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80 Years of Drive-in Theaters

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Getty Images

The outdoor movie theater, born in 1933 in Pennsauken, N.J., turned 80 on June 6. What started as an experiment from chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. changed the way movie-goers experienced motion pictures. Hollingshead started small. Really small. His prototype consisted of a screen nailed to trees in his backyard, a radio behind the screen, and a 1928 Kodak projector positioned carefully on the hood of his car. And this all happened from his driveway.

Hollingshead got the idea from his mother, a tall woman who found traditional theater seats to be uncomfortable.

After receiving a patent for his idea, Hollingshead expanded, opening up the drive-in theater in Pennsauken with 400 car slots and a 40-by-50-foot screen. The first film ever shown was Wives Beware. Hollingshead chose to screen the film because it had already been in theaters for a few weeks, and he didn’t want any conflict with major releases at other theaters.

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Back then, going to a drive-in was about more than just watching a movie.

Hollingshead’s theater only operated for three years, but the concept caught on elsewhere. Drive-ins' popularity spiked in the late '50s and early '60s, especially in rural areas.

“Going to the drive-in is about the experience. … It was not about the movie,” filmmaker April Wright told USA Today after completing a documentary about the rise and fall of drive-ins.

Parents jumped on board because they could shuttle the family, and teens loved the idea because it was ideal for dates. And some drive-in owners tried to appease both audiences, showing both family-friendly entertainment and B films—which grew more trashy with time.

At the height of the outdoor concept, 4000 drive-ins were being operated. Over the years, though, the numbers have waned. This year, the number sits at 357. Only 1.5 percent of movie theaters are drive-ins; at the height of their popularity, drive-ins comprised 25 percent of all theaters.

Courtesy of Flickr user Chuck Wilson

In the '70s, the fad started to decline, largely because of the gas crisis and the increasing value of real estate. Eventually cable TV, at-home movies, malls, and even bucket seats in cars took their toll.

But one good sign about the future? Drive-in owners today who have made the switch to digital projection are obviously in for the long haul, making a commitment to stick around “for 20 or 30 years,” Wright said.

Playing on the nostalgia of the 80th anniversary, Instagram launched a special page to feature its users’ drive-in experiences.

Sources: Parade, USAToday, Wikipedia.

5 Film Transitions Worth Knowing

You see them every day, on TV shows, the news, and in movies, but how well do you know the most oft-used film transitions? Here are the big five:


The dissolve is an editing technique where one clip seems to fade—or dissolve—into the next. As the first clip is fading out, getting lighter and lighter, the second clip starts fading in, becoming more and more prominent. The process usually happens so subtly and so quickly, the viewer isn't even aware of the transition. The above video offers a great overview of the cut, with examples.


This transition is the opposite of the dissolve in that it draws attention to itself. The best example of the wipe is what's known as the Iris Wipe, which you usually find in silent films, like Buster Keaton's or the Merrie Melodies cartoons—the circle getting smaller and smaller. Other wipe shapes include stars, diamonds, and the old turning clock.

The Star Wars films are chock-full of attention-grabbing wipes. Here are two good examples from The Empire Strikes Back. The first shows the clock wipe; the second, the diagonal wipe (pay no attention to the broken blocks at the start of the second clip—that's a technical glitch, not part of the film).


As the name implies, in the basic cutaway, the filmmaker is moving from the action to something else, and then coming back to the action. Cutaways are used to edit out boring shots (like people driving to their destination—why not see what the character is seeing or even thinking sometimes?) or add action to a sequence by changing the pace of the footage. My favorite use of the cutaway is in Family Guy, where the technique is used to insert throwaway gags. Here's a great example:


The L Cut, also called a split edit, is a very cool technique whose name dates back to the old analog film days.

The audio track on a strip of celluloid film runs along the side, near the sprocket holes. In the L Cut transition, the editor traditionally cut the picture frames out of the strip, but left the narrow audio track intact, thus creating an L-shape out of the film. A different camera angle, or scene was then spliced into the spot where the old picture was, so the audio from the old footage was now cut over the new footage.

Of course, with digital editing, one doesn't need to physically cut anything anymore, but the transition is still widely used, and the name has remained the same.

Split edits like these are especially effective in portraying conversations. Imagine how a simple conversation between two people might look if all we ever got was a ping-pong edit back and forth between the two people talking. The L cut allows the viewer to read the emotion on the listener's face, as the dialogue continues over, as we see in this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:


The fade in and fade out usually signal the beginning or end of a scene, especially if the filmmaker is fading to/from black. This is the most common, of course, but fading to white has become trendy, too. The opening title sequence from the HBO series Six Feet Under featured many fades to black and a couple brief fades to white. The very last bit in the sequence fades slowly to white, and is my all-time favorite example of the transition:

science fiction
Why So Many Aliens in Pop Culture Look Familiar

Aliens have been depicted countless times in cinema, from Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902) to James Cameron's Avatar (2009). But despite the advancements in special-effects technology over the past century, most aliens we see on screen still share a lot of similarities—mainly, they look, move, and interact with the world like humans do. Vox explains how the classic alien look came to be in their new video below.

When you picture an alien, you may imagine a being with reptilian skin or big, black eyes, but the basic components of a human body—two arms, two legs, and a head with a face—are likely all there. In reality, finding an intelligent creature that evolved all those same features on a planet millions of light-years away would be an extraordinary coincidence. If alien life does exist, it may not look like anything we've ever seen on Earth.

But when it comes to science fiction, accuracy isn't always the goal. Creating an alien character humans can relate to may take priority. Or, the alien's design may need to work as a suit that can be worn by human performers. The result is a version of extraterrestrial life that looks alien— but not too alien—to movie audiences.

So if aliens probably won't have four limbs, two eyes, and a mouth, what would they look like if we ever met them person? These experts have some theories.

[h/t Vox]


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