July 11, 2008

A Midsummer Night's Screen

I'm in D.C. for a few days this week. Earlier today I was walking through the National Mall and saw a giant screen set up in front of the U.S. Capitol. The HBO logo was plastered all over it along with the phrase "Screen on the Green" and a schedule of upcoming movies. Every Monday for the next five weeks, HBO will show a movie out on the Mall. "Admission" is free, or rather, non-existent.

Most cities have these outdoor movie series during the summer, but I remembered that the six-week version at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (also starting today) is, quite ironically, titled "Elected!"

So in Minneapolis we're screening Duck Soup, The Senator Was Indiscreet, All the King's Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, State of the Union, and The Manchurian Candidate, while here in D.C. they're going to see Dr. No, The Candidate, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Apartment, and Superman. What gives?

I suppose the political climate in the Beltway is already saturated enough as it is; people here could use a little escape from the endless partisan blather.

But that leads to a question. What makes for a good outdoor movie? Are people going to show up for the Walker screenings (forget about the bands playing beforehand)? I'm just curious, and then I wonder why drive-ins always feature the most awful movies...

So what's the best outdoor movie genre: comedy, drama, fantasy, action, horror, or other?


  1. You know, I've not been to a lot of them -- since my student days (transmission-garbled) years ago -- but there in the open air, with the summer breezes blowing and the smell of baby-diaper in the air, I'd think you'd want something light.

    So I'm gonna go with comedy.

  2. Watching movies outdoors is distracting. It's more about the ambience than the movie so I'm going to go with Classics...if that's even really a genre.

    Anything timeless you've seen a bunch of times is fun under the stars.

  3. I must get my booty to the Walker.

  4. Never been to any. But my parents always took my brother and I to drive-ins. That's the closest thing that I've experienced.

    Mom had dragged Dad to a lot of movies before they got married. She liked them more than he did. So, as a family, they felt drive-ins were a good compromise.

    As an adult film buff, though, I must say that attendance at drive-ins is only appealing if you mix it up with a lot of hard core theatregoing. It may be fun to go to a drive-in once in a blue moon. But a steady diet of them? COMPLETELY BOGUS.

    There were all ready surprisingly few left in the area when I was growing up. Now there's only one left over in the Valley, anyway.

    But that Washington line up is pretty damn dreamy. I love THE CANDIDATE, ARSENIC & OLD LACE, THE APARTMENT and SUPERMAN.

    Mr. Redford, Mr. Grant, Mr. Lemmon and Mr. Reeve are some of my favourite men in the whole wide world.


    Sounds like HOT summer fun to me.

    I'm totally steamed. We ain't got nothin like that up here in this neck of the woods.

    Hope you're enjoying your frolic in D.C., Danny. Have a good time...

  5. I think The Alarmists are playing before or after one of those shows so I might end up going.

    I think being outside it would have to be something you've seen right? You're honestly going to watch something outside at dusk when you can't really see the screen crisply and the sound is bad and there are kids encouraged to run around? It would seem the movie would have to be a close second in regards to the draw to hanging out outside on a nice summer evening.

    On an unrelated note Joe Posnanski (Kansas City Sports columnist) has a funny poll going on between who's worse Cruise or Costner. It has been a comically close race that I thought you cinephiles might get a kick out of. He starts out talking about Springsteen but gets to it in the 4th paragraph.
    Here is the link to the initial post:


    If you like baseball and wasting time at work like I do, Joe is fantastic. He posts almost as often as Daniel and the writing is excellent.

    After last nights Home Run Derby he wrote a good post reporting it as if it were part of The Natural which again, is a stretch but technically is about movies so I feel compelled to link.


    Not that I want people to go away from getafilm... If you are listening to me, click all over getafilm. Goooo Getafilm!

  6. Dan: Outdoor moviegoing is compromised by the picture atmosphere that infuses such festive events. It is much like an outdoor concert, where people set up blankets and food spreads. Yet the film fanatic (like yourself) will always find that silver lining.
    The best communal film genre is comedy, as we know from our interactive midnight screenings of ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Humor is always the most fun to share.

  7. I meant to say "picnic" atmosphere....I had (what else?) movies on my mind. LOL!

  8. Haha, Rick - don't worry, it's a timeless tradition. You could have been a student outside at the movies 4 years ago or 40 years ago. My first instinct says comedy as well - classic comedy, not new release comedy.

    True on both points, Craig, especially the second one. In fact I don't know how much I could enjoy seeing one outside for the very first time, unless it's a silly comedy. If I'm distracted by others so easily in a mostly empty theater, there's no way I could zone in outdoors. But if I've already seen it then it doesn't matter.

    Only a few weeks to check it out, Nayana. I might only make one or two of 'em, if I'm lucky. I must admit if I'm going to watch some of those I'd rather watch them at home, though.

    Thanks, Miranda. Unfortunately I'm not frolicking as much as I'd like since I'm here for work, but I'd be lying if I said I don't mind a change in scenery. As I agree with you on the DC selections, it's too bad I won't be here for the upcoming ones. The Apartment would probably play really well with an outdoor adult crowd.

    And I'm surprised there's nothing like this around you - might be time to set up your own version? You get to pick the movies...

    Good thing you didn't HTML those links, Tom. Nobody's going anywhere, ha! Actually it's funny, I considered posting the finale from The Natural as a Short Cut tomorrow, but decided against it because, at least as far as baseball movies go, it's kind of a boring clip out of context.

    That's a really funny comparison between Cruise and Costner (OK, here it is). I might have to steal that idea. This one is a wash for me of course, as Tom Cruise can really do wrong as far as I'm concerned (on screen!), and Costner is doing nothing to save his career. I might have to check this Posnanski out more often.

    Hehe, Sam I didn't even realize that until you pointed it out in your second comment...so there you go. Either way, you described the scene yesterday to the T. People were set up hours ahead of time, waiting for the hot sun to set so the movie could start. I didn't have a blanket, a group of friends, food, energy, or a desire to see Dr. No at the time being, though. You need at least 3 of those to make it worthwhile.

  9. Great question, Daniel.

    As I've said many times (probably so many that people are sick of hearing about it) two of my favorite film-going experiences of my life were both outdoor events in San Francisco, three weeks apart in the summer of 2006. The first was Citizen Kane, for which there was a very large crowd of a couple thousand people or so at Union Square. The second was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which drew well more than ten thousand people--that film made the entire crowd act as one huge mass, cheering, applauding, laughing, booing, hissing and everything else all as one. I'll never forget those.

    So, I'll say Citizen Kane and Raiders of the Lost Ark are two excellent choices for outdoor viewing.

    I also saw Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Jaws outdoors in and around San Rafael, just a bit north of San Francisco. Pleasant events, but the crowds were kind of small, comparatively speaking to the aforementioned ones in the city.

  10. WOW, Alexander. Although I'm sure these screenings attract a big audience, I never really thought about what the numbers would be like. Union Square must have been brimming with that many people up there. And 10,000 for Raiders? Incredible. Like a concert. That's definitely a movie that can pull off a stadium crowd. Citizen Kane (or even Bond)? It surprises me. Too many slow parts or something.

  11. Comedy may be the best. The most fun I've had at an outdoor screening has probably been with The Mouse that Roared and The Villain...but then again, I also remember greatly enjoying an outdoor screening of Anatomy of a Murder. Go figure. :)

  12. Your concentration and tolerance for annoying humans must be otherworldly, Luke, to get through Anatomy of a Murder outdoors.

    So it appears that overall, we agree comedies are the safest bet to see outside, but a well-known classic of any genre may also play well on a summer night.


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