I can still remember the anticipation of going to the drive-in as a kid.  We’d eat dinner early and follow my mother’s instruction to get into pajamas - in those days, pajamas with feet in them. We experienced a certain amount of jealousy when we’d see other kids climbing on their parent’s car, running around and going off to get snacks.  We were stuck in the Buick, clad in Winnie the Pooh from head-to-toe, but our gnashing of teeth was restrained. We had Oreos and grape juice and most importantly we were about to see magnificence on a grand scale, the biggest screen any of us had ever seen; the only screen I had ever seen.  Before I ever set foot in a movie theater, the drive-in was my initiation, my invitation into a life-long love affair with the movies.  And all in all I’d have to say, it is still one of, if not the most, continually magical and moving relationships I have ever had, albeit one dimensional and all.  So when I heard that a drive-in still existed in Jersey, it immediately became a destination I had to get to, both to  revisit my childhood where the magic began and to continue to tell this great story of New Jersey.

We visited the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, the last outdoor picture show still standing.  The place is like holy ground that represents the glories of the past, while continuing to stage the magic of the present.  We then traveled 45 miles north to Riverton.  In 1932, Richard Hollingshead, Jr. was struck quite literally by the mother of invention, when he developed the idea of the drive-in for his mom, who because she was so large couldn’t be comfortable in a conventional theater space. 

Our next stop was in West Orange to Thomas Edison National Park, site of the world’s first movie studio, the Black Maria, where inventor/entrepreneur Edison, the so-called Wizard of Menlo Park, facilitated the development of moving pictures and "produced" some of the world's first films, starting in 1893.  There is some debate about who actually should be credited with inventing moving pictures.  Many believe Edison was solely responsible, but like most grand ideas, it was more accurately a collaborative effort, an evolution with many players and moving parts.  Regardless, many of the earliest films ever produced were done so there, in West Orange.  For any filmmaker or movie lover it should be a necessary pilgrimage.

I also wanted to connect with people about their own “early days of film.”   So all along the way, as we collected historical information we also asked folks to share their memories of going to the movies, their favorite films and actors, their cinema love stories.  And as important as dates and names and developments are in understanding a thing, there’s nothing that compares to hearing someone explain how the thing made them feel.  And few subjects connect to our emotions, our souls, the way movies do.

Finally, I spent some time with the person who I most associate with movies, my brother.  My love of movies began with him.  Closest to me in age, Christian, and I were partners in crime as kids going to the movies ALL THE TIME.  It's what we shared most...well that, and a bedroom growing up, but yeah...when I think back to what got me into loving and making movies, it's him, it's our shared childhood love of the magic of film.  So when I set out to do an episode about cinema in NJ, I wanted to include him, as a clear, tangible, human roadmap into my route and my roots in movies.  When my brother turned 16 he got a job at the local theater as an usher and eventually a manager.  The theater he oversaw was a classic old Jersey Shore place with a balcony and projectors that needed to be threaded.  It was about as pure a movie theater experience as you could get in the last decade of the twentieth century.  On hot summer days he’d invite me, along with friends, to the closed theater and we’d grab sandwiches and meatball subs and sit and watch movies in the balcony until the late afternoon, when we’d pour out of the theater and up to the beach for an end of day swim...and on and on and on.  The whole thing was about as perfect as...well, as something you’d see in the movies.

Enjoy Driving Jersey: CinemaNJ and remember when you  first fell in love with the movies.

Music for CinemaNJ was performed by The Following, Ryan Bott, Cody McCorry, Kevin Grossman, James McCaffrey & Jon Francis.