Last Friday afternoon, the Admiral Twin drive-in theater (a Tulsa landmark since 1952 that was featured in both the book and movie versions of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders) was consumed by flames and, within only a few minutes, completely burned to the ground. Now, a mere pile of ashes represents what was once a part of cinematic history. At this time, the cause of the fire remains unknown; most certainly, this couldn’t be a case of arson, which would be a virtual impossibility for someone to pull off (during the middle of the day, no less) in what is essentially an open field located right next to a busy stretch of interstate highway. This morning, I spoke with my neighbor — who is quite the strapping firefighter (wakka chikka wakka chikka) — and have subsequently gathered that it was likely an unfortunate case of faulty, out-of-code electrical wiring. Quite simply, the Admiral Twin was a labor of love for its owners, who never made much money (with seasonal operations that only ran three nights per week anyway) from what was essentially a massive, uninsurable wood structure; but, as movie lovers know, a theater is always much more than its mere physical contents.
For certain, the Tulsa community has reacted with an outpouring of memories (and we’ve all got ‘em) and anecdotes, along with the inevitable admissions that the Twin’s grounds inspired the conception of countless children over the decades. Throughout all of the local media coverage of the fire and the aftermath, there was never any mention of what movie that the drive-in had played on the night before its demise. Nobody cared about such an insignificant detail when the question of rebuilding weighed heavily upon our collective mind. As a result, I found myself to be quite incensed on Saturday afternoon after Lionsgate and Eli Roth both began tweeting (and re-tweeting) about a TMZ story that brought national attention to the fact that the theater ran The Last Exorcism on the evening before the fire. Consequently, the online tabloid (along with, by their willing promotion of the story, Lionsgate and Roth) framed the demise of the Admiral Twin as a matter of “Could it be… Satan?” Essentially, the fact that this beloved theater was now gone had become a mere matter of free publicity. Naturally, I find this development to be awfully interesting when considering that, just last week, Roth complained to the Irish Times about the contemporary lack of integrity involved with both journalism and film criticism. Then, just a few days later and without a trace of irony, he commences a blatant attempt to capitalize upon the loss of a cultural and cinematic icon. So much for integrity, eh? For someone who professes to love cinema as much as Eli Roth does, I expected a more respectful treatment of this matter, but perhaps I’m only revealing my own naivité through that admission.
Again, I must stress the fact that, as a movie, The Last Exorcism isn’t consistent with this or any other component of Lionsgate’s obnoxious advertising technique, which the studio probably considers to be highly successful, since the movie nearly (but not quite) came in at first place on opening weekend. However, I respectfully disagree after just one glance of this movie’s progressive box-office collapse that occurred as opening weekend progressed. Hell, just between Friday and Saturday, the movie experienced a 25% drop in ticket sales (whereas other comparable PG-13 horror flicks generally do the opposite or stay the same), which leads me to believe that much of Friday’s business consisted of pissed-off audience members, who had been misled into thinking that they’d be watching an entirely different movie. In my review, I gave Lionsgate the benefit of the doubt for making producer Eli Roth the face of the movie’s publicity tour — an understandable tactic for a studio to employ when considering the recent success of Inglourious Basterds and Roth’s horror tenure — but the end result is that Lionsgate targeted an audience that came in expecting Hostel III (or, at the very least, a finale that was the supernatural equivalent of the Bubblegum Gang playing a detached-head soccer game). In addition, the movie’s posters and promotional spots led audiences to believe that the movie was an outrageously played out depiction of a wall-climbing, ceiling-walking tale of possession. Obviously, that’s not what unfolded onscreen, and a bewildered opening crowd quickly spread negative word-of-mouth that scared off people who’d otherwise have seen the movie that weekend (not to mention the foregoing loss of audience members by way of overdone “guerilla” advertising). Now, if Lionsgate considers a persistent internet buzz — and much of it remains negative — to be an indicator of success, well, they’re wrong. After all, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World had a shitload of internet buzz and took the #1 trending spot on Twitter for several weeks, even as crowds failed to buy tickets. Meanwhile, George Clooney did next to nothing to promote The American, which came in at the top of this weekend’s box office. Maybe someday, movie studios will take a hint and realize that toning it down is the real wave of the future.
Now, back to the topic at hand: The growing initiative to raise money for rebuilding the Admiral Twin drive-in theater. If you’re interested in contributing, a Facebook group now has t-shirts available for purchase (a benefit concert is in the planning stages as well). And below, you can observe the drive-in as it appeared within the Outsiders:
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.