Monday, September 15, 2008

Flickers #12: Remembering Drive-In Theaters; and Lumenick Vs. Ebert

When I was growing up in Lakeland, Fla., circa the late '60s and '70s, we had the luxury of three drive-in theaters - the Lakeland Drive-In (on South Florida Avenue), the Filmland (Lakeland Hills Boulevard) and the Silver Moon (New Tampa Highway).

I distinctly remember going to the Lakeland Drive-In with my dad, mom and little brother Bobby to see Kubrick's 2001, and I recall my parents being somewhat put off by the film. I also recall news reports of the traffic jam on South Florida Avenue that took place when the X-rated Fritz the Cat played the same drive-In; the screen could be seen from the street. It could be seen, too, from high up a tree at the home of a boyhood friend who lived not far away.

As a teenager, I went on a few drive-in dates with my girlfriend. What did we see? Can't recall.

The Lakeland Drive-In, opened in 1950 and for many years operated by Floyd Theatres, closed in 1980, according to Cinema Treasures; the Carmike Palm Cinema 3 is a tenant of the shopping center since built on the theater site. The Filmland operated from 1953 to 1986, with Floyd Theatres running the place beginning in the early 1960s, and is now the site of the All Children's Hospital.

I thought about all of this after coming across a New York Times piece on the drive-in, an institution that turns 75 this year. According to the story, only about 400 drive-ins remain open in the U.S., one-tenth of the number that were around in the mid-1950s.

The story offers a link to, a decade-old web site "dedicated to the history, preservation and promotion of outdoor theaters."

The very informative site offers a handy state-by-state history of drive-ins, and notes that there were more than 150 drive-ins in Florida in 1955. By 1979, the year I graduated from high school, that number had declined to about 115. Ninety-four percent of the state's drive-ins now have gone dark, and many (probably most) have been demolished.

The sole surviving drive-in in Lakeland is the Silver Moon, which this year celebrates its 60th year of operation. The two-screen theater, this week showing Mamma Mia/Wanted/Hellboy 2 and Tropic Thunder/The Love Guru (eclectic enough for you?), doubles as a swap shop on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 5:30 a.m.

In Hillsborough County, the Fun Lan Drive-In and the Ruskin Drive-In are the only two that remain open, according to the site.

Maybe I should take my kids to a drive-in before outdoor movie theaters are completely extinct.

Critics for years have complained about rude moviegoers.

And for good reason: Too often, the moviegoing experience is ruined by people - of all ages and social and economic backgrounds - who believe that it's perfectly acceptable to talk loudly, use cellphones, endlessly rustle snacks and generally treat the movie theater as their personal rec room.

Meanwhile, theater managers and owners steadfastly refuse to remove the troublemakers. Little wonder that the movie industry routinely yelps about bad times.

So it was a shock to hear that New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick physically attacked Roger Ebert during a screening at the Toronto Film Festival. The story goes that Ebert, who is recovering from cancer and unable to speak, tapped Lumenick on the shoulder, in order to let him know that he was blocking Ebert's view.

Lumenick then shouted "don't touch me!" Ebert tapped again, and the second or third time was met with Lumenick's full anger, as the latter "thwacked behind him with a big festival binder," according to the New York Daily News. "He hit him so hard everybody could hear it."

Talk about bad behavior at the movies.

Lumenick reportedly has not apologized for acting like a miscreant.

For Ebert's account of the Sept. 6 incident, check out his blog.

Ebert writes, "I think the guy was wrong. A film critic of all people should be respectful of the sight-lines of fellow audience members. But in one way I feel sorry for him. He had no idea who was behind him when he smacked me. Now it looked like he was picking on poor me. I have had my problems, but I promise you I am plenty hearty enough to withstand a smack, and quite happy, after the smack, to tap him again. I had to see those subtitles. There was no pain. The incident is over. Peace."

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