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John Waters is bringing back the drive-in — with masks — at Md. Film Festival

Will cicadas spoil the show or add to the fun?

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John Waters is a fan of drive-in movies.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Writer and filmmaker John Waters says he grew up going to drive-in movies.

“We went every single night. With the same movie playing.“

He had a certain routine.

“I used to…drive in alone with two cases of beer covered in a blanket and with four people in the trunk.”

Now Waters is working to introduce a new generation to drive-in movie theaters, which are making a comeback because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the pandemic happened, it did bring drive-ins back,” he said in a recent interview. “Most young people have never been to a drive-in. I think it’s a good answer [to the pandemic], and it’s a good atmosphere for certain types of movies.”

Waters is getting ready to host a double feature drive-in movie night on May 21, as part of the Maryland Film Festival that runs from May 19 to May 27. The theme is “Russian Shock Night at the Drive-In,” because he selected two Russian films to present: Why Don’t You Just Die! and The Road Movie.

This will be the third time during the pandemic that Waters has hosted a drive-in night for a film festival, after double features last year for the Provincetown International Film Festival, at the Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre on Cape Cod, and the New York Film Festival, at The Bronx Zoo.

This time the venue is Druid Hill Park, home of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The film festival is creating a pop-up drive-in theater on the sloping lawn of the Mansion House, the zoo’s headquarters, in conjunction with Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks. It will have a 52-foot-wide inflatable screen and space for 93 vehicles. The price of admission is $25 per car, and tickets sold out in a day.

The film festival is the first organization to get a permit for an in-person outdoor gathering on public property in more than a year from the city of Baltimore, where Mayor Brandon Scott has been cautious about allowing public events. The mayor wouldn’t allow the annual July 4th fireworks show at the city’s Inner Harbor or the annual Artscape festival in July.

“I’m proud to the first one,” said Waters, who came up with the idea for a drive-in during the festival. “I’m thankful that they’re letting us do it.”

Based on his experience at the other festivals, Waters said, he’s confident it will be successful. “I love the idea of the drive-in. I think it will be good, and it is safe. Everybody’s in their car. Even if you haven’t been vaccinated. Well, I hope you don’t come if you haven’t been vaccinated. But still, everybody’s in their car. It’s at a social distance.”

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, traditionally introduces a movie of his choice on Friday night of the annual film festival, and it’s a highlight of the event. Last year it didn’t happen because the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic.

This year the festival is back as mostly a virtual event, because the theater where it’s held is still subject to COVID-related seating restrictions. Organizers asked Waters to bring back his signature movie night. He didn’t want it to be online.

“I said, I hate virtual. I’m so sick of virtual,” he recalled. “They knew I had done a drive-in at the New York Film Festival, where we showed Salo and the Gasper Noe movie, Climax…It works well in the drive In.”

Film festival organizers, led by executive director Sandra Gibson, collaborated with city officials to identify the site and figure out the details. “You don’t have to be vaccinated, but you will have to wear masks…if you’re outside your car,” Gibson said.

The parks department didn’t place a limit on the size of vehicles or the number of people in a vehicle, although larger ones will be located towards the back of the lot, she said.

“If you have a hatchback, we’ll let you open your hatchback and sit in the hatchback,” she said. “We’ll let you sit in the back of a flatbed truck as long as you have a mask on. If you have an SUV that holds eight people, we’re fine with that as long as everybody can see. But they have said you have to stay in your car.”

Waters describes Why Don’t You Just Die! as “a grindhouse, seat-ripping blood-drenched family revenge comedy that begs to be seen in a drive-in with a crazy audience cheering from their cars,” and The Road Movie as “a dash cam documentary from hell that puts you live in the car accidents and near misses all for your rage viewing pleasure.”

He said the two movies are in line with the ones he usually picks for screenings in the film festival’s Parkway Theatre, “but these two I think are even better for a drive-in setting.”

The Road Movie, featuring footage compiled from Russian dashboard cameras, has a car-oriented theme that fits with the drive-in set-up and will be the second film of the night. “You’ll drive home safely after this one, I guarantee you,” Waters said.

He chose a Russian theme, he said, “just because I loved these movies and I knew that Russia was especially kind of unmentionable these days. I’m not a fan of Russia either, but maybe everybody could come dressed as Nikita Khrushchev and his wife, or Putin.”

Given the climate in Russia, “it’s just kind of amazing that these two movies ever got made there,” he said. “They’re pretty radical movies. Especially Why Don’t You Just Die!”

Waters said the location brings back fond memories, in part because the zoo is there and he lived nearby: “I’ve always liked Druid Hill…I used to live across the street at Temple Gardens Apartments for many years.”

He jokes that he’s a little suspicious that the city permitted his event but not the Fourth of July fireworks, citing COVID-19 as the reason.

“Maybe they hope we all get it,” he said. “That’s a new one. We had the censor board. Maybe this is a different way to censor.”

He said he hopes the 17-year cicadas, insects that are just coming out of the ground in Maryland after a 17-year hiatus, make an appearance when his movies are showing.

“I wouldn’t even be mad,” he said, if they “were smashing into the windshields while we were watching. But then we should have shown The Swarm.”

Given the park setting, “you can bet there might be some,” he went on, imagining the possibilities of an insect invasion on his movie night. “It would only add to the disaster theme and the insaneness of the event, to be attacked by nature at Druid Hill Park and watching crazy Russian movies.”

According to the website DriveInMovie.com, there are about 325 drive-in movie theaters currently operating around the United States, down from a peak of more than 4,000 in the 1950s.

Besides the ones in operation, “there are many more that are permanently closed but still remain standing and could potentially be reopened at some point in the future,” says the website, which lists the drive-ins in every state and those that have closed in the past 20 years. “In fact, there have been several drive-in theaters that have been reopened the past couple of years after sitting dark for 20 or even 30 years.”

The first “true” drive-in, the website states, was the “Automobile Movie Theatre” in Camden, New Jersey. It was opened on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead, a movie buff who initially experimented with showing movies in the driveway of his home.

Hollingshead got a U. S. patent for his drive-in, which the drive-in website describes as essentially a movie screen tied to some trees, a radio placed behind the screen for sound, a film projector on the hood of a car, and a strategy for spacing out cars. His slogan was “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

But Hollingshead’s patent was later declared invalid, and that allowed others to follow his formula without paying him royalties. “Maybe one of the reasons Drive-In Movies are so much more popular in the United States than in other countries is because the drive-in movie is truly an American invention,” the website states.

Today, both vintage drive-ins and pop-up drive-ins are being put to a variety of uses, from sites for fundraisers to filming locations to settings for socially-distanced music performances. When traditional movie theaters were shuttered because of the pandemic, drive-ins became an alternative because the audience remains outdoors.

In some cases, the land is used for swap meets and flea markets when movies aren’t being shown. Joe Biden held drive-in rallies when he was running for President, and voters applauded by honking horns and flashing headlights.

Waters, who just turned 75 and has filmed all of his movies in and around Baltimore, is a drive-in aficionado.

“I’ve spent my whole life in the drive-in,” he said. “I’ve written about them. I grew up in the Timonium Drive-In…The Bengies Drive-In, we filmed Cecil B. Demented in for a week. I spent a week on the roof of that concessions stand.”

In Polyester, “I had an art drive-in,” he said. “The joke was that they showed art movies, and in the concessions stand they had caviar and champagne. That was filmed at the Edmondson Drive-in” in Baltimore.

For him and others in his generation Waters said, the drive-in was “the first apartment’ where “kids could actually get away from their parents.”

It also taught him about saving money by sneaking people in — something he doesn’t want to see on his night.

“I’ll be catching you if you try to sneak in in the trunk, let me warn you,” he said. “I know all the tricks sneaking in the drive-in.”

For this week’s event, the plan is that Waters will be there and will be visible on screen, introducing the movies. Though he’s been vaccinated, there won’t be a Meet-and-Greet session with fans, for safety reasons. “He knows that we’ve got restrictions and he may have his own,” Gibson said. “He’s really conscious that it’s still a pandemic.”

The city has come up with a list of rules and regulations for those with tickets. Besides the requirement that people wear masks when outside the vehicle, no food or drink may be consumed outside of vehicles. Car windows must be up when eating. Tailgating isn’t allowed. Everyone must pre-register and sign a parks department waiver before arriving.

Waters said he read all the rules and couldn’t find any restrictions against having sex in a vehicle during a movie.

“I guess that means you can have sex,” he said. “When I was young, that’s what everybody did.”

The same goes for drinking in a vehicle, he said. “That’s something you always did at the drive-in too.”

The list of rules and regulations is part of the traditional drive-in experience, because every drive-in has rules. In a way, Waters said, it also goes along with the theme for the night:

“It will feel like the Russian government is watching.”

Although the drive-in night is sold out, other tickets are still available to the Maryland Film Festival, including Pride Night and eight LGBTQ-oriented films viewable online. Information about the lineup is at mdfilmfest.com.

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Arts & Entertainment

Olympian Tom Daley launches knitting line

A journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles- fast forward 18 months & I’m so proud to introduce these kits

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Photo courtesy of madewithlovebytomdaley Instagram

LONDON – During the entire course of the Olympic games in Tokyo 2020 this past summer, audiences following the diving competitions were certain to see British Olympian Tom Daley quietly and intently focused in-between matches- on his knitting.

The Gold medalist diving champion only picked up his first set of knitting needles in March of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic first spread across the globe, strangling normal daily routines in its deadly grip.

Now, the 27-year-old British athlete has launched a company to encourage others to take up the hobby.

Photo courtesy of madewithlovebytomdaley Instagram

“It’s been a journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles in March 2020. Fast forward 18 months and I’m so proud to introduce these kits to you all so that you can experience the joy I found learning to knit,” Daley said on his newly launched website.

“I designed these knit kits to help encourage you to pick up those needles, learn the basics, and fall in love with knitting at the same time – all whilst creating something to show off or pass on.

Ready? Pick up your needles, learn the basics and let’s have some fun!”

 

The website offers various kits for beginners, intermediate and experienced knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. One of the kits, a winter warmer hat already sold out but the collection ncludes a vest, scarves, cardigans, jumpers, stockings, and a blanket.

Kits include needles, biodegradable yarn made of Merino wool, and knitting patterns. 

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Out & About

Studio House, Visual AIDS partner for educational program

Day With(out) Art 2021 to be held at Lamont Plaza

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One Tent Health, gay news, Washington Blade
World AIDS Day is next week.

Studio House and Visual AIDS will join forces for “Day With(out) Art 2021” on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. at Lamont Plaza. 

This event is a community outdoor screening of “Enduring Care,” a video program that highlights strategies of community care within the ongoing HIV epidemic followed by a discussion about the video.

There will be an open house in the neighborhood at the David Bethuel Jamieson (1963-1992) Studio House and Archives featuring newly commissioned work by Katherine Cheairs, Cristóbal Guerra, Danny Kilbride, Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad and Uriah Bussey, Beto Pérez, Steed Taylor, and J Triangular and the Women’s Video Support Project.

For more information, visit Eventbrite

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Movies

‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’ explodes with the love of Broadway

A perfect film for fans of musical theater

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Andrew Garfield shines in ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

If you are a person who love musical theater – or if you know someone who does – then you know there is something about this particular art form that inspires a strong and driving passion in those who enjoy it, often to the point of obsession. For this reason, perhaps it’s no surprise that those who work in musical theater – the creators, performers, and all the other people who make it happen – are often the biggest musical theater lovers of all.

Because of this, “tick, tick… BOOM!” (the new film directed by Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda and written by Steven “Dear Evan Hansen” Levenson) might be the most perfect movie ever made for such fans. Adapted from an autobiographical “rock monologue” by Jonathan Larson, it follows the future “Rent” composer (Andrew Garfield) for a week in the early 1990s, when he was still an unknown young Broadway hopeful waiting tables in a New York diner. He’s on the cusp of turning 30, a milestone that weighs on his mind as he prepares for a showcase of a musical that he hasn’t quite finished – even though he’s been writing it for eight years. With limited time left to compose the show’s most crucial number, his race against the clock is complicated by major changes in his personal life; his lifelong best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) has quit acting in favor of a five-figure career in advertising, and his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is moving away from the city to accept a teaching job and wants him to come with her. With reminders everywhere of the ongoing AIDS epidemic still raging in the community around him, and with his own youth ticking away, he is inevitably forced to wonder if it’s time to trade in his own Broadway dreams for a more secure future – before it’s too late.

As every musical theater fan knows, the young composer’s obsession with time (hence the title) is laced with bittersweet irony in the context of what eventually happened in his real life: the day before “Rent” opened on Broadway and became a smash hit that reshaped and expanded the boundaries of what musical theater could be, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35. He never lived to see the full fruition of all those years of hard work, and that tragic turn of events is precisely what makes “tick, tick… BOOM!” relevant and provides its considerable emotional power. In that light, it’s essentially a musical “memento mori,” a reminder that the clock eventually runs out for all of us.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not also a celebration of life in the theater, and Miranda is probably better suited than anyone to make us see that side of the coin. Now unquestionably in the highest echelon of status as a Broadway icon, he came of age in the era of “Rent,” and he takes pains to make his depiction of Manhattan in the ‘90s as authentic as possible.

Capturing the era with touches like Keith Haring-inspired murals and the use of “Love Shack” as a party anthem, his movie keeps Larson’s story within the context of his time while drawing clear connections to our own. His reverence for Larson – whom he cites as a seminal inspiration for his own future work – manifests itself palpably throughout. Yet despite that (or perhaps because of it), so does an infectiously cheery tone. Yes, things get heavy; there are hardships and heartbreaks at every turn, because that’s what a life in the theater means. But at the same time, there’s just so much fun to be had. The camaraderie, the energy, and the joy of simply living in that world comes leaping off the screen (often thanks to the enthusiastic choreography of Ryan Heffington) with the kind of giddy, effortless ease that might almost make us jealous if it didn’t lift our spirits so much. No matter that the lead character spends most of the movie second-guessing his path; we never doubt for a moment that, for him, the rewards of following his passion outweigh the sacrifices a thousand times over.

That’s something Miranda also understands. His movie drives home the point that the joy of doing theater is its own reward, and he’s willing to prove it by turning up in a bit part just for the sake of being a part of the show. And he’s not the only one. The screen is littered with living legends; in one memorable sequence alone, a who’s-who of Broadway’s brightest stars – Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Andre DeShield, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, and at least a dozen more – serve as a high-profile backup chorus of extras for a song at the diner, but there are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos in almost every scene. It almost feels like a gimmick, or an effort to turn the movie into a “spot the star” trivia game for hardcore fans – until you realize that these are the best and brightest people in their field, who have willingly chosen to show up and participate even though they did not have to. They are there purely for love, and you can see it in their faces.

Miranda scores big across the board as a director – this is his feature film directorial debut, which confirms the standing assumption the man can do anything. But “tick, tick… BOOM!” is a star turn for its leading player, and full credit must also go – and emphatically so – to Garfield, who surpasses expectations as Larson. The one-time “Spiderman” actor trained extensively to be able to master the demands of singing the role, and it shows; he comes off as a true musical theater trouper, worthy beyond doubt of sharing the screen with so many giants. Even better, he integrates that challenge into the whole of a flamboyantly joyful performance that makes Larson endearingly, compellingly three-dimensional. It’s a career-topping piece of work.

The rest of the principal cast – a refreshingly inclusive ensemble that reminds us that Larson was instrumental in making Broadway a much more diverse place – are equally fine. De Jesús gets a long-deserved chance to shine as Michael, and Shipp brings a quiet calm to the easily-could-have-been-overshadowed Susan that makes her the perfect balance to Garfield’s high-octane energy.

Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens contribute much more than their stellar vocal talents to their pair of roles as Larson friends and collaborators, and there are delicious supporting turns by Judith Light and Bradley Whitford – who gives an affectionately amusing and dead-on accurate screen impersonation of Broadway legend-of-legends Stephen Sondheim, one of Larson’s (and Miranda’s) biggest influences and inspirations, who accordingly looms large in the story despite his relatively short amount of screen time.

It should be obvious by now that “tick, tick… BOOM!” is a delight for people who love musical theater. But what if you’re not one of those people? The good news is that there is so much to enjoy here, so much real enjoyment, so much talent, so much hard work on display that nobody will have any reason to be bored.

Even people who DON’T love musical theater.

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