When evening fell, the movies began to unfurl. The crowd thinned down to a group of die-hards and settled in for a night of entertainment under the stars. Short subjects between films included a Mr. Magoo cartoon and a pair of Three Stooges shorts, including the controversial fave “You Nazty Spy” (this drew roaring laughter from the crowd). The following is a rundown of the feature films shown, along with annotation from Your Humble Reviewer:
Billy Jack: this period piece offers a veritable smörgåsbord of free-thinking, post-hippie ideals and concerns (the plight of the American Indian, Montessori schooling, the generation gap, role-play therapy, etc.), with a little Hapkido-style ass-whooping on the side for commercial spice. It was probably a bit too slow of an opener for this crowd (one bonehead in the crowd nearby spent much of the film doing a drunken shout-back to the screen) but Tom Laughlin’s towering presence in the title role still impresses. Sadly, the print was very beat-up: the first few minutes was missing, the colors had fade badly (with a pinkish tone settling in) and a re-spliced section played backwards & upside down for about a minute near the end.
Convoy: a mess, but a fascinating mess. Sam Peckinpah takes the reins of an cinematic adaptation of a popular 1970’s hit and tries to turn what should have been a Hal Needham-style action comedy into a Big Statement on individualism in America. Time has only enhanced its eccentricities. You can’t say it works but you can’t take your eyes off it, either. Print quality: a little faded and scratchy but intact and watchable.
The Road Warrior: the kick-ass sequel to Mad Max remains an intense, action-packed blast, packed with insane stunts and amazing photography. Mel Gibson’s star may have plummeted due to his behavior in the last few years but his work here remains as iconic as ever — and no one has ever directed vehicular action as skillfully as George Miller did in this and the first Mad Max. In short, perfect drive-in fare. Print quality: again, a little faded and scratchy but intact and watchable.
Stunt Rock: sadly, this is where Your Humble Reviewer began to fade out. He got through a half hour’s worth of this wonderfully bizarre mixture of 1970’s theatrical hard-rock and over-the-top, death-defying stunt work. It’s a real party-hearty piece of work and the print was the best of the four that Your Humble Reviewer saw, looking astonishingly sharp and colorful (it had to be a fairly fresh print because it looked that good).
Those who made it to the end also got to see the blaxploitation fave Cleopatra Jones. Though Your Humble Reviewer left the premises before it began, he can heartily recommend it from past viewing experiences: it’s a colorful and exciting flick with a great orchestral-soul score, fun performances (Shelley Winters is the scene-stealer as the dope-dealer villain, “Mommy”) and tightly-crafted action scenes courtesy of director Jack Starrett.
Overall, Drive Invasion 2010 was a worthwhile experience. It offered a chance to see a fascinating mixture of punk/rockabilly hipsters mixing peacefully with some good ol’ boys and a batch of flicks that you would never see projected otherwise, the latter element made all the sweeter by getting to see them at a genuine drive-in.
The only real downside to this event, at least from the schlock-cinephile perspective, would be that the film portion of the event is overshadowed by the music portion. It might be worth having a few less musical acts in the future because much of the crowd was exhausted by the time the movies started rolling. Also, this would allow the movies to begin a little earlier (let’s face it, most of the audience will be out cold by 4 a.m. at an all-day fest like this, particularly if they’ve been there all day).
Along the same lines, it would be nice if a bit more “show business” was put into the presentation of the films. The programming of the films didn’t really pay attention to pace or judging the crowd’s mood: for example, it would have packed more of a punch if it began with a high-octane number like The Road Warrior instead of the not-exactly-pace-conscious Billy Jack.
There’s also room for more showmanship in the presentation of the movies, like having a little d.j.-style chatter over the drive-in’s p.a. system to jazz the crowd up (and if horror flicks are included in future screenings, it would be fun to have folks running around in costumes and masks to do spook-show-type stuff during the big shocks).
However, what remains is still a fine event that delivers plenty of entertainment for the $28 admission price. There’s nothing quite like seeing a vintage fave projected on a big screen under the stars — and the Drive Invasion is a great way to make that wish come true. If you can get Atlanta come next October, it’s well worth checking out.