We Were All At The Drive In

While hurriedly setting up a show in an abandoned drive-in movie theater trying to beat the quickly descending sun and a giant yellow schoolbus rolls up full of joyful, waving New Yorkers while you wave back with equal excitement and anticipation is the kind of memory that will always make me smile! Last night we performed at the Last Chance Picture Show in a shady little town north of New York City. Even as performers we were uninformed as to its whereabouts so we all met under the BQE and followed the directions handed out by our fearless leaders/organizers: Todd Chandler and Jeff Stark. The original concept for their Empire Drive In project consisted of banged up stacked cars, a screen made of salvaged materials and a radio broadcast that would pipe the sounds of the show around a structure that housed the whole experience! The project was part of the 01SJ Biennial last year (whose title was aptly "Build Your Own World"- a sentiment Gravity, oddly enough, promotes in those exact words!), an artistic exposition that encourages builders to augment the world for the better (a sentiment that I think all art should promote!).

This beautifully curated version of the project was a little different. After selecting a disused drive-in theater in upstate New York (and then choosing another after the original location was demolished a week before showtime!) the two set out to put on a screening of short films along with live musical accompaniment. We began the show with Todd Chandler on upright bass, Jamie Reeder on violin, Jim White on drums, Drew on harmonium and theramin, Brent on guitar and me on flute & foley all playing an eerie marching version of Brent's Weird Carolers  film, asking the audience to hum along to Beethoven's 9th behind us. The feeling was incredible as a whole crowd sung along to this haunting film in a forgotten space, bringing a weird life to everything all at once! After our set Todd and Jamie played a beautiful banjo and violin duo to a film by Maya Deren! I always have images of Deren's lush, spooky, grainy movements stuck in my head and the soundtrack they played is now the sound I will always hear when picturing! Beautiful!

Todd Griffin and Catherine McRae of The Quavers scored along some animation by Lotte Reiniger while George Graham and the Royal Garden Jess Band (a sweetly skilled brassy jazz ensemble) played along to such classics as Buster Keaton in a Keystone Cop film, some weird IBM animations and a silent short with femme fatales, early plane flight and crowds going wild!  There were also plenty of cutesy intermission shorts, an encore screening of the ever so twisted cult classic Wild Zero (Japanese punk band saves the world through sexuality and laser guitar weapons?) and some crowd members even dressed up like car hops hawking candy with a wink and a smile- the whole thing was so so enchanting!

A highlight of the event though was, by far, Jem Cohen. With a secret musical cast of Jim White and Guy Picciotto, both musicians whose depth of playing is something I can't quite wrap my ears around, scored a new film Jem just completed called Real Birds. The film was a beautiful meditation on nature, both of the natural world and that of man, the intersection of both hidden under bridges, in murals, in plastic streamers, in puddles, in food scraps, in the ways nature and man interact and react within a city.  Jem really is the quintessential New York filmmaker and the way he manages to capture the multi-faceted, ever changing New York existence is awe inspiring, the work of a real filmmaking genius!

On the eve of the anniversary of such a historically tragic day I can't help but be filled with almost a sense of pride, or maybe just happiness, knowing that this kind of event can bring people together in the polar opposite of the way tragedy can. Everytime artists conceive of something that puts wonder into the world they are chipping away at all of the horror that people can also create. I don't know the future of this drive-in project at all but I do hope it can become part of an annual NY tradition to balance out at least some of the memories. A special thanks goes out to Flux Factory for organizing the bus, Rooftop Films for the equipment and to any & all who helped make this event happen, including the local police who deemed our actions peaceful early on and let the show proceed without a hitch! What a wondeful world!



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.