DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Scenes from an Outdoor Screen

For those who came of  age between the late 1940s and the mid 1970s, the drive-in theater was often a place to be. Youngsters in their pajamas found it fun to take in a movie with their family before falling asleep. Teenagers loved the drive-ins, albeit less for the movies than as a perfect place to practice night moves on the opposite sex. Meanwhile, the few oldsters in their cars struggled to hear the dialog on the tiny, tinny single metal speakers attached to the drivers side windows of their Ford or Chevy station wagons.

But no matter what the reason, there was something truly cool about watching a film on a giant outdoor screen. But several changes conspired to bring about the death of the drive-in. On the economic side, land prices became too high to continue to use valuable real estate for what was essentially a warm-weather only business. At the same time, the advent of color television, followed by the introduction of VCRs and video rentals contributed to the downfall. By the late 1980s, only a handful of what were once more than 4,000 drive-ins nationwide remained in operation.

But as the 21st century dawned, a new type of outdoor theater blossomed. While the drive-ins were mostly situated in suburban or rural areas, the new outdoor films offered an urban experience. Utilizing names like "Screen on the Green," neighborhoods in cities around America began showing once-a-week films in the summer. Technology allowed for giant, collapsible screens and state of the art sound speakers that could be installed and taken down quickly. And although the drive-ins had always been cheap entertainment, the city screens were an even better value - they were free.
Here's a look at the Crystal Screen setting

For the past 6 years, our neighborhood of Crystal City has been offering such films. The screen is set up in a large plaza between 2 high-rise office buildings every Monday night for 13 weeks. Mobile food trucks replace the old concession stands for hungry movie goers. Some sites use porta-potties, but in upscale Crystal City an adjacent Marriott provided that bathroom service.

So last night Judy and I grabbed a blanket and walked less than a block to join hundreds of our neighbors at this week's Crystal Screen presentation. Like many of the community screenings, Crystal Screen shows a series of movies with a theme, which this year is RomCom (or chick flicks as they are commonly called). Tonight's choice was the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere classic of that genre Pretty Woman. When we moved to Crystal City last year, we vowed to attend at least one showing a season. Last year's theme had been By The Numbers (each of the titles offered had a number in its title) and our choice was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Like many of the other screenings, Crystal Screen is sponsored by a business or government organization, in this case the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) to promote community growth. At the end of each season, residents are allowed to vote on next year's movies either at the Bell Street movie site or on-line. The 2013 season will feature Blockbusters. To see what choices are being considered, you can click here for the voting list.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As soon at this year's Crystal Screen offerings were released, I knew we would be attending Pretty Woman, which is one of my wife Judy's 2 favorite romantic comedies, the other being Dirty Dancing. Fortunately, while they aren't my favorites, I can watch both movies. Interesting, last night I found Pretty Woman taking on a different motif in light of this year's presidential race. For those of you who have never seen the film or need a plot refresher, in the modern version of the Cinderella story, Richard Gere stars as a cold, extremely wealthy business tycoon who finds true love with a lovely and loving prostitute portrayed by Julia Roberts. In the movie, Gere's character buys businesses, breaks them into parts, and sells off the parts for much more money than the whole could ever bring (Sound like any GOP presidential candidate we know, Mr. Romney)? By the end of the film, Gere's character has found his heart in both business and love. Of course it's only a reworking of a fairy tale, but I wonder if Romney could have such a revelation if he is elected president? Anybody know what Julia Roberts is doing for the next 4 years?

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