Drive-inperfection (memories are born of flaws, and that’s a good thing)


My first real movie experience was at a drive-in, watching the original Pete’s Dragon in 1977. I was five years old.

It was all mesmerizing. From the crackling speakers that were hung on the inside of the car windows, to the dark lines on the picture from the imperfect screen surface.

There were real people singing and dancing with a cartoon dragon!

Windshields would fog up. Headlights would occasionally blot out the image. Sometimes people would honk a horn as they repositioned themselves. Bugs would swarm around the projector. You had to go out into the cold to pee after drinking too much hot chocolate.

All of these hurdles were tolerated for a chance to see a movie on the ‘big screen’, even if the movie wasn’t great. Eventually, it became a ritual. We would prepare for the hardships, and hunker down to enjoy the whole experience. We packed our own food, brought pillows and blankets, figured out how to configure the seats and find the best locations to park the car.

The problem-solving and optimizations created stronger memories. The experience itself added an extra layer to the film itself— The Muppet Movie (1979 where Animal grows 50 feet tall), The China Syndrome (1979 where I was supposed to be asleep in the back seat), Superman II (1980 where the opening scene with glowing-eyed robot-woman terrified me), etc etc.

Now I have a big flat screen TV, a blu-ray player, and surround sound speakers. I have dimmable lights and adjustable volume for real-time optimal viewing. The movie experience is close to perfect.

And I don’t remember any of them. I don’t remember the first movie I watched on my television. I had the choice of all movies. I don’t remember what I snacked on. I had the choice of all snacks. I don’t remember if I had go to the bathroom in the middle of it, because I didn’t miss a second. I remember the movies, but I forget the watching.

When there is no scarcity, when there are no flaws, entertainment is just another commodity. Memories are not made out of ideal, abundant moments—they are formed from anomalous events, things that are imperfect, that are interesting.

Maybe that’s the magic.

Pete’s Dragon trailer from 1977
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