Alexandria, VA – June 1 marked the 45th anniversary of the release of the original film blockbuster Jaws, the story of a summer island community capsized by a predatory Great White shark with a penchant for snacking on tourists. One of director Steven Spielberg’s earliest and still most successful productions, the film terrorized movie and beach goers alike. Like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Jaws was marketed to instill fear, and it was so successful that some have never set so much as a toe back in the ocean. “You’ll Never Go in the Water Again.” That’s how they branded the horror.
Catch phrases from the film pervade the vernacular today:
• “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (Third on the list of Hollywood’s top hundred quoted film lines.)
• “That’s some bad hat, Harry.”
• “Larry, Larry, if we make an effort today we might be able to save August.”
• “August!?!…tomorrow’s the 4th of July and we will be open for business.”
The location of Martha’s Vineyard was chosen because the working fishing community and its reliance on middle-class tourism best represented how destructive shutting down the beaches and waters would be for the (then) relatively unknown island off Cape Cod. The film resonates today as Alexandria businesses struggle to recover from COVID-19 closures. Summer is coming and pervasive fear of a lethal virus has upended not just the economy, but life as we know it.
Memorial Day weekend traditionally kicks off summer’s bonanza of action features and animated movies. All the Commonwealth except Northern Virginia was in Phase 1 of reopening for the holiday at the end of May, but film fans are still relying on streaming services, On Demand options, rentals, and AMC Stubs to offer new releases and the films that opened as the shutdown occurred.
CBS recently announced the revival of the CBS Sunday Night Movies, a beloved vestige from broadcasting days before people had VCRs. Major motion picture releases traditionally left theaters up to a year before screening on television, and then on to cable. One of the first Sunday night features was the blockbuster Titanic, an all-time top grossing film.
How can we save the summer blockbusters? Phase 2, likely to begin by mid-summer, entails more relaxed social distancing limitations, with a maximum of 50 persons at one time in one place. The logistics of accommodating theater goers is less daunting than seating 43,000 in a ballpark, but with fewer seats available in multiplex screening spaces, six-foot minimum spacing in all directions is untenable. And as Larry David In Curb Your Enthusiasm would delight in expounding on, you would still have to crawl over that person in the aisle seat!
One unexpected and positive result of theater closures has been the resurgence of the drive-in movie. Some movie theaters and wineries are getting creative, repurposing expansive parking lots into makeshift drive-ins using inflatable screens and portable sound systems. And there are two real drive-ins not so far from Alexandria.
The Family Drive-In Theater in Stephens City, Virginia reopened in May, showing family favorites such as E.T. and Despicable Me. They will be screening retro films and classics until new studio releases become available. Look forward to seeing Tom Hanks in Greyhound from the comfort of your SUV. Tickets are purchased online.
Bengies Drive-In Theater in Baltimore can’t open for the season yet, despite the lifting of the stay-at-home order, with Governor Hogan moving Maryland into Phase 1. The owners have appealed to the state to reconsider their unique movie venue as they decide which businesses to reopen going forward. Bengies hopes to see you soon.
Tribeca Enterprises, founded by Robert De Niro, and IMAX are partnering to keep movie goers happy this summer with an entertainment series that will take place at U.S. drive-in theatres and other venues.
The Tribeca Drive-In will kick off June 25, showcasing a curated selection of films as well as exciting music and sporting events. ATT is working with IMAX, utilizing its Digital Remastering technology to enhance the outdoor filmgoing experience. They will collaborate with Tribeca Enterprises, tapping its extensive library of IMAX material. De Niro has said, “We’re excited to give people something to look forward to this summer and reinvent a classic movie-going experience for communities to enjoy together safely.”
Navigating the curves COVID-19 has thrown to the film industry may seem incidental compared with tens of millions unemployed in the U.S. and the unimaginable loss of life. Hollywood and the entire entertainment field comprises the 11th largest industry in the country. Add to that related merchandising, global distribution, and corollary entertainment enterprises amassing profits into the hundreds of billions. In 2018, global box office sales were worth $41.7 billion dollars.
Now that’s entertainment! That’s also a lot employed ticket takers, concession staff, and projectionists. So once we define our new normal, be sure to treat yourself to dinner and a movie out and about town. We might be able to save August.