The scene at Bridgton Twin Drive-In before night fell and the movie began. Photo by Dennis Perkins

Let’s go to the movies!

No, seriously, I went to the movies last week. And I highly recommend it. Now, I’m not saying that movie theaters are open (they’re not), or that gathering in an enclosed space during a pandemic is a smart or responsible thing to do (it isn’t), but Maine’s remaining drive-in theaters are open, along with the flower buds, mosquito eggs and complete lack of the baseball season. And as much as sitting at home staring blankly at old episodes of “Frasier” on Netflix while working your way through an entire sleeve of Oreos might sound delightful, there are a handful of tiny, flickering movie oases out there, just waiting for those of us hungry for the actual movie experience to drive on in. So last week, I went to the Bridgton Twin Drive-In, and this is how it went.

The journey began with tickets. Worried that the movie-starved Mainers around me might shut me out, I went to the Bridgton Twin’s Facebook Page and saw that they’ve got convenient online ticketing for the forward-thinking and terminally anxious. As with most drive-ins, ticketing is by the carload, so it cost me the usual $15, plus a $2.50 processing/needless worrying fee. (Gone are the halcyon days of stuffing your trunk with cheapskate friends and hoping they don’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning before you sneak in.) I was going alone (my lovely wife, Emily, wasn’t feeling the hour drive each way, starting at dusk), but I paid up happily after four months of glazed-over home viewing. Note: If you pay at the gate, the Bridgton Twin Drive-In is cash-only, so make sure to bring your wallet. 

The drive was Maine in the gathering summer night, so what’s not to love? For thematic consistency, I put on my favorite movie podcast “The Flop House” and listened to Google maps guide me. I chose Bridgton because I live in the 2nd District these days, and it had the movie I thought I would most like to watch as my first drive-in movie in decades, the R-rated DC Comics superhero violence of “Birds Of Prey.” I also stopped at the Umbrella Factory Supermarket in Naples en route for snacks, since the Bridgton Twin’s concession stand was – as their Facebook page helpfully pointed out – not open that night. 

The drive-in was a rustic, low-key Maine delight. The nice guy who was the only one working that night (hence the no concession stand) was wearing a pandemic face mask (so was I), which was reassuring. He handed me a photocopied list of the procedures and rules. (No booze, no smoking, turn your headlights off so he doesn’t have to come scold you.) He then helped me figure out just how you turn off the headlights in a 2010 Toyota Matrix, since I – unable to decipher the manual on that topic – had brought along scotch tape and garbage bags to potentially cover up my light-polluting headlamps. (Automatic headlights are a problem old school drive-ins never had to deal with.) I pulled into one of the two spacious parking areas in front of my choice of the two stark white screens seemingly plunked right down in the Maine woods, found an unoccupied, clearly marked space, and – thanks to my new pal’s help – clicked my ignition to the right position so I could run the radio while leaving the headlights politely dark. 

Watch on the screen; listen on the radio. Photo by Dennis Perkins

The experience was [deep sigh of reminiscence] most welcome indeed. Most drive-ins (including the Bridgton Twin) have ditched the old window-hanger speakers for an easy radio broadcast sound system. Each screen has it’s own frequency (as the proprietor and his instruction sheet showed me), and while I had to listen to a rebroadcast of a John Tesh-hosted radio show in the minutes before things got rolling, it was a small price to pay. At 8:35 on the dot, just as the surrounding trees pressed in with the descending darkness, the movie started. There were previews! A nifty Bridgton Twin animated logo! I took off my mask and opened my store-bought snacks, and looked around at the 10 or so other cars dotting the largely empty outdoor auditorium (so that $2.50 pre-pay fee wasn’t really necessary on a Tuesday), and set the Matrix’s seat back to a truly comfy recline. I was at the movies, and, as wrong as everything else in the world is at the moment, it felt uniquely, irreplaceably right. 

The movie was better than I expected, honestly. DC has been so woefully inept at bringing its (frankly superior) comics to the big screen compared to its Marvel Cinematic Universe competitors, that I wasn’t expecting much from this ragtag side-story about perpetually lovesick minor supervillain Harley Quinn (the only breakout character from the inept “Suicide Squad”) dealing with her breakup from the Joker by blowing up a bunch of stuff. Lesson learned, though. The movie – technically “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” – was a lowdown, butt-kicking, consistently funny, occasionally heartfelt big screen paean to superhero sisterhood, with Margot Robbie’s charismatically bananas Harley gathering a group of similarly downtrodden female anti-heroes to, well, blow some stuff up. There’s a female empowerment message that goes down easy with every thuggish goon in the employ of a hammily fun Ewen McGregor’s truly villainous Black Mask the Birds kick in the jewels (that happens a lot). And [putting on my nerd hat] if the movie screws around with what’s a truly excellent “Birds of Prey” comic series (read creator Gail Simone’s run to start), even a DC fanboy like me could lie back in my car and enjoy what was, improbably, the second-best DCU movie. (Low bar to clear, but the fact that the only two remotely decent DC movies – this and “Wonder Woman” – both featured and were directed by women probably says something.) 

In the end, I stayed through the credits, even though it was pushing 10:30 p.m., and I had that hour to drive. After all, comics movies always put in a post-credits stinger, and I am, as noted, a huge geek. Driving home, I drank the last of my now-lukewarm caffeinated soda, kept my eyes on the dark and winding road in front of me, and thought how, even once this locked-in national nightmare is over, I’m going to make the drive-in a regular thing. 

There are seven drive-in theaters in Maine, including The Pride’s Corner Drive-In in Westbrook, The Skowhegan Drive-In, The Saco Drive-In, The Skylite Drive-In in Madawaska, The Bangor Drive-In, The Narrow Gauge Drive-In in Farmington, and the good old Bridgton Drive-In. Check out their websites for showtimes, rules, prices, and directions.

Miss seeing previews? Maybe it’s time for a drive-in movie. Photo by Dennis Perkins

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