Monday, September 17, 2012


Veggie Burgers, Flower Punk and Eight Hours of B-Movie Bliss…Does Life Really Get Any Better Than This? 

Every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, dorks and dweebs across the Southland flock to this event called “Dragon*Con,” an all-out nerd-fest where unattractive females and lard-o men-children clad themselves in Hobby Lobby regalia and spend half of their yearly earnings on pointless crap no human being could ever possibly need. Conversely, it’s also a weekend where suburban weasels, ex-jocks and people that have never been to college flock to the Georgia Dome to watch the first week of SEC football. And if both of those things sound about as inviting as a case of HPV, then there’s this third option you can partake of in the ATL come the first weekend in September…pending you have the guts, of course.

Longtime INTERNET IS IN AMERICA readers should know all about my affinity for the Starlight Six Drive-In by now. Every Labor Day weekend, the theater holds this all day and all night celebration of all things white trash called “Drive Invasion,” which is quite possibly the greatest thing that’s happened to Atlanta over the last decade and a half. It’s a festival of sorts filled with classic car exhaust fumes and Savannah College of Art Design skanks walking around covered in fake blood and hipster-douches drinking cheap-o beers (to give you an idea of the target audience for this thing, Pabst Blue Ribbon is one of its primary sponsors) while no-talent punkabilly bands make shrieking cat sounds with their guitars until nightfall. It’s a glorious celebration of inner-city redneck-edness that’s equal parts genuine and synthetic; watching all of the shirtless frat boys hoot and holler at a 20 foot tall Kurt Russell may get tiresome after a while, but by the time you bite into that first veggie dog of the night, as a vintage trailer for “Fritz the Cat” blares through your in-car speakers, you just KNOW that you’re experiencing cinema they way it ought to be experienced.

The drive-in theater is very much in my blood. There’s just something about being able to watch a movie, underneath the stars, with the breeze in your hair, that seems so utterly perfect and complementary. There aren’t a whole lot of drive-ins left in the US of A, which is why I’m eternally grateful to have a venue as fine as the Starlight Six practically right next door to me. And when I’m offered the opportunity to partake of an all-night, 35mm movie-thon - a prospect sweetened by some quasi-decent local indie rock and snack bar cuisine that’s a million times better than it has any right to be - you KNOW full well that my ass is going to be there with bells on (or, more accurately, there with a trunk filled with contraband soda, but now we’re just getting into semantics.)

The premise of “Drive-Invasion” is really simple. Early in the morning, the gates open, and everybody finds a parking spot where they then proceed to crack open some tall boys, eat some ‘tater chips and smoke stuff that may or may not be the marijuana. There’s a “classic car” competition at some point, but honestly, it’s not that interesting (except for the occasional drag race between hearses in the adjacent parking lot, but management tends to frown upon things like that being discussed in a public forum.) From noon until 9 at night, a bunch of local bands - typically, some ironic country act or a punk-outfit fronted by Georgia State trust fund recipients - bang on their instruments, while Drive-invaders stroll (well, more like stumble and waddle) from vendor booth to vendor booth. Admittedly, I was kinda’ disappointed by this year’s merchandising opportunities, which was relegated mostly to some Etsy-quality jewelry and the aberrant tent with guys trying to get you to buy HD-DVDs and knock-off Godzilla toys. Also, people are allowed to camp at the lot overnight, so there were quite a few tents set up across the hinterlands. And despite the fact that the night’s itinerary including stoner-rock bands and four R-rated movies in succession (not to mention all of the rampant beer-swilling, acid-dropping and boob-exposing), there was actually quite a few number of children in attendance at the event. And for the parents that decided to bring their wee ones to this year’s ceremonies? Something tells me there’s going to be a meeting with DFACS in your future, very, very shortly.

Admittedly, the atmosphere here isn’t for everybody, especially if you’re a germophobe. Long story short, if you make flesh-to-flesh contact with anybody at the event, you’re probably driving home with a new STI, and for flip-flop wearers? At some point, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re going to nick yourself on a shattered Corona bottle, and if the absolute LEAST you get out of it is an updated tetanus shot, you should consider yourself extremely lucky. Yeah, there’s quite a few downsides to “Drive-Invasion,” particularly for those of us with more refined cultural tastes; even so, it’s such a cumulatively awesome event that I’d at least advise checking it out if you happen to be in town for Labor Day, if nothing else, for three very specific reasons…


You really wouldn’t expect a drive-in theater film festival to be a haven for quality, hillbilly munchies, but what do you know? Not only are there enough Slushies and liquefied cheddar cheese to drown a small village at “Drive-Invasion,” there are actually some VEGETARIAN options on tap, too.

At the Six, you have all of your usual options; nachos, popcorn, gourmet popsicles manufactured by some pretentious douches out of Buckhead…all of the expected stuff, really. But where things get a little unexpected is in the tofu department - where not only are there pseudo meat hot dogs and burgers at your disposal, but the options are, egad, actually kinda’ tasty.

As you can see, the folks at the Starlight Six take that extra step to insure that your foodstuffs are easily portable. These cardboard containment units are very easy to transport from the snack bar to your driver’s seat, and they actually hold a pretty sizable amount of food. This tray here could definitely hold a full meal for two, with additional room for two extra large soda cups AND a double load of napkins and condiments. And as far as condiments go, they really go out of their way to give you the best pre-packaged sauce deal in town, with relish, hot sauce AND spicy brown mustard sharing cubby space with the ketchup and mayonnaise.

As a guy that’s experimented a great deal with tofu dogs, I have to say that the meatless wieners at the Six are among the BEST traditional-style faux-dogs I’ve ever had. It’s extremely difficult to pull the tofu-links out of the water at just the right moment (probably, because the damn things never change colors in the transition from “frozen” to “boiled to a crisp”), but the guy at the drive-in seem to have that ultra-difficult art form down to a science. And if that’s not enough for you, you also have the option to load your tofu dog with nacho cheese, jalapenos AND chili, if the urge hits you.

Now, this veggie burger may not look delicious, per se, but looks, as we all are quite aware, are often deceiving. Granted, it’s a very basic arrangement - a lightly grilled patty on two all-white buns - but you know what? That simplicity gives the dish a certain gustatory quality that, in many ways, is far more enjoyable than if it was overloaded with extras. Besides, you have to take logistics into consideration here: you’re eating this stuff while nestled behind a steering wheel, and it’s not like anybody really enjoys finding iceberg lettuce chunks in their console the morning after…


This year’s “Drive-Invasion” was highlighted by two local acts - The Subsonics (a pioneering “raw rock” band that was doing the White Stripes sound a good decade before Jack White was) and Black Lips, one of the absolute best indie-rock acts in all of the Southland. The atmospherics here were just tremendous, and if you’ve never seen a middle aged woman striptease while a bunch of Atlanta natives sing songs about Frankenstein’s monster…well, you my friend, really need to start living sometime soon.

The Subsonics performing "Frankenstein!" 

The Black Lips performing "Dirty Hands!" 

The Black Lips performing "O Katrina!"

More Shenanigans from the Black Lips at Drive-Invasion 2012!

The Black Lips performing "Bad Kids," and a special message from the organizers of Drive-Invasion!


OK, so there are a lot of reasons to check out “Drive-Invasion” every year, from the tofu dogs to the Atlanta punk acts to the classic car shows to the vendors trying to charge you ten bucks for a laminated picture of Dr. Who they printed off their desktop an hour beforehand. But the ultimate reason to attend the annual event is, of course, the opportunity to check out eight hours of 35mm film…and this year, the Six’s line-up certainly did not disappoint.


If nothing else, you have to respect John Carpenter for his diversity as a filmmaker. There's not many people out there than can say they invented the modern slasher film and the modern action movie AND the modern sociopolitical sci-fi satire, but Johnny Boy has all of the above on his resume, PLUS out-there forays into all sorts of supernatural-themed material (which, admittedly, fluctuates from passable to downright shittaculur.) While a lot of people really revere this flick, I think it's just mildly better than average - as much as I love kung-fu flicks and horror-comedies, I just don't think this one merges the two genres as effectively as other offerings have. I'll give it some props though, for having some interesting character design and, of course, Kurt Russell's non-stop zingers, but at the end of the day? It's an all-right movie, but nothing too mind-blowing. 


In case you're wondering, this is the original print of the film, with Harrison Ford's voiceover narration and the really shitty ending. There's no denying that this is a beloved sci-fi film, but truthfully, I was never that big a fan of the picture. While it's nice to see Ridley Scott exploring a lot of existential themes via a science-fiction perspective (not that he's trudging through the exact same philosophical material thirty years later), I think the movie hits too many snags along the way and never becomes too engrossing. That said, the art design is outstanding, and I loved how the film gives us a vision of a negative utopia that seems at least halfway plausible; it's an interesting film worth at least a viewing or two, but don't count me as one of the film's hardcore defenders. 

BLACULA (1972)!

This was probably my favorite flick being screened at this year's festivities, and it was at this point, around one or two in the morning, that I began hitting that wall where I was beginning to fade slowly in and out of consciousness. This, despite having FIVE dark cherry sodas in my gut, and at least two pounds of soy-meat from several hours earlier. Even so, I managed to push through the flick, which is definitely one of the better blaxploitation-horror flicks to come out of the 1970s (and I don't know if I will EVER come to grips with the fact that Blacula and the King of Cartoons are the same human being.) If you've never seen this one, I'd definitely advise checking it out - although seeing it on 35mm, while your girlfriend naps on your shoulder, while you furtively drip nachos down your esophagus without trying to avoid getting jalapeno juice all over the upholstery - is most definitely the optimal way to experience the movie. 

H.O.T.S. (1979)!

I think this one kicked off at around 3 in the morning. Not surprisingly, only a handful of cars remained in the parking lot, and I'm pretty sure I was the only person watching it that WASN'T strung out on Coors or Natty Ice. I'd never heard of this one before, and admittedly, I kinda' enjoyed it. It's your standard college-exploitation sex-comedy (think "Revenge of the Nerds," only LESS classy), and it was fairly enjoyable...but then again, I was *this close* to passing out on the steering wheel while I screened it, so take my praise with a VERY large grain of salt. If you've ever wanted to see a movie that concludes with strip football and a frat boy receiving sexual favors from a porpoise, you might want to see if this one is on Netflix somewhere. 

And that, in a nutshell, is why Drive-Invasion is one of the most fun things you can experience in the state of Georgia. As a kid that's never really grown out of that phase where staying up all night chugging colas and watching bad movies and fighting off the Sandman remains ridiculously entertaining, Drive-Invasion remains one of my favorite autumnal rites, right up there with staying up until 2 am on a work night to watch the Raiders first game of the season and sipping on that first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the fall. In fact, this Drive-Invasion thing might just be my new official marker to gauge when summer ends and fall kicks off...and if you're ever in the ATL in early September, I reckon it's a ritual you'd be downright foolish to avoid participating in.


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