Saturday, April 6, 2019

The movie-buffs' movie par excellence: Alexander Monelli's doc, AT THE DRIVE-IN

It has become clearer and clearer over the past few years how much more difficult it is for movie theaters to attract audiences, given the continuing encroachment of cable and streaming. Imagine, then, how even more difficult it must be to keep a old-fashioned drive-in theater operating. Just how difficult -- and rewarding, as well -- we learn from the 2017 documentary, AT THE DRIVE-IN, just now arriving on DVD after a very successful and award-winning run at various film festivals.

As shot, edited and directed by Alexander Monelli, shown at left, the movie pulls us in almost immediately as we meet a fellow named Jeff Mattox, shown below, the current owner of the Mahoning Drive-in, located in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, who, along with a couple of movie-loving younger guys -- Virgil Cardamone and his friend Matt McClanahan -- have turned this very old-fashioned venue into something of a thriving business. Thriving, in part at least, because the drive-in remains open only during the warm months of the year, and because its small-but-busy staff agree to work for free.

The story of how the drive-in went from screening first-run movies (until the advent of digital meant that the barely-there theater would have to invest some $50,000 in new equipment) to screening 35-millimeter prints of  classic, horror and camp films proves a fascinating one that Mr. Monelli captures with zest and charm.

How Virgil (above, left) and Matt (center) help build up the theater's loyal customer base (together with its very loyal staff, one of whom drives all the way from New Hampshire to spend his weekends working there) makes for a quite delightful tale. This is movie-love at both its craziest and maybe purest, TrustMovies suspects.

We get to know quite a few of these people, along with some of the theater's customers (one family seem to literally worship Jason from the Friday the 13th franchise), and even are privy to the closing of the theater for one night for a local wedding -- which turns out to help pay for something the theatre really needs.

There's lots of humor here, along with emotion and even suspense (what happens when the print for Jaws doesn't show up). By the end of this ultra-charming and unusual little movie, which runs but 79 minutes, I'll bet you'll wish you could visit the Mahoning Drive-in theater in person.

From MVD Visual, the documentary hits the street this coming Tuesday, April 9 -- for purchase and (I hope) rental, too.

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