Film Noir

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
As Moses in Hollywood's great epic 'The Ten Commandments', Charlton Heston may have been able to part the Red Sea, but even he is powerless to stop the decline of one of the most enduring icons of 1950s America.

In darkness, on the edge of towns all over the US, drive-in movies brought together two of the boom industries of post-war America: the motor car and the motion picture.

Richard Hollingshead began the trend by projecting films on to his garage door in New Jersey in the early 1930s. His novel entertainment was popular in the neighbourhood, and he opened the first al fresco movie theatre in 1933. By the late Fifties there were more than 5,000 drive-ins, like this one overlooking Salt Lake City in Utah.

While driving and watching movies were twin obsessions among the newly-mobile, newly-affluent teenagers, there was another reason why these parking lots with a cinema screen proved so popular. Courting couples could canoodle in their well-uphols-tered 'passion wagons', away from the gaze of their parents.

Today drive-ins are disappearing fast. Efforts were made to update their image by improving the sound, but the superior technology of video, cable, satellite and the air-conditioned movie multi-plexes have all claimed their share of the cinema-going public. They are now abandoning these city-limit sites and consigning their romantic liaisons - on screen and off - to the memories of a generation.

Harvey McGavin

Turn to page 34 for Ted Wragg's Teaching Tips on the Big Picture.

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