Monthly Archives: November 2014

Tis’ The Season

DSC_0109

Yes indeed it’s that time of year again folks, the yearly intermission between November and December.   Now is the season of Cool Treats (like icy roads & frost bit nose) and Hot Eats ( turkey, tacos , & Tabasco slaws ).  Not much else for a northern drive in fan to do but go with holiday tradition.

Somewhere over the snowbank other Drive Ins  keep the pictures rolling.  Warm festive times bring a special brand of promotion there, seasonably set to motivate would be patrons away from  left overs.

Filmack was, still is, a pro at bringing holiday greetings to the big screen and help  exhibitors make ends meet in those lean months.  Let’s take a sampling from the 1960 November and December issues of Filmacks trade magazine, “Inspiration” the messenger of good cheer, as it encourages us to celebrate the season together.

DSC_0096

Don’t give up Mr. Drive In, help is on the way!

DSC_0102

Chase those fall blues away, the mood is right and your about to get into it.  Good fun promotional ideas.

DSC_0099

Next no joking from me here.  Blessed to be an American and I’m thankful.

DSC_0106

More on the drive in promotion page.  Ladies and Gentlemen if you click on the pic you’ll see the text much clearer.  The ole’ damaged speaker trailer still a hot item.

DSC_0101

Have you thought about “Screen Appeal” lately?  4 out of 5 of the trailing leaders come up short on screen appeal.  By the way, the Inspiration is peppered with good clean jokes throughout the magazine.

DSC_0098

Before going on to the next picture, I remember thinking Clint Eastwood movies were out of place for the Holidays.  Above  Psycho is readily promoted with holiday cheer way back in 1960.  Mr. Dzikowski makes a good historical case for this in his first periodical “American Drive In Theater Roadside Journal” a great read on Amazon.

OK, coming up next…

hp

Decembers issue is here!

DSC_0085

 

DSC_0086

Filmack is a longstanding family business.  In November’s issue Mr. Irving Mack, affectionately known as just Mack, had said goodbye in a retirement communique.  Joe Mack and his brothers have taken the reigns and here is a notice of some of the well wishes and sad goodbyes received from people who were more than just customers.

DSC_0088

Merchant sponsored trailers.  Nice idea and art concept.

DSC_0090

Chingle Bells a ringin …  …  safety pays

DSC_0092

And the rate schedule.

DSC_0107————————————————————————————————————————-

The frozen chosen here in the Northland would like to wish all our friends Happy Holidays.   in this case with an old marquee, 2 much snow, and a 20 foot drop~

 

I’ve had It

OK, I know it’s hard. Very very hard to imagine spring right now. This good ole song really helps  pull out that elation as when you cleared the box office window to see who’s in the lot.  Laid back and rolling through the rows to find that place there next to your friends, oh and girls.  Mise as well grab a burger for me too. Good luck finding our cars (moved to the back) once you disappear into the snack bar! Good times.

Time to Stretch and Fetch

G

To my knowledge this pile of film and paper is all that’s left to the drive in of my youth.   Just before it was bulldozed into history I stopped in to find a collapsing vandalized building with its contents strewn all over.  Running out of the bathroom were  crinkled strips of film which I had a hunch but dreaded to find in such condition, the snack bar footage.  It was.  Tangled, busted, weather worn, you name and behold it, the first treasure  of the leprechauns rainbow.

By the mid 1980’s intermission footage had passed into history. Without the internet, reproduction sources or any  fan network, the rejected abused  and forgotten group of cells was  the only connection to something  readily apparent never to happen again.

Treasure two is a hand typed flyer  by the author Terrance Wharton, discovered  13 years ago when crossing  paths with Derrick of Drive In Film. It was a good read and the memories of what he wrote were still very fresh then.  I nodded, smiled and took that flyer  home to keep with the old crinkly footage.  When reading it again the other day, I realized what sort of feelings these old promotions once elicited, and how different this footage is viewed now.

Like many things today,  intermission shorts have never had it so good.  Heck even Filmack is re-releasing some  of their own classics, and the great company of Screen Attractions is creating a new stable of shorts and restoring to perfection old offerings.   CDs from  sources such as Drive In Film or Something Weird has hours of clips that you can play on your own TV or makeshift home drive in.

YouTube is an endless source of quick and hazy  snack bar video, that even now I can go and find something that  I’ve never seen before.

In fact so prevalent and varied are the offerings today,   some drive in fans may have forgotten just what made those films so special to begin with. Taken for granted they could  be  again put  on a shelf  no higher than those once saved  from the wet cement  floor.

With all credit given to Terrance is his essay on what those masterful and independent creations meant to us, a post generation of drive in patrons.  Printed many years ago, the black and white photos and text appear as they did in the flyer for authenticity.

 

AA

Show Starts In Ten Minutes

By Terrance Jennings Wharton

There was a time when an evening spent at the local drive-in theatre always guaranteed the viewing of at least one unique and entertaining film:  the “Come Visit Our Modern Concession Stand…” production that both accompanied and defined the intermission between features.

Some years ago a drive-in owner was recounting (for the author’s benefit) the all-time highest grossing motion pictures at his three theatres (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE GODFATHER were the top two).  When I asked if that included the snackbar countdown his face broke into a broad smile.  “Over the years that’d have to rank up there with any of them!  I’ve never thought about it like that –  all those kids!  That’s also how we were able to get away with admitting the whole carload on a flat admission…”

1

In 1952 Armour & Co. introduced the initial live-action refreshment stand advertisement, or “trailer”.  While animated segments of the “Come On Out To The Lobby…” ilk had existed for years, audiences had never been confronted with “actual” images of patrons enjoying handy snackbar treats.  Presented free of charge to nearly 600 drive-ins, this one-minute short (featuring a jingle by Bing Crosby’s Starlighters) heralded that it was time for intermission – and with it – a refreshing drink, box of popcorn, and delicious Armour frank: “…if drinks are what you want – we got’em –hot or cold, just holler; all drinks taste good with Armour franks – you bet your bottom dollar; if your taste for popcorn’s set – we have it hot and waiting; for an extra treat just buy a bag – it’s fun to eat when dating…

From drive-ins everywhere reports of dramatically inflated concession sales began pulling up at Armour’s Chicago offices.  A Missouri ozoner experienced a 25% increase in hotdog sales the very first night the trailer was shown, and total snackbar receipts for the season were 30% higher than those from the previous year.  When the new clip debuted at the Big Sandy Drive-In, in Portland, OR, four-times the normal amount of wieners were sold, and an Armour representative (attending the theatre with his family) hurriedly placed an ‘emergency” order for an additional 72 lb. of the franks.

Several hundred similar responses prompted Armour to release eight new trailers for the 1953 season.  While the true suggestive/metaphoric potential of the screen-size frankfurter was yet to be fully realized (e.g., the animated “Circus Of Performing Treats” production, from Filmack Studios, wherein the domineering bun coerces the subservient hotdog to turn a series of obedient flip-flops before being “rewarded” by its suddenly permissive partner), Armour had conclusively struck a responsive chord and served to open the flood-gates for “live-action” snack-bar footage of varying depth, duration and quality (in the trade vernacular, all footage, aside from animation, was generally described as live action): from limpid, lackluster stills of inedible, would-be food, on up to a far more ambitious ( even moderately obsessive and overblown considering their limited scope) product layouts utilizing excessive stop-motion razzle-dazzle and post production optical-printing, culminating in pop-up/overlapping/kaleidoscopic imagery quite unlike anything else.  (The Alexander Film Co. dreamed-up various curiously inspired examples of the latter variety).

5

Most (however, not all) intermission reels were structured around a “clock-shell”: comprised of a 20-30 second introduction, or “header”; 10 second inserts counting down each minute; and a 10 second closing, or “tag”; this basic framework amounted to approximately 2 minutes of actual screen time.  The remaining 5-10 minutes (many “10 Minute” shows were striking exercises in temporal compression/expansion) were nothing less than a blank canvas to the local drive-in projectionist (that inadvertent/invariable master of cinema-montage) whose abrupt, sledgehammer method of jump-cutting and juxtaposing footage (from myriad of sources) unfailingly produced an amazingly collage-like body of work – worthy of repeated viewing (as in every visit to the drive-in).

Indeed, in an era prior to mass MTV retinal overload there were no other cinematic shorts available for widespread public viewing that were as crazily mixed-up as the local snackbar assemblage: a crude-yet-complex conglomeration enriched by virtue of startling shifts in content; equally head-shaking jumps from color to b&w and back; rhythmically jarring (and frequently “frame” altering) secondary cement and/or tape splices (earmarking varying degrees of missing footage); brutal emulsion scratches, grimy accumulations; shredded sprocket holes; moisture damage (read: mildew) physically stretched stock; and a signature washed-out carbon-arc luminosity bordering on the ethereal… all told, a gradual evolution nurtured by countless rushes through a blinding, many-toothed gauntlet at 90 feet-per-minute.

The following was only a partial inventory of the drive-in projectionist’s considerable bag-of-tricks: persistent clock shells, produced primarily by Filmack, Alexander, and National Screen; narrated live-action food clips, often with disembodied human hands performing sundry task; goofy animated Leprechauns, Martians, Professors, and Sentries (from National Screen Service); near hypnotic/escapist animated interludes unwinding to approximately sedate musical scores; toe-tapping barbecue pitches from Castleberry’s, Smithfield, (most often tinted green); Drizzle Gard Rain Visor ads; Butter Cup Popcorn sing-a-longs; simple minded color slides of kittens, puppies, birds, and flowers set to vapid easy-listening arrangements (originally included in a self-contained countdown clock, and often recut by projectionists); single sentence, narrated stills (e.g., “Sizzling Hotdogs Bursting With Juicy Goodness…”) that led sharp punctuation to the proceedings when hitting the screen; Neil Armstrong up on the Moon; detailed Bernz-O-Matic in-car heater instructions; local merchant spots; catchy soft drink commercials for national and regional bottlers; United States Armed Forces recruiting promotions; dreary public service announcements; vast vistas of farm crops, with machinery harvesting and patriotic strains swelling from the in –car metal speakers; and, of course, the “… Please Return The Speaker Before You Leave The Theatre… AND DON’T EVER LET US CATCH YOU STEALING ONE…” reminder/admonishment.

2

Beyond the above-mentioned arbitrary editing and subsequent resplicing of said footage, the very image itself was often drastically distorted via projection through an anamorphic lens, a common practice when both features on the bill were in widescreen format (it was understandably convenient to leave the relatively cumbersome optics in place, rather than switch to the “flat” lens for a mere 10 minutes).  Static, screen-filling views of sandwiches, popcorn boxes, and drink cups (assuredly minimalistic and absurd-looking when enlarged to such monolithic proportions) became even more strangely stylized and surreal when they were amazingly stretched-way-out horizontally (like a magnified vision from some futuristic industrial designer’s mental sketchpad), with form warping content to plasticized perfection.

Some years back, a personal viewing of the rapid-fire, found footage short films of Bruce Conner (A MOVIE, AMERICA IS WAITING) brought to mind the mishmash nature of the drive-in snackbar film, where contextual fusing of obliquely incongruous subject matter could sometimes engender newfound meaning.  A memorable intermission countdown from the Skyview Cruise-In Lancaster, OH (that played intact through the 1989 season), included a cutaway from the animated “Ten Little Indians” clock-shell (produced by the Alexander Film Co.) to a title card proclaiming, “This Is YOUR Land, AMERICA!  Demonstrate Your FAITH In It In Your EVERY Action…” then abruptly cut back to the cartoon Indians (at once an unintentional subversion of content and prime example of “1 Minute” in “intermission time” compacted to barely 20 seconds).

3

Eventually taken for granted by the majority of patrons (existing as little more than ambient cinematic wallpaper), these odd mini-wonders provided for more discriminating movie-goers that perfectly twisted transition between screenings of such eccentric fare as THE CORPSE GRINDERS and THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS.  (Author’s note:  at a memorable 10th anniversary booking of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, at the E. Main Drive-In, in Columbus, OH, a smattering of cheers and groans alike could be heard from several cars when the local Temp-Taste Barbeque commercial [starring Ohio Steak & Barbecue’s own Dan Enderle] appeared on the screen).

4

Now that the entire economic nature of film production/distribution has changed irrevocably and no more offbeat, independent “drive-in” features are being released theatrically, the last of the surviving intermission countdown reels are exceedingly rare and especially welcome movie going experience (too often flanked by comparatively unimaginative and insignificant corporate Hollywood reoccurrences…).  To presently watch one of these cultural time capsules count off the minutes is to experience time quite frozen.

6

(The author extends heartfelt thanks to all of the drive-in owners, managers, and projectionists.  The Armour sales information is contained in the article “Franks Mean Sales” which originally appeared in the 1955-56 Theatre Catalog.)

The following is a partial list of film service companies who distributed and/or produced motion picture trailers of one manner, or another.

Alexander Film Co……………………………………. Colorado Springs, CO

Alpha Film Labs……………………………………….. Baltimore, MD

Ambuter Motion Picture Co.  …………………  Boston, MA

Clyde Anderson Film Co. ……………………….  Salt lake City, UT

Argo Film Production …………………………….. St. Louis, MO

Associated Film Exchange ……………………… Salt lake City, UT

A.H. Barber, Sr. ………………………………………. St Louis, MO

Barnett Film Services …………………………….. New Orleans, LA

Cine-Graphic Film Labs Inc. …………………… St Louis, MO

Cinema Concepts Theatre Service ……….. Atlanta, GA

Clark Service Inc. …………………………………. Buffalo, NY

Lewy Studios ………………………………………..  Baltimore, MD

Lippincott Pictures Inc. ………………………….. Philadelphia, PA

Master Motion Picture Co. …………………….. Boston, MA

Moondial Manufacturing Corp. ………………. Los Angeles, CA

Monarch Theatre Supply ………………………… Memphis, TN

Monmental Films Inc. …………………………….. Baltimore, MD

Motion Picture Advertising Service …………  New York, NY

Motion Picture Service Company ……………. San Francisco, CA

National Film Service ………………………………. New Orleans, LA

National Screen Service …………………………. New York, NY

National Theatre Supply Co. ………………….. Indianapolis, IN

Nationwide Pictures ……………………………. Dallas, TX

Oran Productions ……………………………….. St Louis, MO

Pacific Title & Art Studios …………………… Los Angeles, CA

Parrot Film Services ……………………………. De Moines, IA

Pictosound Productions …………………….. St Louis, MO

Premier Film & recording Corp. …………. St Louis, MO

Quality Film Labs ……………………………….. Baltimore, MD

M.B. Russell ……………………………………….. Salt Lake City, UT

Stansbury Photo Films ………………………. Baltimore, MD

Stark Films ………………………………………….  Baltimore, MD

Strickland Film Co. ……………..……………….. Atlanta, GA

Shelby Stork & Co. ……………..……………….. St Louis, MO

Simon Film Service ……………………….……… Detroit, MI

Sly Fox Films ………………………………………… Minneapolis, MN

Standard Screen Service ……………………… Los Angeles, CA

Technisonic Studios Inc. ………………………  St Louis, MO

Theatre Screen Advertising …………………. Denver, CO

Tri-State Theatre Service …………………….. Memphis, TN

Universal Images Ltd. ………………………….. Kansas City, MO

UTA Inc. …………………………………………………. Los Angeles, CA

Welgot Trailer Service …………………………… New York, NY

Wilding Picture Productions …………………. St Louis, MO

Ramping Up

 

One of these days I plan on doing a real post on row marker lamps.  One of these days.  Till then here is a nice excerpt from a 50’s era DIT-MCO catalog.

ramp

And here you thought it would be a great article about ramps, grades, and sight lines.  Hopefully, that’s coming too.

 

Testing 1 2 3 4 5

OriginalNipper

Fitting that the first reproduced sound at a drive in theater was accomplished with the help of the Radio Corporation of America.  In an earlier post it was discussed how the Camden Drive In Theatre, and subsequent copy cats, used large speakers mounted on the screen tower to deliver the motion picture sound track to the audience.  Camden had three large horns, developed and manufactured by RCA especially for this new automobile theatre.  RCA was no stranger to Hollingshead, whose company’s facilities were neighbors with that of RCA.  RCAs solution to the problem was given the name “Controlled Directional Sound” but other than a volume slide and the direction that the speakers faced there was little control.  Complaints about excessive noise became the rallying cry against drive ins as they blossomed across the country.  Reacting to this early pioneers of drive in cinema tried to rework the bull horn concept, from smaller units placed in front of each parking space, to blasting the sound through grates upon which the car parked.  None of these proved satisfactory and in some cases exasperated the problem. It seemed that villagers with torches, pitchforks, and zoning laws would put an end to Dr. Hollingshead’s expanding creation. Within 7 years though, the folks at RCA had come up with a lasting solution.

First in car drive in speaker - Thanks once again to Matt of Airking, Many of these ads are from his website. His photos  can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/driveinspeakers/sets/72157629075341509

First in car drive in speaker – Thanks once again to Matt of Airking, Many of these ads are from his website. His photos can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/driveinspeakers/sets/72157629075341509

Technology had progressed and RCA designers came up with a great concept in which the basic configuration would last for years.  A personal speaker for each automobile customer, a hook that could hang over the door window, and a variable control switch for volume solved most comfort and noise issues.  Just as these were being introduced to the market so was the US to the Second World War.  Production of these units and drive in expansion stopped.

Six years later and the end of the war, both Drive Ins and RCA came back with a vengeance.  Drive Ins opened at an astounding rate. RCA speakers were right on their tail.

chart

drive-in-car-speaker_rca1

Rightfully RCA began touting itself as the innovator and of having the best positioned drive in speaker in the field.

b431699097425d76e587cfab59a30aa1

Over time they triumphed in their marketing, for sales were comparatively astronomical.  In retrospect and opinion, RCA speakers seem to be the best  option of price versatile vs. quality.  Even now they are the first to be found at swap meets and garage sales.  If one would like to buy a new set, they are still being manufactured through Detriotdiecast.  (link =  http://www.detroitdiecast.com/detroit-diecast-rca-drive-in-theatre-movie-speaker-set-with-junction-box-light.html )

Plastic, really Natalie?

Plastic, really Natalie?

Within a short time the RCA speaker streamlined itself into what has become the iconic drive in symbol.

The question of the day is how great is the RCA drive in speaker and can it hold up to the vintage ad copy which touts it?  That’s what we aim to figure out through a trial, test, a tongue, and a cheek.

First we set the bar with RCAs own ad copy.

Mr. Starlight Himself

Mr. Starlight Himself

claims

Selecting five standards which are highlighted in yellow blocks,  we can proceed with the trial.  Each test performed against the standard has been video recorded.  They then will be  judged for the  actual result versus accuracy of  the ad  claim.

Test 1.

3

Result –

Ok, this is a given if tested within certain life of use limits.  However finding the right balance of amplitude and the resistance of a degrading potentiometer takes some courage.  Out of 1 point, the score is 0.75

 

Test 2.

4

Result-

Trials have proved that indeed this unit can be closed up in a car window.  However, closed must be used as a relative term.  Closed to the untrained unscientific eye is ¼” gap between glass and seal. A good windy thundershower can bring in a soaking of rain. To mosquitoes, black flies, and other creepy crawly’s this distance is the Grand Canyon.

Foolproof also depends on the fool. We once hired a fool specialist trained in the scientific method who in fact could pull the knotted wire away from the speaker, or mash the spring loaded volume control knob.  He could also dump a coke though the vents onto the speaker cone, resulting in a muffled sticky scuba noise.  The test was null and the fool promoted to manager.

Out of the 2 points, the score is 1.0    I guess in context, 1.5

 

Test 3.

5

Result-

5a

No video for this test.  The same upwardly mobile fool  turned on the cameraman  as an added expense.

Within the safety constraints of the speaker post, and the post being unaffected by automobile impact, the speaker unit generally fairs well.  Using the speaker as a tether ball and banging it back and forth around the post with a baseball bat has had some ill effect.  Granted however, the simple yet rugged design itself held up well.

 Out of 1 point,  the score is 0.75

Test 4.

6

The most interesting and costly test. The majority of the trial was accomplished through sneaking the test by as a subcontract using a specialist with heavy equipment.  The results were surprising.

Result-

Impressively the unit did indeed dry out to reproduce again.  Which is great news for the insurer, not so much for the insuree.  If I had to guess, within a year the cones were crumbling, connections corroding, and potentiometers freezing.  Flooding not covered by warranty of course.

DSC_0107

However under controlled conditions and the actual claim of the ad, it scores 1 out of 1 point.

Sea of cone life

Sea of cone life

 

Test 5.

7

8

This could have been a very tough test.  After almost 50 years a majority of Starlight finishes look like this and a light reactivity trail would be impossible.

Image3

Luck would have it that for 25 cents a mint Starlight replacement front was found at the local resale shop. By placing this front onto a used unit the test can begin.

Fits like a saddle on a pig, but looks great for the test.  No wonder the front was stuck away and never used.

DSC_0002

Result –

 

Sadly, this test was a comparative failure.  However, it would work very well as flounder camouflage on the ocean floor.

DSC_0102

Flounder Camo

Out of 1 point,  the score is 0

 

Total Trials Result –

The final score, out of 6 possible points is….   4.       67% is not too bad considering the fanciful claims of the ad and seriousness of the testing.  In reality the RCA was a dang good speaker, and in the end achieved the greatest amount of sales. It was also the most imitated, a sure sign of success.