Popcorn in the grass
Movies in the Park series returns to lawns across city for 12th year
06/07/2012 2:42 PM
Watching movies outdoors is as American as apple pie and baseball.
Cramming friends and family into a car and cruising over to the local drive-in movie theater to catch a flick under the stars is one of our country’s great national pastimes. A specific sense of community exists at the drive-in. Folks interact with each other and the film, enjoy cheap concessions or snacks and beverages smuggled from home, and make out in the backseats of cars — all while the visual and auditory soundtrack of cinema shoots across the summer sky.
Unfortunately, the drive-in is a dying breed. Mammoth multi-screen cineplexes, DVD rentals and online streaming and other modern viewing conveniences have killed the experience. As movie-going became a private, singular affair, once-prosperous drive-in theaters were razed or simply abandoned and left to rot, threatening public outdoor movie watching with extinction.
Luckily, Chicago is fighting back.
The 12th Annual Movies in the Park series, sponsored by the Chicago Park District and Charter One, keeps the experience alive with outdoor screenings of films in public parks across the city from June through September — all for free. The films screened range from a variety of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Forrest Gump, E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, Hugo, Moneyball and Ghostbusters to cinema classics such as Singin’ in the Rain, The African Queen, The Wizard of Oz, High Noon and Some Like It Hot and points in between.
The series launches in grand style with a screening of Vertigo at Belmont Harbor on Monday, June 11. Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller about an acrophobic ex-detective (James Stewart) who unravels mysteries and doubles-crosses as he snoops on an acquaintance’s wife (Kim Novak) is the perfect opener — an untouchable classic guaranteed to please all ages.
Mass appeal is crucial to the series’ success. The featured films are all family friendly, but they never veer into dippy, condescending kid fare (the inclusion of the recent live-action treatment of The Smurfs notwithstanding). Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Rango, Puss in Boots, The Princess Bride and more possess a universality that speaks to kids of all ages.
Of all the series’ offerings, the action and sci-fi flicks featured more closely fit the drive-in model.
The drive-in of yore was home to alien invasions, deep space exploits, espionage escapades, explosive adventures and other B-grade entertainments. Big fun outside was the name of the game. Similar popcorn fare offered this year — Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Real Steel, The Goonies and more — help Movies in the Park approximate that classic experience.
In the past, Movies in the Park has faced criticism for its programming. It’s been accused of being bland, obvious and lacking cinematic substance and weight. Such objections miss the point. At Movies in the Park, film is not the focus. Rather, it’s one piece of a large puzzle. Combined with the outdoor setting and an audience gathered on blankets and lawn chairs (some of whom pay only passing attention to the film as they enjoy drinks and picnics), it helps create a unique, communal experience that ties the past to the present.
For a complete schedule of films, showtimes and locations, visit the Chicago Park District online at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/movies/