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The future-retro entrance to the Malco Summer Drive-In.
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Black Lodge Video co-founder Matt Martin (left) and Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy. Martin is an organizer of the Time-Warp series, and the first installment of McCarthy’s new science fiction serial Waif premiered during the event.
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Corn dogs kept warm under red heat lamps are among the fare offered at the drive-in’s concession stand.
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Fans dressed as the Tank Girl character from the movie of the same name enjoy concessions during intermission.
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The neon-glow of self-serve popcorn is a classic staple of a night at the movies.
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Ash Tierney (left) and Matt Martin kiss outside during the Time Warp drive-in.
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Projectionist Don Swindell takes in the view from the Malco Summer Drive-in’s projection booth.
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The late-night faithful socialize as midnight nears during the movie marathon.
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Writer Eileen Townsend watches Sin City from outside the projection booth.
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A movie-goer stoops under a barricade separating two of the drive-in’s screens on his way to the concession stand.
The Summer Drive-In is four screens, a yellow-lit concession stand, and enough brown concrete to hold 2,000 cars. Set off from the busy street that is Summer Avenue by hourglass-shaped, space-age sculptures and a teal marquee, the drive-in feels as if it hasn’t changed much since the first moon landing. It’s better for it: There are few things more welcome on a summer night than posting up with take-out and a friend for four hours of good (or bad) cinema.
I found myself alongside photographer Brandon Dill at the drive-in on a warm Friday evening earlier this summer, parked in a bevy of pre-movie tailgaters and makeshift picnics. The sun was still up as a small crowd gathered. We were here for something slightly different than the usual summer blockbusters. Instead, the groups of punk teenagers, committed-looking old-timers, and young families had gathered for the Time Warp Drive-In, an all-night screening of cult classics put on by Black Lodge Video and local B-list movie auteur, Mike McCarthy.
Though the Time Warp folks have been hosting overnight marathons for several years, the event is not so much an institution as it is an improvisation on all the things a drive-in movie experience can be. In addition to old (but not forgotten) movies, they screen vintage commercials, concert footage, questionable television excerpts, or whatever fits the theme. There are bands and MC's and intermissions. People sell T-shirts and comics in the lot. This night’s theme was “Comic Book Hardcore,” which featured four back-to-back movies based on comics or graphic novels.
Says Matt Martin, co-owner of Black Lodge Video, “The tradition of all-night movie marathons is very old. It made sense for drive-ins. Why not go all night? A drive-in invites you to define your night moment by moment, whether you’re sitting outside with friends or taking a walk or hanging out in your car.”
As the sun set, I looked around, attempting to determine the true-blue film buffs among us: How many people would make it until 4 a.m.? I personally hoped I’d stick it out until 2 a.m. or so because I was excited for the third movie of the night, Tank Girl, a low-budget apocalyptic film about a girl and her heavy artillery. But I wasn’t sure I’d make it to Blade, the 2:30 a.m. offering.
That’s okay, according to Martin. The nature of the Time Warp isn’t to watch everything. “I try to pick movies where we’re thinking in terms of the attention span someone can have overnight,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll choose movies based on a phenomenal soundtrack. We try to make it easy to follow along even if you can’t be watching every second of it.”
In other words: It’s a social experience. Pack enough water, a warm blanket (even in the summertime), and don’t be afraid to stretch your legs and talk to folks. You never know who you might meet in a time warp.