of what was to become the absolute lifestyle icon of the following decades. With a white sheet stretched between two trees, he created a screen onto which he could project a film for his family and neighbours comfortably seated in their own cars, arranged by Hollingshead himself on ramps in their parking spaces in order to raise the bonnet so that their views were unencumbered by the other vehicles. It was a great success and the 1950’s confirmed the Drive In as an absolute lifestyle icon of those years, which was destined to confirm its place in history as an emblematic symbol of a new age.
IThe Italian Drive In was conceived by the architect Eugenio Galdieri and its debut came with the projection of the film by Dino Risi, La nonna Sabella (grandma Sabella). In the photographs of the time you can pick out the convertible Maggiolone (perhaps the most suitable car at that time from which to enjoy open-air films), the Fiat 500, and all the cars which have created the history of our country and which remain undisputed icons of those years! The importance of the car in Italy is also underlined by the foundation of the Aci Club which traces its roots back to the Automobile Club di Torino (Turin Motor Car Club) founded in 1898 and which in 1904 took on the title of Unione Automobilistica Italiana (Italian Motoring Union) whose purpose was to help to develop Italian motoring.
The Metro Drive In had a short life and in 1986 pulled down the shutters. Despite this, it remained a great icon and was also celebrated in the film industry: there are a large number of films which include clear references or tributes. The most renowned of these is a film which made history, Grease with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta: there are also scenes filmed in a Drive In in That Darn Cat! and American Graffiti. Amongst many TV series, Happy Days, which has marked an entire generation, is filmed for a significant part of the time in Arnold’s Drive In where revving motorbikes and glaring cars come and go. In the list too there is an Italian, film, La leggenda di Al John e Jack (The LEgend of Al, John and Jack), set in the New York of 1959 and which actually opens with the three leading actors watching a film from their car in a Drive In. For the enthusiasts of the genre, it is easy to find in auctions the original play-bills from these films (for the most part horror films) which used to be projected in U.S. open-air cinemas.
However, although on the one hand today Drive Ins have stalled in the United States, because of the obligatory requirement to convert to digital projectors which impose heavy costs, in Italy the new millennium has re-launched this fashion, and indeed in recent years several new Drive Ins have appeared. At Pontedera, near Pisa, two young men have designed and built their all-Italian Drive In and are enjoying a great deal of success. At the entrance to the site you are accompanied to your allocated car emplacement and you are told the radio channel frequency to which you need to tune in so that you can listen to the film.
And there are others too in Italy!
At Pozzuoli for example, which opened in 2009. It is always in line with the official programmes of the standard cinemas, and also supplies a car radio for those who do not possess one. There are few rules, although these are strictly applied, imposed by such locations:
• Car headlights must be turned off at the entrance and remain off throughout the entire duration of the film
• Inside the car park you must proceed at walking pace and it is forbidden to sound your horn or make noises which may disturb those watching the film
• During the showing it is forbidden to move your car, including for going to the bar or to the toilets.
Ticket prices are very reasonable and on the site of the Drive In you can play the Drive Quiz which consists of questions about the world of cinema. All you need to do is to answer the questions and write down your e-mail address, and every week there is a draw for the winner who will receive two complimentary tickets for a showing. Some facts The cinema remains open even when it is raining!
After closing in 1986, and a short interlude in 1997, the Rome Metro Drive In reopened for two evenings on 11th and 12th September 2015. The programme contained showings of two of the above-mentioned great classics of the American cinema which celebrate the icon of the Drive In. The first was American Graffiti, a film from 1973 directed by George Lucas for whom an exact copy of San Francisco’s Mel’s Drive In was reproduced in Hollywood’s Universal Studios, and the other was the musical Grease from 1978. This features the famous scene in which Danny Zucco tries to seduce, actually inside a Drive In, aboard an iconic American 50’s motor car, the extremely young and naive Sandy.
In order to make the best possible preparations for the two re-launch evenings at the Rome Drive In, major drainage works were carried out, security exits were set up, chemical toilets were installed and a local radio station reportedly took charge of the audio arrangements by providing the channel for the tune-in. The price of the ticket was at the public’s discretion. There was enough space to accommodate 700 cars and for anyone who was unable to find room, there was an outer car park from where visitors could make their way comfortably on foot in order to enjoy the showing.
In America, at the moment, 338 Drive Ins are still active.
In Florida, at Fort Lauderdale, inside the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop there are numerous boutiques in which you can discover vintage t-shirts, gym scarves, souvenirs and a plethora of extraordinary (and sometimes useless) objects which delight the visitor. Inside this hangar, there is a Drive In perfectly in the style of the 50’s where you can watch recently produced films. And it is Florida, alongside California, Alabama and Colorado which are the states where there are the highest concentrations of Drive Ins within the United States.
The motor car for the Italians is a precious treasure to be protected and taken care of, an extension of your own personality to be shown off, exhibited and enjoyed. Somewhere where you can feel safe and comfortable. And if this is the sensation you are looking for, what better than a nice film to be watched in comfort from the passenger compartment of your own car? The arrival of the new Drive Ins is a novel and different way for Italians to live out their passion for cars.
The car market which has recently blossomed again with a new life-giving boost to the system, offers a vast range of models which are attractive not only for their performances on the road but also for their captivating designs. There are a great many car manufacturers who have made design and comfort the guiding themes of their brands, bringing to market cars which are ever more beautiful and easy to live in, entertaining and fantastic, adapted to the new lifestyles and able to demonstrate the urgency of getting back to something which can become truly memorable. At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2015 a number of cars were shown which present a careful balance between passenger compartment and transport vehicle. The dimensions of many models have been designed in a way that favours increased interior space. There are some where there is more headroom for the passengers and where the rear passengers have increased liberty of movement for their legs.
Enjoying a good film in a Drive In, inside such a car, can surely only increase the awareness of being in the right passenger compartment at the right moment! All the more so with these renovated locations, where the sound system too will help you to live out the experience of a real film theatre, in the maximum comfort of your own car. And when you think that at the beginnings of the Drive In the sound was transmitted through directional loudspeakers fixed at the top of a pole, one for each car, you can guess how the new generations of cinephiles and lovers of four wheels might become a public for a new way of loving the cinema, assisted by the advice of the best experts.
In Italian Drive Ins there is also the possibility of eating and drinking. Indeed, how can one truly imagine a Drive In without hot dogs or hamburgers full of succulent sauces and overflowing cartons of popcorn? It suffices to switch on the hazard lights or give the windscreen wipers a sweep for the order to be taken without having to get out of the car and cross the border which separates your own car from the others. Certainly, for those who visit a Drive In with cars displaying ostentatious luxury, it can be a real challenge to eat off wobbly trays and risk dirtying the car’s soft wrap-around seats, made out of expensive traditional materials. But to re-live the American 50s dream and take a plunge into the past, taking with you the elegance and refinement of the Made in Italy brand, it can be worth it!
Cars which are especially suitable for watching a film from high up, from where you can enhance the enjoyment of the cinematic spectacle, are the SUVs, highly innovative vehicles which are manoeuvrable and gritty with a spacious passenger compartment which is well-suited to an intimate evening’s film viewing with the maximum possible level of visibility. Then there are systems which are capable of managing music, photos, videos and maps on colour LCD touch screens and which translate to perfection the new language of youth which is changing the way we communicate. The seats, compared with those of the old cars of that era, are at least comparable, in terms of comfort, to the armchairs of the modern multi-screen cinema. The most luxurious are upholstered with leather or with Alcantara (take care not to spill those fizzy drinks!). Many of the models have panoramic glass roofs which seem to have been made on purpose for the enjoyment of a 50s style evening in a Drive In where you can live life in complete freedom.
The many practical object-holders, which nowadays can be found in all cars, are useful for a unique and entertaining evening at the cinema in that they provide somewhere to store little bags of popcorn and sweets. There are also heated seats, which can be regulated electrically and with lumbar support, which provide maximum levels of comfort. Doing some research into finding the model which allows the passenger compartment to be heated even with the engine off and without the windows steaming up, can be an opportune initiative for an evening in a Drive In in the middle of winter.
Today truly all the optimal conditions are reunited both for driving and for an evening at the cinema in total comfort thanks also to the carefully designed angle of the front and rear headrests: many people can get support from several models now on sale which help to create the right atmosphere to enjoy Drive Ins. For those who do not like to watch a film in the dark, vehicles exist which are equipped with multi-colour atmospheric lighting which provides the colour of illumination which you prefer as a perfect match for your passenger compartment.
And apart from Drive Ins, we can sum up as follows: many different models, many different performances, cooperation between engineers, designers and stylists, so much experience and a single objective, that of creating a car suited to a fascinating, captivating and entertaining drive which brings welcome rewards, and not just to the person behind the wheel.
This too is a new way of understanding the car which, in this case, also becomes a highly personalised home cinema. A nostalgic plunge into the past, a 1950s atmosphere, a desire for romanticism and a passion for the vintage age are all the ingredients required to experience your own car not just as a means of transport, but also as somewhere to be entertained, comfortably seated in the car park of an open-air cinema screen.