On the evening at the end of September countless cars, campervans and motorcycles swarmed into Sheffield’s Sylvester Street Car Park, serenaded by a Motown soundtrack and circled by girls on roller-skates offering pretzels and caramel popcorn.
Sensoria Festival, Sheffield’s independent festival of music and film, held its final screening as the last of the daylight faded, leaving an autumnal chill in the air all too fitting for a cinematic tribute to the last night of summer.
For the finale of Sensoria 2013, organisers indulged festival goers with a city centre Drive-In, showcasing George Lucas’ cult classic American Graffiti. Their aim is to fuse music, art and film to create a vivid and immersive experience for viewers, who were surrounded at the Drive-In by memorabilia vibrantly reflecting the action on screen.
American Graffiti is a nostalgic homage to teen life in the early 1960’s, told through a series of quirky vignettes that narrate a single night of unexpected adventure and mayhem for a young group of friends. Classic cars and rock and roll are integral to the plot and the film revolves around the ‘cruising culture’ of the early sixties.
The film encapsulates a wistful and rose-tinted ideal of the early sixties, packed full with stereotypical Americanisms such as Coca-Cola, classic cars, hamburgers and fries, and ‘rock and roll’. To complement the film, Sensoria surrounded viewers with beautiful vintage cars and a retro soundtrack courtesy of DJ Wolfman Jack, American Graffiti’s ever-present DJ.
Cinema wasn’t the only treat at the drive-in. Sensoria certainly succeeded in creating an all-encompassing drive-in atmosphere as the car park teamed with artisan coffee carts, popcorn vendors, a retro ice cream van and a throng of vintage cars. Girls in victory rolls and inline skates delivered salted pretzels as the giant, inflatable screen flashed purple and yellow, ‘Welcome to the Drive-In’.
As the sky grew darker, the colours on screen became more vibrant and spectators huddled closer together. The credits began to roll and the film appeared in glorious Technicolor projected onto a 25-foot-high inflatable screen. Rows of cars were instructed to tune their radios to transmit the soundtrack, while pedestrian ticket-holders were given front row seats just below the big screen.
American Graffiti is poignant yet funny, silly and serious, and partly exists simply to house artefacts of a lost era. This lovely film was an experiment in marketable nostalgia, which members of the audience bought into as they grazed on salted pretzels and sugar-sweet popcorn.
In our previous article on Sensoria Sheffield Unchained editor Marishka talks to the founder, Jo Wingate, about the birth of the festival and its celebration of the crossover between music, film and art. Sensoria, founded in 2008, is renowned for its pioneering spirit, use of unusual venues and innovative installations.
As well as working to recreate the on-screen experience off-screen, Sensoria also endeavour to breathe new life into overlooked Sheffield landmarks. The city centre Drive-In brought excitement and electricity to a typically unremarkable car park. The Sylvester Street Car Park is managed by Bank Park, a charitable parking organisation, and as such the proceeds from the Drive-In will include donations to the Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, which provides much needed support to terminally ill children and their parents.
Before the credits rolled every member of the audience was surely filled with the kind of nostalgia George Lucas had intended American Graffiti to inflict. Surrounded by vintage cars, full of salty snacks and moved by the sentimental sound of the early sixties.
The city centre Drive-In perfectly illustrated Sensoria’s unique ability to transform improbable locals into stunning venues, although only temporarily, leaving fans feeling the familiar pinch of nostalgia once more.