An American Icon

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

I have always loved watching movies, whether I watch them in the comfort of my own home or surrounded by strangers in a theater, as I happily much on nachos, losing myself in the story lines, whether they good or bad. There is just something magical about the silver screen; you can literally forget the cares of the world for a few hours. 

But, there is another place that I love to go to watch movies: The Big Mo.

The Big Mo, the drive-in theater in Monetta, South Carolina, has been a part of this community for nearly half a century, only being totally closed for 13 years in the late 80’s and most of the 90’s. I remember riding by it during my teenage years, seeing how it had been overtaken by weeds, trees and neglect. It was an American icon of a time gone by that had been given up to Mother Nature.

That is, until Richard and Lisa Boaz found her in 1998. A year later, the Big Mo was reborn under their love and care, and she has flourished ever since.  In 1999, double features were shown on one screen on the main field.  Today, cars will line up hours before show time to choose one of the three double features that are offered on three different fields.

How do I know so much?  I’ve sat in those lines and parked my car hours before a show time to wait and watch movies under the stars. And you can almost always find Mr. and Mrs. Boaz taking up the ticket money at the entrance.  Everyone, it seems, is greeted by a warm welcome and a smile with directions onto which field you need to be and to which station you should tune for the sound for your movies.

The Big Mo, I would wager, can lay claim to being a part of several generations of many families in this, and surrounding, areas.  My own mother talks fondly of how the drive in was one of her and my dad’s favorite hangouts when they were dating. Today, my own children love to run about and play on the playsets the Boaz’s have installed at the front of the fields, or throw footballs with their friends before the movies start. Often, they cajole me in to forking over the $1/each that it costs to ride the old electric train or the junior Ferris wheel.

For me, there is a feeling of safety here, a feeling of how people felt and lived back in the 50’s and 60’s, when times were simpler.  The hours before the movies start are not wasted or in vain; you make friends with those in the vehicles near you or you sit back and talk with the friends who have come along with you; it is a time of pure connection. When the sky darkens and the projector starts to roll, the boys clamber into folding chairs or onto laps or even into the back of the van where they can lie down in comfort and watch a movie. Sometimes, if we stay for both movies, it will be far past all of our bedtimes and the boys will have fallen asleep in the van. I have yet to sit in a theater building that gives the same feeling or experience that watching a movie under the stars at the Big Mo gives.

Much like watching a baseball game at one of the original major league baseball parks, watching a movie at the Big Mo instantly transports you back to a time of poodle skirts, ducktails, and muscle cars. Sure, things have changed through the years . . . no longer is there a speaker to attach to the car window to hear the sounds of the movies; today it is broadcast over FM radio frequency. Today the fields are packed with minivans, trucks, and larger-than-life SUV’s with admonitions to please be considerate and tie your back hatch down so as not to obstruct someone else’s view.  For those newcomers who may be unfamiliar with the custom, the Boazs typically send someone around with some twine to help pull those hatches down. Sure, there are still some 2 or 4 door cars parked on her fields, and I think many first dates are probably taken there. People come, in droves, from near and far to get that unmatched experience.

FilmUnfortunately, another very expensive change is looming large on the horizon for the Big Mo and all of her drive-in counterparts across the country: the forced upgrades from film projection to digital projection. Rough estimates project that the installation of a digital projector can cost upwards of $80,000. For the Big Mo, with her 3 screens, that figures skyrockets to almost a quarter of a million dollars.

We have the chance to do something to help her out though; we have a chance to help the Big Mo win one of four remaining digital projectors being donated by Honda to the a few drive-ins across the country, as a part of Project Drive-In.

Here is where you come in – the first round of voting has already ended and the first five projectors have been awarded; unfortunately the Big Mo was not one of the “top-vote-getters” in the first round.  However, we have the chance to help her win in the second round.

Go to http://projectdrivein.com/vote_52 and vote for the Big Mo.  You can vote once per day per computer and can also text a vote for her.  But do it quickly because the next round of voting ends on September 21st!

Let’s help keep the lights on in Monetta and at the Big Mo for generations to come.

2 thoughts on “An American Icon

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