Apr 29, 2022

I've Got A Golden Ticket On The Yellow Brick Road

Opening Weekend 2022
The Wizard Of Oz / Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Since the start of the pandemic, I've spent quite a few hours just laying around and thinking about things.  One of those things was to ask myself why I enjoy movies as much as I do.  I'm sure that most people love movies to some degree, but I don't think the majority of people spend as much time at a movie theater (traditional or drive-in) as I do.  Despite the number of hours I've spent watching movies, I really don't know very much about them.  I wouldn't call myself a cinephile.  If you come to the Mahoning on any given night, I will probably be the least knowledgeable person on the lot when it comes to the film industry or movie trivia.  The same could be said about me in an art gallery or at a concert - I love the experience as much as the most passionate devotees, but my knowledge is average at best.

So why do I love these things so much?  I think it goes back to being autistic.  I feel disconnected from other people; always have, and probably always will.  My experience in just about any social situation feels a bit like visiting a foreign country where you aren't fluent in the native language.  I can get by, and I can fake my way through well enough to successfully navigate the situation (as long as I don't talk too much), but I don't naturally melt in with the crowd the way that other people do.  I'm an observer who is separate from everything around me.  Feeling this way for nearly 42 years has made me somewhat cynical about human beings in general.  I don't trust people, not because I'm paranoid that they're out to get me, but because our species is inherently artificial.  Most of the things we say are not genuine - they're done either for show or out of pure habit.  Everything from the small talk between people at the gas station to a wedding ceremony with hundreds of people feels fake to me.  It's all just theater.  There are approved costumes and an approved script, and those things vary slightly by time and location.  However, most people stick to the script for the time and place that they happen to live in, and they play the part they're expected to.  They do what they're expected to do and say what they're expected to say.  The more daring among them will push the boundaries, usually in the fashion department (clothes, hair, makeup), but the human species as a whole tends to go through their days reenacting the theatrical performances of our lives.  I don't mean to suggest that I'm above any of this because I do it too.  It just doesn't feel right.  Please don't mistake any of this for arrogance, or that I somehow know better and refuse to accept social norms, and please believe me when I tell you that I wish that I could just plug into the world without feeling this way.  I've tried to for my entire life, but for as far back as I can remember into my childhood, I almost always feel like I'm faking my way through it all, and I wonder how many other people around me feel the same way.  I think that's really become the whole point of this blog over the years.  It's my attempt to connect with the world in a way that feels real to me.

Movies are an escape from everything that I have just described.  All of the things that we see on the big screen are just as fake and scripted as the social functions that make up our lives, but at least we're honest about it and we all recognize that this is the case.  However, unlike the mini-plays that we're all forced to go through on a daily basis, I am not expected to participate.  I can just sit there with my soda and my bowl of popcorn and relax as the story unfolds before me.  No anxiety.  no pressure.  For a person who constantly feels like they're an outsider and an observer, it's a liberating experience, and that feeling is at its absolute peak when I'm sitting in front of my car, under the stars, comfortable in my lawn chair at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  When the trailer reel begins, I know that for the next few hours, everything is going to be alright.

Since 2015, it has been a tradition at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater to start off every season with a double feature of The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  We didn't discover this place until a couple of weeks into the 2021 season, so this is our first Opening Day at the Mahoning, and it was perfect!  It's still a little too chilly for the lawn chairs, but it was a beautiful, clear night under the stars

The special food item at the concession stand was Munchkin Balls - harvested straight from members of The Lollipop Guild.

What could I possibly say about these two movies that hasn't been said a million times before.  They're two of the most beloved and iconic films of the past hundred years, and they have both stood the test of time.  It doesn't matter if you're 5 or 95, these movies are going to make you smile.  They are the warm blanket we wrap ourselves in for comfort.

The Wizard Of Oz was one of the movies my grandfather recorded off of tv that I watched a thousand times when I was a kid.  I usually alternated between this and Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom.  You can say that one is a lot darker of a film than the other, but keep in mind that when Mola Ram got killed, the whole town didn't immediately break out into song and have a parade.

After the intermission reel, they screened a 35mm print of an old Woody Woodpecker cartoon.  I love it when they show these old cartoons between films.  This one was called Smoked Hams from April 1947.  The red-headed bird just won't let this poor walrus-looking man sleep, and in the end, the mischievous woodpecker gets hooked up to the Tit For Tat Machine where he gets a taste of his own medicine.

We had giant Hershey bars in the car just waiting for the start of Willy Wonka, and we tore into them just as the opening credits started to roll with the ribbons of melted chocolate being poured behind the title.  I know I'm never going to lose weight at this rate, but the hell with it.  If I can't enjoy a chocolate bar while watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the drive-in, it's not worth being fit.