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Intermission and Drive-ins

Back in the days of olde, all movie theaters and drive-ins had a break half-way through the movie called intermission. It originates from stage performances where the show would take a break so the actors could get a breather.

The only time I can ever remember an actual intermission was when I was really young. The very fuzzy memory I have of it tells me it was in a theater, and when I saw it, I said, "Huh? Intermission? What's this?" Then when people started getting up I realized it was a break in the movie.

I think, but am not certain, that intermissions still exist but only at drive-ins for the ones that are still around. The one drive-in I'm aware of near me is Fun-Lan. I've yet to go there but will at some point.

Intermissions had their heyday well before my time, and looked like this:

I'm going to admit right up front that I have absolutely no desire to experience drive-ins and movie theaters how they were decades ago. I also have no hesitation in admitting today's theaters are far superior in almost every way.

Here are my observances about the intermission clips above:

Clip-on car speakers

The way to get audio from the movie into your car was to park next to a pole that had a speaker box. You took the speaker box off the pole and hung it on your driver's door window, or on the windshield frame itself if you had a convertible.

If you're thinking, "Why didn't they just use radio like they do now?", it was because many cars back then didn't have a radio in them.

At every show, at least one fool would always drive off with the speaker still attached to the car, ripping the wire right out of the post and usually busting the car's driver-side window in the process.

The speaker itself sounded awful. It was monophonic and "loggy" sounding at best. However I will admit that the sound did have a bit of personality to it. Audio that came out of a drive-in's speaker box could not be mistaken for anything else.

These speaker enclosures were always outside and therefore subject to the ravages of Mother Nature. It was very typical that the box you used was very beat up, sun-worn, scratched, dented, etc.

Said honestly, it's amazing they worked at all.

Kill-you-fast menu

Your food & drink choices at most drive-ins were limited to hot dogs, hamburgers, candy, ice cream, soda and popcorn. Some also had frappes, shakes and pizza. In other words, the worst possible menu imaginable.

At one point in the video above, "butter drenched" is used as a selling point for the popcorn and, if you can believe it, is called nutritious. Listen for it when watching the video.

Today's theater food & drink menus aren't that much better, but you can at least buy bottled water. If you asked for a bottle of water in the era of the video above, you'd get strange looks because it didn't exist. But being that nobody knew you could make money from bottled water back then, they'd give you a cup of it for free. And yes, the cup was free too.

Interesting side note: In fast food restaurants where you serve your own fountain drinks, they used to have a selection simply labeled "water". It was free. Since bottled water is the norm now, the free water selection was taken out and now you have to pay for it. Absolutely nobody gives away water anymore. That's sad.

Coca-Cola's influence

The Coca-Cola brand is the most recognized in the world. The company achieved this notoriety by advertising anywhere and everywhere they could; this obviously included intermission films.

In the video there's one point where you hear the announcer say, "Remember, your favorite snack will taste especially good with world-famous ice-cold Coca Cola."

Far be it from me to state the obvious, but popcorn and Coca-Cola doesn't exactly sound like a tasty combination.

Talking food advertisements

About half way through the video you'll see this talking hot dog who burns himself to get cooked, splotches mustard and relish on his person, and then more or less says, "Eat me."

This is something that I've always found a bit disturbing, because in your head you don't want to eat Mr. Hot Dog because just a second ago he was alive, and now you're going to kill him.. all in the name of "refreshment". Mmmmmm good indeed.

What made the drive-in popular originally?


There are many who say drive-ins became popular for different reasons, but when you boil it all down, it was because people had cars. With these cars, people now had something to do with them other than commute to work, go shopping or go cruising. In the 1950s and 1960s, gas was ridiculously cheap, automakers were more than happy to sell cars to anyone who wanted them (also for cheap), and people took to drive-ins like a fish to water.

You also have to bear in mind that in smaller towns, going to the drive-in was the most exciting thing you could do on a Saturday night. It was also the only place besides a movie theater where you could see a movie.

What killed the drive-in?

The last breath of the traditional drive-in experience ended in the mid-to-late 1980s. This means drive-ins lost their "spirit", if you will, around 20 to 25 years ago. Never did they completely die, because they're still around, but at the same time do not have a presence even close to how many there used to be.

Three things killed drive-ins. Cable television, home movie rentals and the drive-ins themselves.

Cable TV started to get its way into homes in the early 1980s, and by the early 1990s everybody had it. Cable back then was really cheap, very accessible and had all the movies you could ever want to watch without going to the theater.

At the same time cable was gaining speed, so were home videocassette recorders, a.k.a. VCRs. All of a sudden, or so it seemed, now you could just rent what you wanted to watch. All it took was going to Sears and buying a VCR. What could be simpler? And why would you bother with the drive-in when you could park your butt on your comfy couch at home instead?

Drive-ins themselves in the 1980s were in some seriously sorry-ass shape. People started going less and less and the taxes on those large properties were going up, so the owners of drive-ins started cutting a lot of corners just to turn a profit. Half the time the speaker box you used didn't work right, the gravel lots you parked on were full of potholes, the food was overpriced and terrible, the employees were underpaid and didn't give a crap about anybody, and so on. It just sucked.

Drive-ins today

The way a drive-in works now is that the movie is actually a secondary moneymaker. Fun-Lan as mentioned above is a good example of this. They are a drive-in but for four days out of the week are a flea market - and I can guarantee you they make more from the flea market part of the business.

Is Fun-Lan new? Hardly. They've been around since 1950 in one form or another and adjusted with the times so they can still turn a buck and keep the drive-in alive and well. They even added a fourth screen in 2006, the year I moved to Tampa.

Like I said above, I haven't gone yet, but it's on my to-do list. 🙂


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