“Grease” is the word, and it’s also widely considered the quintessential, summer drive-in classic. It has all the components: catchy doo-wop, fun choreography, hot rods, colors that pop, and a musical number paying homage to the drive-in craze itself.
For those reasons, the circa-1978 film — starring the iconic John Travolta and Olivia-Newton John as reformed bad boy Danny Zuko and wholesome, yet sassy, Sandy Olsson, respectively — practically cast itself as the first film in what Sag Harbor Cinema organizers hope will become a summer-long drive-in series at Havens Beach.
“I wanted something that, as a movie, has some kind of a ritual following, that people have seen,” said artistic director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. “And it’s an experience. It blends in very well with drive-in — because drive-in is also a little bit about nostalgia.”
In collaboration with Sag Harbor Village and sponsored by the Sag Harbor Partnership, the Sag Harbor Cinema Drive-In will officially kick off with a free test run on June 21, in lieu of grand reopening festivities originally set for the second weekend in April — now postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I think it’s gonna be beautiful. It’s really gonna be a great event,” Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said. “I hope it does work to be a whole summer series. We were so close to opening the cinema and so ready, and it’s so sad that it’s not happening. So if this is a way to get people excited about going back to the movies, it’s a great start.”
On June 3, the Village Board passed a resolution that will allow the Sag Harbor Cinema to host the drive-in on Sunday nights, without requiring an additional vote provided all goes well during the initial screening, Ms. Mulcahy said — and the village does not receive any complaints that it cannot resolve.
“Our community is never quiet when they like something or when they dislike something,” Ms. Mulcahy said. “They may find out that nobody wants to come, or it also may be if the cars get there and people get bored with the movie and want to run around and get out of their cars. That will obviously not be a ‘goes well’ part of it. If people stay in their cars and watch the movie and follow the rules, that will be, ‘Yes, it went well.’
“Now that it’s summer and beautiful and near the beach, it may be more difficult to keep them in their cars,” she continued. “Aging myself rapidly, I can tell you when the Bridgehampton Commons was a drive-in movie theater, I never sat in my mother’s car. I was out there on the playground and running around, and I couldn’t tell you one movie I ever saw there, but I know we went a lot.”
The Bridgehampton drive-in served residents and tourists alike for decades, until the 1980s, when it met the fate of so many drive-ins across the country with the rise of multiplexes.
“It’s interesting because ‘Grease’ was made in ’78, and the drive-in craze was the ’60s, so this movie was already celebrating drive-in by having a scene about drive-ins,” Ms. D’Agnolo Vallan said. “It seems even more relevant. And it’s just fun. The colors of the film, the choreography, the cars, everything is great.”
Stephen Hamilton, acting director of the Sag Harbor Cinema, estimated on Monday that between 70 and 75 cars will comfortably fit in front of the pop-up screen at the designated parking area at Havens Beach. “Even though we’re in a drive-in format, we have to maintain safety, and rightly so,” he said. “We have to maintain a particular distance.”
Doors open at 8:30 p.m., and the screening will start at approximately 9 p.m. — ensuring that the event does not disrupt recreational day use of the area.
“There are boat races that go on, a lot of the boats that are kept at Havens Beach participate in a Sunday afternoon regatta, so we’ll have to be careful about traffic back and forth, how many people are parked there for that and getting them out, and things like that,” Ms. Mulcahy said. “But I think it’ll be alright. Where they’re planning on setting up is not an area that’s used for recreation, so it should be good.”
Subject to the trial run going well, future pre-approved programming will have a unifying narrative, just as Ms. D’Agnolo Vallan has structured every Sag Harbor Cinema film series around a theme in the past.
Moviegoers are encouraged to bring their own popcorn, as concessions will not be available, and to avoid idling while parked, though the film will be broadcast through the radio. While admission is free, attendees must reserve their parking space by registering at sagharborcinema.org.
“One of the many nefarious aspects of this pandemic is that it has prevented us to be together, and movie going is being together. This will offer an opportunity to be together without being at risk,” Ms. D’Agnolo Vallan said. “I think there has been a desire to do something for the community that would bring us together and salute summer, and I think that it’s great that the Cinema is involved in a solution.”