The end of the drive-in: the cinema from the 70’s to now

I couldn’t possibly count how many times I’ve been to the movies – but considering I saw Twilight 10 times at the cinemas, I’m going to go with a lot. There is something so much more exciting about watching a movie on the big screen rather than on my bedroom television. Maybe it’s the mass of people all enjoying the same thing at the same time as you, maybe it’s the incredible sound and image quality, or maybe it’s the suspense of waiting for a movie to finally come out and the satisfaction when you finally see it for the first time. Whatever it is, obviously cinema is a much-loved thing, and has been for quite a while.


When planning a cinema trip however, it is clear that Torsten Hägerstrand’s constraints play a pretty substantial role in deciding whether or not to make the effort. These constraints are:

  1. Can I get there?
  2. Can I get there on time?
  3. Do I have the authority to be there?

The first two constraints are the those that have the greatest impact on my cinema-going. If I was to plan to go to the movies within the next few days, the biggest things I’d have to consider would be is it worth the money and can I justify wasting a few hours out of my intense schedule just to watch a movie – probably not.

It is interesting to compare my struggles to the experiences my mum has growing up with the cinema. I sat down with mum to hear about her prime cinema-going days and unfortunately some stories about her drive-in dates.

image source:
image source:

My mum spent a lot more time at the drive-in than she did at the cinema, simply because the drive-in was closer to her house and her uncle worked there so she never had to pay. She also just enjoyed the drive-in experience more than the cinema. With a smile, she remembers almost every weekend she would spend her days at the beach with friends and then head to the drive-in at night. In this way, there were no restrains on what people could wear – in fact, mum doesn’t remember there being many rules at all, except that every person had to pay for a ticket – of course this wasn’t abided by all the time and people used to sneak in car boots to avoid the fee.
When she did attend the cinema, it would be a big trip to the city with her relatively large family. This trip seems relatively excessive when I consider how easy it is for me to just randomly decide to go to the cinema that is 20 minutes from my house, check what is showing and buy tickets online in minutes.
When I ask mum about how much the cinema has changed since her teenage years, sound, seat and image quality are the biggest improvements in her eyes. Other than that and the use of a roll of film, the cinema has remained relatively consistent throughout the years: the seating layout is almost identical, the standard cinema food is the same (hallelujah), there are still those few people who won’t stop talking and there is still that couple making out up the back.

To end our conversation, mum has hope for the future of the cinema. She believes that it has been around for such a long time and really acts as a sort of right of passage for when a teenager first goes to the cinema by themselves. Whilst obviously, and excitingly, the technology, storylines and quality will improve, mum and I believe that the cinema is too important to loose, regardless of Hägerstrand’s constraints.


The new way to research

I want you to consider any research articles you have read lately, – whether it was on climate change (I hope it was), on how Facebook might be making us depressed, or on why people wear makeup (surprisingly interesting) – whatever it was, consider how much of the paper was based off quantitative research and heavily relied on charts and graphs. Now, consider how much of the research involved collaborative ethnography. ‘Never heard of it,’ you say? Not for long.

Collaborative ethnography is research that involves both the researchers and the collaborators partaking in constant mutual and collaborative engagement throughout the entirety of the study. This yields a greater and more involved relationship between the researcher and the people being researched; collaborators are not only part of the research, but they also receive something in reciprocal for the study. The result is a study that is co-written by local communities of collaborators which considers multiple audiences outside the confines of academic discourse; in this way, it often surfaces more accurate findings of social environments and a deeper and more contextualised understanding of relevant issues.

A relatively simple example of collaborative research can be seen in my previous post where I interviewed my mum about her experiences of television growing up. This study was collaborative in a number of ways: importantly, the interview acted as a reciprocal experience as my mum was glad to be able to help me out in any university work, and because she also got to share some pretty special childhood memories with me. Acting as a sort of reminiscing conversation, the conversation allowed me to hear about my grandma’s everyday life, something I had no idea about as she sadly passed away when my mum was very young. Additionally, each student studying BCM240 also interviewed someone about their television memories, and so all of these experiences can be pooled together to collect emerging themes and question — a perfect example of collaboration at a very deep level. If this research was conducted quantitatively, it would’ve been very difficult to conduce results that involved so much of the emotional responses that came out of many interviews.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of quantitative research (gotta love a good fun fact statistic) and I am certain that quantitative data could add depth to a lot of these television research reports, (data like how many people owned a TV, how often they watched it and so on) but collaborative ethnography has the ability to fill the gaps that quantitative research simply can’t and so I believe individual stories of media space experience really should matter to commercial researchers.