Moviegoers get into the swim of things

'Dive-ins' across the country allow you to watch films at the pool. If you don't mind soggy popcorn, that is.

It's dusk here at the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club's Arbor Pool where, just hours ago, splashing and screams filled the afternoon. Now rows of chaise lounges blanketed in gray-and-white striped towels are lined up in front of a giant screen.

It won't be long before scenes from "Shark Tale" wash over the expectant crowd. And by the time dusk turns into night, eager eyes will begin to droop as mouths now stuffed with brownies will instead be filled with small thumbs.

All summer long, similar scenes have played out at public and private pools across the country. Recalling parents' nostalgia for the drive-ins of their youth, the summer "dive-in" has become the outdoor movie of choice for families.

Even before the New Jersey evening in 1933 when the first drive-in movie was projected from the hood of a car onto a screen hung from a tree, bathers have been watching movies from the water. One photo from the 1920s shows an outdoor screen set up on the banks of the San Antonio River as people swim in the foreground, according to a 2001 story in the San Antonio Express-News.

For the second year, the evening here at the Arbor Pool began with a barbecue. The pool closed promptly at 7 p.m. After dinner, before the sky turned dark enough to start the show, children's faces and bodies were adorned with paint.

Young Nick Evans, his stomach overtaken by a red bull's-eye, says he would have liked to be able to float in the pool while watching the film, but the resort prohibits it for safety reasons. (Other pools, like those in Lakeland, Fla., and Roeland Park, Kan., encourage inflatable rafts.) On second thought, Nick says, visiting from Harvard, Mass., with his mother and sister, he wouldn't want his bull's-eye smudged or the pool streaked with paint.

The fare at dive-ins has been much the same this summer: "Shark Tale" has been popular, as has "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." Soho House, a private club with a rooftop pool in New York, tends toward films with a Manhattan theme, like anything by Woody Allen or "Breakfast at Tiffany's." At pools that cater to an older crowd, "Jaws" is a perennial favorite. Raging Waters, a water park in San Dimas, Calif., immortalized in the movie "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," showed "Jaws" for the first time in 1987.

But it's been in the past few years that poolside cinema has spread to small towns and big cities across the country. Many places are using inflatable movie screens, which are easier to set up and do better in windy conditions. Open Air Cinema, a distributor, says screen rentals for dive-in movies have doubled in the last year.

Much of the audience at the Arbor Pool has seen "Shark Tale" one, two, even five times, but that hasn't dampened their enthusiasm. In her brand new pink Red Sox cap, Sydney Mason of Toronto says the movie is part or her family's collection at home.

"It feels a bit like a drive-in," says Sydney's mother, Gwen, with her husband and oldest daughter reclining nearby. "We used to, as kids, go to a drive-in, and it just doesn't exist anymore."

Even better than a drive-in, says Jamie Hawkins, up from New York with her son and daughter, you don't have to drive home. "It's just a short walk back to the room."

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