Drive-in makes Russia premiere

Moscow: Cars squeeze in tight as the new Cinedrome opens with a Hollywood-like splash.

June 19, 1999|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Tatyana Busyreva had no doubt she was being mocked when told about the latest scheme being promoted here: Moviegoers were being invited to climb into their cars, drive into the middle of a field and watch a movie -- for a hefty price, too.

"There are two ways to watch a film," said Busyreva, a teacher, in a tone that brooked no dispute. "Either you stay at home, relaxed, sitting in your underwear on the sofa, or you dress up and go to a fancy theater with a big screen."

Busyreva, 38, has the good fortune to own a Zhiguli, the boxy but beloved Russian car that tortures the back, cramps the legs and resembles a can of Spam.

"Why should I sit in my car?" she asked. "It feels horrible even imagining it."

Sixty-six years after Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. of New Jersey put a projector on top of his car and showed movies on a screen in his driveway, Moscow is opening its first drive-in movie theater.

The Russian version arrived in the wee hours yesterday, in a prestigious region on the edge of the city, not far from an apartment building occupied by President Boris N. Yeltsin and other high-ranking officials. The new Cinedrome has space for 110 cars, sound is transmitted through car radios and the price of admission is $8, including a snack.

"Places are reserved for a week in advance," said Anna Nosenko, a spokeswoman for the new theater, suggesting that the trendy Muscovite's desire to sample the latest Western craze will help overcome sensible Russian skepticism.

If the automobile age came intoits own in the 1950s in the United States, with drive-ins peaking at more than 4,000 in 1958, then that era is just arriving in Russia.

It is heralded by the bowling alleys appearing all over Moscow, by fast food, by two silvery, neon-lighted diners and now the drive-in. Though car ownership has grown extensively in Russia this decade, there are only 18 million cars for a population of 146 million.

The Cinedrome, opening with a Hollywood-like splash for an array of invited guests, showed the premiere of the Russian film "Diamonds Sprinkled in the Sky," directed by Vasily Pichul, known for the perestroika-era classic "Little Vera."

As darkness began to descend, the new drive-in looked more like a crowded parking lot than the sweeping asphalt fields of American memory, with their long banked rows offering a decent view and plenty of room to open the door wide enough to get out and buy refreshments.

On opening night, cars were squeezed tight. A Mercedes dominated the front row, with one of the blue lights on its hood that the aggressive rich use to force their way through traffic by flashing the beacons to signal their status. A little Zhiguli was parked behind a Land Rover, which totally obscured the view. A bottle of vodka stood on a car's hood.

The drive-in was dreamed up by two showmen, Alexander Volkov and Vasily Lavrov, and financed by others who did not want their names known -- mostly to the mafia and the tax police.

This business has its own problems. In the summer it's light nearly all night long -- the opening began late because it was too light to show the film at 11 p.m. And in winter it's far too cold to imagine sitting in a car for very long.

Russians, as their character demands, were expecting the worst.

"I know about such places from American films," said Irina Yermalayeva, who works for television's Culture Channel. "I imagine huge Cadillacs and young people sitting comfortably inside, watching a film.

"How will it look here, from inside a small, stuffy car? And they'll offer the films young people want, light entertainment with kisses.

"Wouldn't it be better to put chairs in the open air and make people comfortable and show good films, so they could enjoy both the film and fresh air?

"In Moscow we have bad air and dirty windshields. You just try it and see if you enjoy it."

Alexei Ilingin, 22, had heard about American drive-ins and knew that they had been popular destinations for dating teen-agers.

"We like to kiss in other places," he said, "not in open cinemas."

Even so, nearly everyone was sure the drive-in would attract plenty of customers.

"In a city of 12 million people," said Nikolai Golovin, with a sucker-born-every-minute tone to his voice, "they'll find someone to buy a ticket."

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