It’s a familiar scene in popular culture: Groups of teenagers and families packed in their cars, radio dials tuned to FM signals, billowing cigarette smoke forming clouds in the projector light. Such was the magic of the drive-in cinema, with its eclectic blend of innocence and rebellion, sociability and privacy. With its rebirth during the COVID-19 pandemic, moviegoers can experience this magic for themselves. The Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre, Montreal’s first multipurpose drive-in, has succeeded in emulating this beloved past, providing audiences with a safe outlet to enjoy the big screen.
With the fate of cinema and live performance uncertain, the Royalmount Drive-In, which opened on June 21, has come at an opportune time. By its very nature, the drive-in adheres to physical distancing requirements: Viewers can watch films from the comfort of their cars or seated right outside of them, within demarcations that ensure moviegoers remain at safe distances from one another. In addition to movies, the venue hosts comedy shows, charity and fundraising events, and live music.
Drive-in theatres have resonated with audiences since their inception for a variety of reasons. Cultural Studies professor Ned Schantz explained that drive-ins were symptomatic of mid-20th century car culture.
“[People would be] looking for any reason to be in [their] car because it was so important,” Schantz said. “Cars [were] so deeply tied to peoples’ identities. They were essential status symbols, and just loved in all sorts of ways.”
The drive-in emerged in part because of white flight, the postwar movement during which many white Americans left urban centres that were becoming more ethnically diverse.
“With the new suburb, it [was] cheaper to just throw up a screen [at] a dirt lot at the outskirts of town,” Schantz said. “Largely because of the antitrust legislation of the late ’40s […] there [was] suddenly a lot more money in making cheap B-movies [….] The other thing going [was that] drive-ins thrived wherever there [was] cheap land. The three places with the biggest drive-in cultures are the U.S., Canada, and Australia, countries with more land than people.”
With the resurgence of drive-ins across North America, it’s clear that the enthusiasm for the summertime custom remains undiminished. Those seeking out new avenues for social interaction have increased traffic for drive-ins. Whispers and laughter amongst friends and families, some seated inside their cars with their windows rolled down, others lounging outside on folding chairs, all delighting in a shared movie experience, gives the Royalmount Drive-In a refreshing community atmosphere.
Further, the drive-in offers a genuine, immersive movie experience, with its 50-foot LED screen and premium sound quality. This gives viewers two ways of approaching the event—either as a means of consuming cinema, contemporary and old alike, or as an authentic and nostalgic social experience. Drive-in staples, such as concessions delivered right to your car door, and screenings of throwback films, from Casablanca (1942) to Grease (1978), bolster the Royalmount Drive-In’s sentimental spirit, transporting spectators back to simpler times.
The Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre brings the golden age of the drive-in cinema to our present, fostering togetherness and connection. In the age of social distancing, the drive-in cinema provides a breath of fresh air, bringing strangers together through a continued tradition of movie-watching.
The Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre will continue to run films and live events until the end of October. Tickets can be purchased online through driveinmtl.com.