MOVIES IN THE PARK
A BRIEF HISTORY
A portable, collapsible, outdoor movie theater "environment" was designed and built for the New York City Department Cultural Affairs and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, in association with Signet Productions, Inc. Sponsored by Miller High Life Beer.
This portable movie theater environment was designed to be transported and set up in seven parks in the five boroughs of New York City. The various collapsible structures were built using aluminum pipes and sheet vinyl for the air supported structures. The air structures, some shaped like sausages and others like kiosks, were lit on the inside with fluorescent lights to produce a giant light bulb effect. These glowing air structures served to create the space and feeling of a theater environment while also acting as beacons to attract theatergoers. The seating was generally for about 5,000-7,000 people. This entire theater environment was stored and transported in an 18 foot truck which was also the base for the 18'x24' screen. It could be set up by a crew of four in sixty minutes. The programs for this series of free screenings consisted of various short films made by young experimental filmmakers. Interestingly, the film selections during the inaugural year of the "Movies in the Park" program were made by a young film student from NYU, Martin Scorsese.
"Our original idea was just to use Central Park, but the city people felt that all boroughs should have representation. We hired John Fülöp, an architect, and asked him to design a screen for us that's sort of a moveable drive-in. It should be set up so it can be broken down, disassembled, and reassembled all in one day. The whole thing was prefabricated and transported in a rather large truck". Richard Slote; President, Signet Productions.
"By the time we got to the hillside, not far from Fifth Avenue and Seventy Ninth Street, a big, quiet crowd had gathered, mostly young and mostly reclining on jackets and newspapers. There was a screen at the bottom of the hill, with large inflated plastic sausages extending forward from both sides, like a pair of comforting arms. Silhouettes of trees surrounding the crowd added to the general feeling of coziness....all this made us happy, and when the projector started to roll we grew happier still". THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE
This six week outdoor summer film program was very popular in New York City for several years and the idea spawned a series of similar outdoor movie setups and programs which were designed for other cities in New York State. For many subsequent years, Buffalo and Albany enjoyed similar summer screenings in their parks via the "Free Movies, Inc." program sponsored by the New York State Council on the Arts.