Jun 21, 2023

I'm On A Pilgrimage To See A Moose

National Lampoon's Vacation
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
If I die unexpectedly, go ahead and have me cremated and scatter my ashes in the grass and dirt to the right of the blue digital projection booth at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  It's got to be a pretty groovy place to haunt.  I can rattle the stuff in the snack bar, fog up people's car windows and write ominous messages about Rico's Nachos, and I'll still be able to catch all of my favorites on 35mm.  I guess I won't be able to call it the bucket list if I've kicked the bucket, it still counts if you see a movie as a ghost, right?

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern
Citizen's Voice - Wilkes Barre, PA  (August 5, 1983)

The latest thing checked off my bucket list was a Tunnel Vision Tuesday 35mm screening of National Lampoon's Vacation.  It premiered in theaters on July 29th, 1983 and is approaching its 40th birthday this summer.  I had just turned three years old at the time so this wasn't something I've ever had the opportunity to see on the big screen before last night.  We've been to the Mahoning over a hundred times and seen god only knows how many movies here and it still never fails to amaze me that I'm getting to see movies at the drive-in that I was too young to see during their original theatrical run.

It was a pretty beautiful night - not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, and not a drop of rain, so we brought little Harvey with us.  He got to take a few laps around the lot and meet a few new doggy friends.  The little dude was tired by the time the trailer reel hit the screen, so he laid down on my lap and fell asleep with his head resting on my arm.

Sometimes the trailer reels that they show before the movie are a compilation of films that are the same genre as the feature film.  Other times, they're a collection of trailers from movies that have the same director or actors in common with tonight's feature.  There are also times when the trailer reel is used to promote upcoming features at the Mahoning.  Don't get me wrong, those are all very enjoyable, but my favorite trailer reels are the ones made up of films that were released in the same year as the movie that we've come to see.  Not only does it allow for a nice variety of different trailers, but it gives you a true immersive experience.  Think about it... you're at drive-in theater watching trailers that were being shown to audiences at the time of the movie that you're about to see, before watching a feature film that was released in that same year.  The sun has set.  The only light you can see is coming from the 35mm projector.  It's like the world outside of the lot ceases to exist for a few hours and you are no longer in 2023.  The world will be waiting for you when you drive off the lot after the credits roll, but for this moment, you are back in 1983.  It's the closest thing to time travel that I've ever experienced.

The trailer reel that Harry from Exhumed Films put together was made up entirely of movies that were in theaters in 1983 including Baby Its You, Spring Break, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Octopussy, Superman III, The Right Stuff, Rumble Fish, and Deal Of The Century, but the real star of the pre-show was the trailer for Return Of The Jedi.  I know that the original Star Wars Trilogy is probably too expensive to show at the Mahoning, not to mention the difficulty of being allowed to show a 35mm print of the originals instead of the ones that George Lucas vandalized in the late 90's, but just seeing a few seconds of footage of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker up on that screen was jaw dropping.

After the trailer reel was the feature for the night, the 1983 comedy classic from director Harold Ramis: National Lampoon's Vacation.  I'm pretty sure that the first of the Vacation movies that I ever saw when I was a kid was National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but I remember seeing the original Vacation and European Vacation not long after that.  I remember there being a time when I was in middle school when I thought that the name National Lampoon meant that it had something to do with the Griswold family, and I was shocked to learn that the Vacation movies were just one branch off of their tree.

National Lampoon's Vacation is without a doubt one of the funniest movies of all time.  I'm sure that many of the jokes would make folks in their 20's cringe, but I really don't care.  Most of their generation's comedies kinda suck.  The comedies of the 80's were unapologetically funny.  They didn't ask your permission to make a joke or worry about if you were offended (of if you're going to pretend to be offended to fit in).  They had a funny story to tell and they were going to tell it their way.  You could either get on board and laugh your ass off, or you can be sure to not let your still-attached ass get smacked by the swinging theater door on your way out.

After decades of only ever getting to see this movie on a living room television, I'm very thankful to have had the experience of seeing it the way that it was meant to be seen.  Check another one off the bucket list.