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Covid reactivates drive-ins & movie memories

Covid-19's devastation failed to kill off drive in movie theaters, instead providing a resurrection for once-dying operations. The drive-in pandemic reduced theaters from the thousands in the 1950s to barely more than 300 today.

In my day as a Nevada film commissioner, I kept a photo file of abandoned drive ins and saw the one near Fallon used in three different projects: Pink Cadillac with Bernadette Peters sleeping there; The Wizard starring Fred Savage; and The Making of the Misfits PBS documentary with Marilyn Monroe’s image playing on a dilapidated screen.

Before the time of abandoned screens, it made sense for movies to set scenes at functioning drive-ins, with classic moments including John Travolta singing “Sandy” in Grease. You can also see a drive-in used memorably in Twister when a tornado bursts through a screen and twirls cars all over the place.

Of course, plenty of us have our own indelible drive in memories. I admit to spending way too many of my teenage evenings at bizarro triple features. How bizarre? Well, my experiences include titles like Mad Doctor of Blood Island plus The Incredible Melting Man. My bringing in pizza made the melting man a bad choice because he looked just like my dinner. This summer’s line up at the El Rancho seems more…uh…tasteful, with flexible food options promoting physical distancing.

You also avoid fiddling with the kind of bad sound boxes old drive ins provided since audio comes through FM radio. Best of all, the drive-in lets viewers see movies as intended—on a big screen.

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