You might miss Empire Drive-In if you don’t know it’s there. This theatre looks like the average junkyard, full of old cars and salvaged wood. Yet on nights and weekends, it transforms into a one-of-a-kind movie theatre with a twist: The junked cars are the seats.
On Saturday I payed a visit to the Empire Drive-In, a temporary art installation at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Nearby the theatre, two decommissioned NASA rocket ships tower over the parking lot, which glows with a quiet neon ambience. Parked inside this lot are more than two dozen junked cars, all arranged around a 12.2m-wide movie screen on a frame of salvaged wood.
The projector for the massive screen sits inside of an old van, which is stacked on top of another. The van below is home to the sound board and mixing equipment.
Inside, where the mixer is located, are two engineers working to keep the film running smoothly. It’s a surreal scene: High tech equipment operates from inside a scrap vehicle that predates it by a decade.
This work of nostalgia was the brain child of director Todd Chandler, Jeff Stark and a few other designers. The original purpose for Empire Drive-In was to compliment Chandler’s film, Flood Tide, and provide an experience completely independent but complimentary to the film. However, the installation has hosted several other events a week since its construction.
The week I attended, short films showing on the screen were scored to a live band. Many of the shorts were from contemporary artists, some of which have become quite famous — like Big Bang Big Boom by the artist Blu.
As you walk through the rows of cars, the audience makes themselves comfortable inside the front seats or on the roofs — or even on the trunks, so as to stretch their legs through the rear windshield and into the back seats.
All the cars have been rescued from a junkyard and fitted with a functioning radio, which transmit audio from the band nearby. There are many found objects hidden throughout the glove compartments and under the seats for patrons to explore, too. The cars themselves are only about 20 years old — already “retro” in their newfound home. [Empire Drive-In]