The Austin Chronicle

More Blue To View

East Side Drive-In trailer park expands to include actual drive-in, the Blue Starlite

By Marc Savlov, January 21, 2011, Screens

Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson would be totally psyched. The two men who likely did the most to get teenage baby boomers out of their homes and into deliriously entertaining trouble – often atop the sweaty vinyl backseat of Dad's Chevy Bel Air – consistently filled decades of drive-in theatres across the land with their American International Pictures releases. Probably more post-war families were, ahem, conceived to the accompaniment of beach blanket jigglers Frankie and Annette, shriek-show scowlers Boris and Basil, and titanic Toho terrors Godzilla vs. Whatever, all of which AIP routinely plugged into that white-hot hormonal discharger, the great American drive-in. (Why do you think they called 'em "passion pits"?)

The traditional drive-in theatre, alas, is as dead as the late founders of AIP. But the nontraditional, Austin-style drive-in theatre is about to return for an encore special presentation so astounding that – as Fifties-era taglines would so energetically enthuse – you won't believe your eyes.

Josh Frank, local author, entrepreneur, and owner of East Cesar Chavez's Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theater, has announced plans to open a second and far larger incarnation of the Blue Starlite in the (currently vacant) triple-terraced lot at 1001 E. Sixth. That's also the address of the trailer-food/outdoor event nirvana East Side Drive-In, which, come to think of it, could prove confusing to the slavering hordes of South by Southwest cultural omnivores so soon to descend upon our fair city. Probably not, though; anyone sober enough to find the porktastic eatery Pig Vicious in the dark should be able to spot Frank's upgraded outdoor cinema, which will be screening 24 fps awesomeness with new equipment: a 4,000-lumens digital projector and a pair of urban-friendly drive-in screens.

Slated for a Valentine's Day soft opening, Frank, with assistance from property owner 501 Studios, plans on finishing the infrastructure necessary for the triple-tiered, 12- and 24-car, 300-plus bike/pedestrian venue in the week leading up to the SXSW Film and Interactive Festival and Conferences.

"The [existing] Blue Starlite Drive-In has done incredibly well," says Frank, "given what it had to work with, which was nothing. There was no money, just an idea, and we put it there and overnight everyone was talking about how there was a drive-in in town. Which was what I was hoping for, you know? Would they call it a 'drive-in'? I was waiting for the nasty Yelp! reviews to start coming in, but the people of Austin totally got it and bought into my dream of creating a new type of drive-in."

Frank plans to keep the existing Blue Starlite (located at 2326 E. Cesar Chavez) open with an eye toward special engagements, events, and of course, this being Austin, live music.

As for the new and not yet officially christened theatre (although "Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In 2: The Sequel" is in the running), Frank says it's all part of his plan for global drive-in domination: "You can come Downtown, see a drive-in movie, eat dinner, and then afterwards walk half a block to your favorite bar. From the drive-in. That is cool."

Maybe not quite as cool as catching an AIP double bill of Bava's Planet of the Vampires and Boris' Die, Monster, Die! during the summer of '65, but hell, even Arkoff and Nicholson never managed concessions like Pig Vicious. Yeah, that is cool.

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