Cinemadope: Getting in Gear

Now in its 65th year, the Northfield Drive-In remains one of our region’s most enduring testaments to our love of movies. Located on the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the summer destination attracts untold thousands of filmgoers—the open-air cinema holds about 400 cars—who pull in for a mix of blockbusters, family fare and more under the night sky, rain or shine (it has also bounced back from at least one hurricane, in 1951). It’s also proven popular with the people who make movies, serving as a backdrop for several scenes in the Oscar-winning 1999 film The Cider House Rules.

The theater has just closed for the 2013 season, but it went out with a bang. Owner Mitchell Shakour made the announcement during a recent Saturday night screening: the drive-in, whose future had seemed up in the air due to changes in the motion picture industry, will continue on in 2014 by converting to a digital format. The news was greeted with a chorus of car horns—normal applause wouldn’t seem right in a venue like the Northfield.

Of course, digital conversion has never been cheap, and a drive-in theater has special equipment needs—like a 6,500-watt digital projector capable of filling the venue’s enormous outdoor screen. To help make it happen, the theater has set up The Northfield Drive-In Digital Fund, to which local movie lovers can donate any amount to aid the cause. But with a little luck, the drive-in might snag one free of charge; as part of a countrywide push to save American drive-ins, auto giant Honda is donating five of the powerful projectors to those theaters whose patrons cast the most votes. If you’d like to be part of the Northfield’s future, details are available on the theater’s website or at It may be too late to catch a show there this season, but it’s never too soon to start planning a trip for next year.

Amherst Cinema, meanwhile, continues its year-round business this week with screenings of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the new feature from writer-director David Lowery. A sort of McCabe and Mrs. Miller meets Cormac McCarthy story—which is to say, a tale about American archetypes that both accepts and transcends our conventions—his film follows outlaw Bob Muldoon and his wife Ruth as they do crime together and do time separately in the hill country of ’70s-era Texas. Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (best known for the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), what begins as a crime-spree romance becomes a meditative take on peace and parenthood in the face of past violence.

Also this week: A clutch of special screenings hit area theaters over the next few days, all showing at Hadley’s Cinemark Theaters. First up is a Mystery Science Theater presentation of Starship Troopers, which screens Thursday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Expect giant bugs, interstellar shoot-’em-ups, and snarky onscreen commentary from the MST gang, who make a career out of riffing on the goofiest of our movie tropes.

On Saturday, the cinema hosts a live broadcast of what is being billed as “the fight of the decade,” although it sometimes seems that all fights are billed that way. This one, pitting eight-time world champion Floyd Mayweather against Canelo Alvarez, gets underway when the starting bell rings at 9 p.m.

And screening on both Sunday and Wednesday is the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Based on Harper Lee’s iconic novel of the same name, the film adaptation stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a Southern lawyer appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man, against a trumped-up charge of raping a white girl. In the 1930s Alabama of the film, a fair trial is all but impossible—but for the Finch children Scout and Jem, the violence and virulence of racism brings lessons of its own.•


Jack Brown can be reached at

Author: Jack Brown

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