Local Commentaries
11:55 am
Wed September 9, 2009

Bill Knight - September 10

Macomb, IL – Phil Doubet is on a one-man mission to revive drive-in movies - with a twist.

Instead of the traditional gravel lot facing an outdoor screen that pipes sound through clunky contraptions hanging from car windows, Doubet is creating a Do-It-Yourself drive-in experience - something he calls "Guerilla Drive-In."

Doubet, 53, said, "I went all the time as a kid. This area had all kinds of drive-ins - [Peoria's] Pioneer, the Holiday, others in Pekin, Canton, Galesburg.

"The most memorable time at a drive-in for me, I guess, was seeing all five Planet of the Apes' movies back to back at the old Bellevue Drive-In, and the speaker sparked some in the rain," he continued. "It's a new technological twist to a nostalgic idea."

The idea dates back more than 100 years, when old silent Kinescope films were projected on the sides of buildings in Hawaii, according to Susan Sanders, author of "The Great American Drive-In Movie Theater."

But it was a New Jersey merchant, Richard Hollingshead, who in 1933 first projected movies onto a screen stretched between trees in his back yard, ostensibly to promote his gas station.

The number of U.S. drive-in theaters is down to fewer than 400 today, but in the 1950s, the country had more than 5,000 drive-in theaters, attracting hundreds of thousands of movie buffs with the unique experience of watching films under the stars and with special promotions.

The "Guerilla Drive-In Project" gained some experience on a modest scale, said Doubet, who works at Komatsu in Peoria: "I've been doing this a couple of years at my house. A couple of times I borrowed a projector from work, but I didn't want to be responsible, so I got my own equipment. I used to have an FM transmitter, but it went bad, so I got a new one. This is kind of a test, I guess."

Doubet said, "[I'm] using two 12-volt marine batteries, a Coleman inverter, an Epson Home Cinema Projector, a Sony DVD player, and a Ramsey FM transmitter, [all] mounted in the back of my car to project a movie (including audio piped in stereo over the FM band to the attendees' cars)."

Doubet will announce what he's showing where on his web site.

He said, "I've been showing movies outside for people from work, family, neighbors It will be a sort of community experience type of thing, allowing people to gather and share in the splendor of the great American movie."

Elsewhere, similar ventures are springing up like roadside flowers. More than 250 chapters of "MobMov: the drive-in that drives in" are listed, including efforts in Austin, Milwaukee, Raleigh, Rochester and Tacoma.

In west-central Illinois, Doubet's hit-and-run screenings could be almost anywhere, he said, as long as there's some parking and space to watch.

He said, "The location might be the back of a warehouse, a barn, a garage, or any number of places."

Doubet plans to continue in to November showing feature films, serial episodes and other short subjects, and even classic intermission clips, usually screening public-domain films to avoid licensing fees or what he calls "the copyright police."

He added, "Maybe someday for some special occasion I'll license something, but for now there's plenty to show. This isn't a commercial deal. It's a hobby, something different - there's something special about sharing movies outdoors with others."

Meanwhile, film fans - or those who miss the great drive-ins or those who'd like to duplicate the experience for kids - can check out Doubet's web site, prepare that grocery sack full of homemade popcorn to bring, and load the family for the ride to the DIY Drive-In.