Romancing the Drive-In

According to Duffy Bersinky, the 83-year-old owner of the Sundown Drive-in near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, the summer of 2009 was his best year for business in well over a decade. This is despite the fact that earlier in the year he tried to sell the business because no one seemed interested in going to the drive-in anymore.

The first drive-in movie theater was opened by a man named Hollingshead in New Jersey on June 6, 1933. As the car industry in America continued to take off and most middle-class nuclear families had at least one vehicle (and usually multiple children who could be seen as a disturbance in a regular movie theater), the drive-in’s popularity continued to rise throughout the 50s and 60s.

From those decidedly humble beginnings, a U.S. institution was born, one that exploded in the post–World War II automobile culture. The drive-in era peaked in 1958, with nearly 5,000 theaters across the U.S. But in 1966, daylight saving time led to summer showings at 9 p.m., making the screenings less appealing to families. Air-conditioned theaters trumped steamy summer nights, and by the 1980s, the VCR and cable TV dealt another blow to the ailing industry. By 1995, fewer than 500 drive-ins were left. (Open Air Cinema)

Despite this slow death, the outdoor theater is coming back into vogue, though the automobile is increasingly a less central part of the experience. The popular DIY or guerilla drive-in seems to be as much about reclaiming space for political reasons as the desire to watch a film under the stars. This kind of community activity is made possible as the technology to mount a temporary outdoor movie space is increasingly affordable, available and made more appealing as individuals continue to reject spending a fortune to see tepid Hollywood blockbusters in multiplex cinemas.

It won’t help Duffy Belinsky, but MobMov has written up a how-to that will teach you everything you need to know about making your own guerilla mobile theatre from scratch.

E-1027: The Crumbling Landmark

E-1027 Balcony by Flickr user E-1027

In the late 1920s, Irish-born furniture designer Eileen Gray was convinced by her architect friend/lover Jean Badovici to design her first house. The name of the house, E-1027, was a code: E for Eileen, 10 for the letter J, 2 for B, and 7 for G – their initials.

The result, built over three years in the South of France, was a modernist landmark, and the furniture within – including the Daybed, Adjustable Table E1027 and Tube Light – were design classics that greatly influenced today’s furniture. Unfortunately, things didn’t stay clean and minimal for long.

Le Corbusier, a fan of the house, painted eight murals on the walls, that he said “burst out from dull, sad walls where nothing is happening”, but which Gray considered to be vandalism. Le Corbusier later died swimming in the seas beneath the house (unrelated to Gray’s anger, we hope).

Through subsequent sales of the house and it’s contents, the house deteriorated rapidly, with squatters, vandals and ransackers gaining easy access to the forgotten building. It didn’t help that Eileen Gray was largely neglected during her lifetime: it wasn’t until her death in 1976 that her name was first mentioned in a radio broadcast.

Today the monument still faces an uncertain future. Previous restoration plans have fallen through, and it now seems reliant on a not-for-profit group – Friends of E-1027 – to raise awareness and funds for the building.

E-1027 photograph by its_daniel

High-Precision LEGO Engineering

Lego Bricks

For an old-school toy, the manufacturing process of LEGO bricks is extremely sophisticated. To achieve the correct fit between the studs and the holes of two bricks – so that they can be clicked together and pulled apart with just the right amount of effort – a maximum tolerance of 0.001 mm is allowed during production. Even with this high standard to reach, only 0.0018% of all bricks are defective. And the few that are defective, of course, are recycled back into ones that aren’t.

LEGO photograph by fdecomite

The Slow Creep of Monsters

Monsters are a part of our psychological life. In childhood we are afraid of them and as adults we turn our enemies into them (axis of evil, anyone?). Recently, Spike Jonze took on the monsters of childhood in his film Where the Wild Thing Are, based on the North American classic by Maurice Sendack. Although the monsters in the book are initially fearsome, Sendack empowers his little readers when the protagonist Max stares bravely into their yellow eyes, conquers them and becomes the king of the Wild Things.

During the last decade or so, our perception of monsters has gradually shifted. Instead of being something to fear or kill, they are also, in some cases, something we covet, that we want to become. The Twilight Series is a good example of this (though it’s preceded by the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles, Angel from Buffy and others). Vampires, which are traditionally regarded as disgusting, rotting, flesh-eating villains, are now the dream date of young girls world wide. Instead of seeing them as monsters, cloaked in the bodies of beautiful boys and girls, we see them as not so bad; just a little bit misunderstood.

In a recent book published by Oxford University Press, Stephen Asma examines our history with monsters, chronicling the encounters that have happened across recorded history and delving into their psychology – why we create them and what purpose they serve:

Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the mysterious and incoherent territory just beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought. Exploring philosophical treatises, theological tracts, newspapers, pamphlets, films, scientific notebooks, and novels, Asma unpacks traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of an era’s fears and fascinations. In doing so, he illuminates the many ways monsters have become repositories for those human qualities that must be repudiated, externalized, and defeated. (source)

I would love to know how the world’s love affair with Twilight fits into this psychology.

The Impossible Project: Bringing Back Polaroid

Typical Components in Instant Film

Like many things designed for consumer simplicity, the Polaroid Instant Film is a fairly complex piece of technology, with about 20 individual components in each pack.

Production of this complex technology ceased in 2008, but with the recent resurgence of analog photography, The Impossible Project purchased one of the Dutch factories and are now aiming to streamline the manufacturing process to produce a new, hi-tech Instant Film. You may have already heard of the project with the recent release of the final batch of old film through Urban Outfitters.

The team are using the power of the internet to aid their quest, asking for public answers to their difficult problems, such as the fifth of their seven big challenges:

We urgently need Latex that can easily be coated on gelatin base. Thickness of the dried layer is about 2 micron. The developer used in instant film is a viscous solution, containing 2N alkaline.

The team say they have exactly 12 months to complete their mission, and from the look of the countdown clock on the website, the time runs out at the end of 2009.

Polaroid Instant Film illustration copyright The Impossible Project.