Faux drive-in better in theory than in practice

I admit that when the CineVegas lineup was first announced, as much as I was looking forward to seeing all the exciting and interesting independent films that the programmers had discovered, the thing that most caught my interest was the event Downtown re-creating the old drive-in experience and showing Them!, a 1954 sci-fi movie about giant ants. This to me seemed like the sort of fun, unique thing that CineVegas ought to do more of, something that celebrates cinema in a way that goes beyond just showing new films in regular theaters (which of course is the most important part of the festival already).

When I was in 10th grade I actually wrote a history term paper on 1950s sci-fi and its reflection of Cold War paranoia (budding film critic, clearly), and had intended to use Them! as an example but couldn't find it on video (I settled for Attack of the 50-Foot Woman instead, along with the original The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers). So I had been wanting to see Them! for years, really, and I have a certain affinity for the old drive-in that still exists in Vegas, down on Rancho and Carey near Texas Station. But the festival organizers thought that was too far for people to travel, so they set up their makeshift drive-in at 3rd Street and Ogden, across from the 3rd Street entertainment cluster.

Except it wasn't really a drive-in, because you couldn't drive in to it. A number of Escalades were set up thanks to festival sponsor Cadillac, but they were only for "VIPs" (apparently members of the press count, because I got to sit in one). The bulk of attendees just sat in chairs set up in front of a large inflatable screen, onto which the movie was projected. I could have sworn that at one point organizers had intended to bring in vintage cars for people to sit in and have waitresses on roller skates bringing around drinks and popcorn, but obviously that didn't happen. With the Escalades, it looked less like a classic drive-in and more like a hip-hop video.

At the real drive-in, you mount a speaker on your car window or tune in to the movie's audio on your car radio. Here, the sound was piped through a PA system and came out muddy; to hear the movie while in the fancy Escalade, I had to stick my head out the window. And there had to be a forced "intermission" at 10 p.m. to allow for the Fremont Street Experience light show, whose sound blares through speakers right in the drive-in area (thus making the movie run past its scheduled 11 p.m. end time and run into the light show again, which this time just barreled ahead over the movie for a few minutes before someone cut the speaker).

As our own Ken Miller has attested, Them! is a pretty decent creature feature that actually holds up fairly well, and I'm glad I finally got to see it. I'm also glad to see CineVegas trying new and different things. This experiment, though, wasn't quite a success; maybe next year it'd be worth the trek to North Las Vegas to experience the real thing.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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  • Las Vegas Weekly contributor Julie Seabaugh joins Josh to wrap up the 2009 CineVegas film festival, including award winners, local films and festival highlights.

  • CineVegas 2009 wrapped up last night with girls on rollerskates, a drive-in and a filmmaker family reunion in the heart of Las Vegas.

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