New screen brightening the experience at Starlite Drive-In
It’s not the price. Nor the lines to use the restrooms. Nor the trip across town. It’s the other people who sit behind, in front and beside him. My friend’s husband hates going to the movies. People might talk during the scenes or kick the back of his seat. Or rustle candy wrappers and crinkle their water bottles. He usually Will Not Go.
But there are just over 300 drive-in theaters in the U.S., and one of them is just southwest of Bloomington — the Starlite. There we can cocoon in our vehicles while enjoying a big-screen experience, only interacting with other patrons at the concession stand or in line for the restrooms. Despite some still-chilly nights, the Starlite Drive-In reopened last month for the 2022 season after its usual winter hiatus.
According to USNews.com, the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association reported 305 drive-in theaters were operating in the U.S. with 549 screens as of late 2019. New York, Pennsylvania. Ohio and California had the most; Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Dakota didn’t have any that year.
So, we are lucky to have the Starlite Drive-in, opened in 1955 by Carl and Ruth Stewart, who ran it for almost five decades. The business is now operated by its fourth owners, as they carry on this Monroe County custom. The Barnhart family and KJB Theaters follow the Jarvis and Freeman families, who rescued the Starlite by converting it to digital projection. In addition, this year there is a brilliant new screen, and the concession stand has been completely updated.
A theater’s projection system is, as far as the audience is concerned, the key part of the cinema experience. It’s what makes the film look like it does.
With reels of actual film, each time a movie runs through a projector, the film’s quality degrades slightly. Movies that have been around for awhile will show not just the story, but hundreds of scratches amid granules of grime.
Of course, some believe projecting a digital film isn’t quite as visually stunning as using a clean film print. However, even they admit that a digital movie keeps its original appearance, looking the same in every showing.
Back when film was the only option, Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in in 1933, in Camden, New Jersey. Tickets were 25 cents per car as well as per person to watch the British comedy “Wives Beware” surrounded by sky, lit by the moon.
Years before, people had been watching silent films on screens erected at beaches and parks, but Hollingshead was an auto-parts marketer and knew we love our cars. The combination was a hit, and in 2022 it is still satisfying.
Starlite’s general manager is Amanda Phillips, and she awaits spring, summer and fall sunsets.
If you go
WHAT: Starlite Drive-in theater presents “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” PG-13. Journey into somewhere strange with Doctor Strange, who, aided by strange pals, traverses the strange treacherousness of the Multiverse to confront a strange new adversary.
WHEN: 9:15 p.m. May 5.
WHERE: 7640 S. Old Ind. 37, 812-824-2277, KJBTheaters.com.
TICKETS: $4-$7, starlitebloomington.com.