“I’ve always been a fan of the dri-ve-in,” admits Sag Harbor’s Debbie Skinner. “I grew up by the Whitestone Bridge in Queens — in the south Bronx there was the Whitestone Drive-In.”
“When I moved out here, we often went to the drive-in in Bridgehampton before the Commons were built,” adds Skinner. “When the children were small, we’d put them in pjs and pile them into the station wagon. We’d turn the car sideways so everyone could see. Sometimes we would bring a hibachi.”
Skinner is the director of Sag Harbor’s YARD (Youth Advocacy and Resource Development) program which provides recreational activities for teens. Skinner oversees the recreation program at Long Beach (offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Labor Day). In addition to supervising activities like beach volleyball, each summer, Skinner selects the film to be screened at Long Beach courtesy of Southampton Town, which hosts movies throughout town each summer. Skinner’s still mulling over which flick to pick for this year’s screening on August 3 at Long Beach.
“It has to be as entertaining to the parents as to the children,” opines Skinner. “It has to be rated G or PG and it really has to appeal to a lot of people on a lot of different levels. I was thinking of ‘Mall Cop’ for this year.”
Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just sheer nostalgia, but outdoor movies, it seems, have returned in a big way. It’s been years since locals could to go to the Bridgehampton Drive-In, located where King Kullen is now. But the theater is still recalled with great fondness.
“I always loved the dancing hot dogs and the ‘10 minutes to go’ scene… that was the best part,” says Skinner. “Plus those big clunky speakers you put on the window.”
Purists, brace yourself. Big clunky speakers are no more, having gone the way of the Edsel. An FM car radio is how it’s done now. The Southampton Chamber of Commerce is planning a “drive-in night” at the Elks Grounds on County Road 39 this month (“Madagascar Escape 2 Africa” is scheduled for July 23), and this one will allow viewers to watch from their cars — using the radio to hear the soundtrack. Viewers are also invited to bring blankets or beach chairs and watch from ground level in front of the cars.
This is the first time the Southampton Chamber has offered movie s — it’s a fundraiser for the organization — and for executive director Millie Fellingham, it was vital that people be able to watch from the car, just like in the old days. Zac Allentuck, a chamber member and founder of Hamptons Drive-In, a company that provides outdoor movies all over the East End, assured her it could be done.
“There’s nothing like it — you can’t beat it,” says Fellingham who grew up in Smithtown and remembers going to many a drive-in. “It was just fabulous. When I was in fourth grade, my parents took us to see ‘Psycho.’ They thought we’d sleep, but we were awake and peeking over the backseat. It’s stayed with me. I took a shower last night and I thought, ‘I didn’t lock the door!’”
One reason the outdoor movie may have made a comeback in recent years is the equipment. Portable inflatable screens come in all sizes and instead of temperamental movie projectors with bulbs that burn out and reels that need changing, it’s possible to project a film from DVD without losing quality.
For the second summer, Silas Marder is offering outdoor films on the hay wall at his gallery property on Snake Hollow Road, in Bridgehampton. Ironically, his outdoor theater is just on the other side of the railroad tracks from the old Bridgehampton drive-in. The occasional train passing by, he notes, adds to the ambiance. Guests bring picnics and blankets and make themselves comfortable on the grass or hay bales. To keep mosquitoes at bay, Marders mists an organic peppermint spray before screenings as a repellent — a little aroma therapy with the film.
“We do a 10 film series now,” says Marder. “In the last few years, we’ve done three or four a season. It’s always something we wanted in the overall program at Marder’s. The far side of the garden is where the films are screened and I designed it to show films — there’s a slope, a platform and a stage. When you’re there, you don’t feel anywhere near the rest of the world.”
“I wanted the gallery at Marder’s to be more than just artwork,” he adds. “I grew up down the road from Ashawagh Hall. It’s such a community center, I wanted this to be a place where people could go and have interaction and be engaged.”
While other venues lean toward family animated films for their series, Marder goes for older offerings at his theater — black and white favorites including cult classics, thriller pics, westerns or film school masterpieces. Marder recalls being influenced by films he studied in school in New York and London.
“That was really fantastic,” he says. “A lot of the ideas paralleled things I learned about garden design and bigger concepts at the time. We’ve done lots of Hitchcock and Orson Welles. I’m a huge enthusiast of Orson Welles.’
“We want to challenge people a little bit,” adds Marder. “Everyone’s been really present and into it. They show up early, bring a picnic and a beach chair or blanket, let the sun set over the hay wall and get comfortable.”
Showing old films also gives people an opportunity to relive the group experience of watching a classic generally seen these days in the privacy of a living room.
“There’s a sense of camaraderie, everyone applauded at the end when we showed ‘The Graduate’ last week.” he says. “There’s something about being outside with the moonlight, the garden — it’s this classic Hampton’s experience. People are looking for something real.”
“Last year, it rained in the middle of the Marx Brothers, but most everyone stayed,” says Marder. “That’s the biggest part of the experience. In a home or even an indoor theater, it’s such a controlled environment, you don’t get that spontaneity. This makes it something different.”
Movies at Marder’s (120 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton, 702-2306) offers John Ford’s “The Searchers” on July 10, Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” on July 17, Michael Curtiz’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” on July 24, Francois Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” on July 31, Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot” on August 7, Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on August 14, William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” on August 21, Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca” on August 28. Films are free and begin at dusk. Bring a beach chair and picnic.
Southampton Chamber of Commerce “Drive-In Movie” (Southampton Elks Ground, 605 County Road 39A, Southampton) will be “Madagascar Escape 2 Africa” on July 23 (raindate July 28). Gates open 7 p.m. Admission is $40 per carload for in-car viewing ($25 per carload for general parking — bring blanket or chair). Film starts at dark. Refreshments will be available for sale. Proceeds benefit the chamber’s Building Expansion Fund. Call 283-0402 for more information or reservations.
“Goonies” will be screened on July 14, 8 p.m. on the grounds of The Jewish Center of the Hamptons, 44 Woods Lane, East Hampton. Bring a blanket or beach chair. Popcorn will be served. Suggested donation is $7 ($5 child) and benefits Camp Karole. Call 324-9858 for details.
A series of three Family Movie Nights of ‘80s Classics will be offered at the Children’s Museum of the East End (376 Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton) — “Big” on July 9 (raindate July 13), “Back to the Future” on July 30 (raindate August 6) and “Ghostbusters on August 13 (raindate August 18). CMEE’s amphitheater opens at 7:30 p.m. and movies begin at dark. Admission is $10 ($5 child). Beverages, snacks and popcorn will be available. The series is sponsored by the East Hampton Rotary Club. Call 537-8250 for details.
Southampton Town’s “Movies in The Park” are scheduled for Monday, July 20, 8:30 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Great Lawn, Monday, August 3, 8:30 p.m. at Long Beach, Sag Harbor and Monday, August 17, 8 p.m. at East Quogue’s Village Green. Bring a blanket and bug spray. Call 728-8585 for details.
Above: A movie on the haywall at Marder’s