Letter From London: Stranded at the Pinewood Drive-In

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to a drive-in movie. Well, not literally as far back as I can remember. Literally as far back as I can remember, I cried at the school gates, had trouble controlling my bladder at night, and had a curious obsession with Prince Charles. But at some point during my formative years, the bit in Grease where they all go to a drive-in firmly lodged itself in my pubescent brain, and never left.

I love that scene. Everyone's making out, fighting or smoking, Danny tries and fails to get to second base with Sandy, and there's that great tracking shot where Rizzo confides in Marty that she's pregnant, and the news goes from car to car until it reaches Kenickie, who confronts Rizzo, bringing the information full circle. Cigarettes, girls, cars and movies: I wanted in. We didn't have anything like it in Britain; it was certainly never in vogue here. It all seemed so exotic, so exciting, so... American.


So when I heard the legendary Pinewood Studios had temporarily converted their water-filming backlot into a drive-in cinema, I contacted the press office and soon found myself speeding up there in a vintage car (from Classiccarclub.com, I am obliged to inform you), which would supposedly enhance my drive-in experience.

Cars have always been a purely functional part of my life, and mine have never been particularly sexy. If the engine works, I'll have it. But I was playing Danny Zuko this weekend, and I wanted to feel like a T-Bird down at the drive-in with my good lady. So I said, "Yes, please, I will have the convertible Mercedes." Fortuitously, last week saw the UK release of Eric Bana's Love The Beast, a doc about the actor's 25-year relationship with his 1974 Ford GT Falcon Coupe that Movieline first called to your attention at the Tribeca Film Festival. I watched it in an attempt to fully appreciate my weekend automobile. It's a vaguely interesting, marginally entertaining (if not at all cinematic) film, which masquerades as a tale of nostalgia, passion and friendship, as Bana waxes lyrical about his "beast," races it professionally, and gets a bit of psychological input from fellow vehicle fetishists Jay Leno, Jeremy Clarkson, and Dr. Phil (the latter being a celebrity of bewildering status to Brits). It's all mildly diverting, but won't have given Roland Emmerich any sleepless nights this weekend, and as far as I can conclude, the film has one clear message: Eric Bana loves his car.

Up I rocked to Pinewood in my own beast.

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  • hellcat says:

    This article brought me back to the soggy, muddy drive-in theatre of my childhood. The first drive-in movie I saw was Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I was way too young to understand that it wasn't scary. The name was scary and so were those huge tomatoes.

  • emberglance says:

    The photo does look somewhat like the top floor of an NCP car park. But you have put your finger on something very significant here - the lack of "movieness" and mystique of England that often makes its films seem lacklustre runs deep - the enormous difference between Don Corleone and Harold Shand...

  • Thresher says:

    They're called "switchblades" here in America. And yes, atmosphere is everything. The last time I saw a film at the drive-in it was in New Mexico with a terrific lightning storm in the background. True Lies was the picture. Great stuff.

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