Celluloid's Last Gasp at the Drive-In

Multiplexes across the country (as well as across the world) have already begun their conversion to digital projection. Despite the outcry from cinephiles and film preservationists, it seems a sure thing that celluloid is in its death throes. One last bastion has been the drive-in theater, which itself is a fading dinosaur, but there are still some beloved outdoor movie venues at various places throughout the country. Is there anything more "Americana" than watching a movie outside during a warm summer night? Drive-ins were one of the few operations that were keeping celluloid reels alive, but now digitization might be taking over that arena too.

I was listening to a radio broadcast the other night, I think it was my local NPR station, and they were reporting on the big expense for drive-in businesses to convert from celluloid to digital (I wish I had the link so you could hear it). While some might believe that the drive-in is extinct, some communities still enjoy driving their cars to places where they're given an audio speaker to listen to the movie that's on view on the giant screen in front of them beneath the big sky.

Hollywood, apparently, is stepping up and helping to defray the cost of adding digital projectors and broadband connections for the distribution and exhibition of their products, as it did for some of the traditional film theaters. For many of these drive-in theaters, the digital revolution might be what keeps them alive.


Celluloid film will eventually be an antiquated idea, if it hasn't become so already. The language of film will continue to have hold-over words and phrases that no longer apply to the modern way of showing movies, but they will still remain in our lexicon (such as "cut," "roll," and "film" itself).

How will the experience of watching movies (indoors or out) change as we switch from the old way to the new? Those who love going to the drive-in at least might be able to enjoy a crisper image (and the fact that drive-ins still exist at all), even if a bit of that nostalgic magic found in celluloid might eventually be gone.

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