Outdoor movies were always a foreign concept for me until I moved here. I usually had to work when they did the ones on top of a parking garage back home and whatever happened in Boston never crossed my radar. Here, though, it seems like you have options in every borough every night. So far my experiences had been subpar — an overcrowded Close Encounters in Bryant Park and a rained out Rango on Coney Island Beach — but this one sounded more interesting. Cinebeasts, a local film group, and the 2 W(h)eels Collective, a pro-bike group, were showing Pee Wee’s Big Adventure at the Onderdonk House in Ridgewood. As with so many weekend events, though, it was on a night that I couldn’t go. Thankfully, a downpour soaked the streets that night and it was pushed back a week. The event, for reasons I’m still not quite sure of, was called “Wonderdonk.”
The following Friday, Jeff and I took a quick bus ride up, getting off next to the cemetery. We walked through a mix of industrial buildings to find the Onderdonk estate nestled on a corner. Trees shielded it from the street, but from the amount of bikes chained to the fence it was clear that a crowd had begun to gather. After awkwardly dealing with the suggested donation (if you’re going to charge, then just charge), we ambled up the dirt path to join the party. Aside from a couple portable toilets and a small projector screen, the little field looked relatively untouched. Other buildings encroached on the boundaries, but there was actually a lot more room than I’d expected. With plenty of time to spare, we claimed a picnic table in a shaded area, next to someone selling basil lemonade and something involving kimchee.
I had four large bottles of beer and two Table Talk pies ready to go in the backpack, but with the amount of kids running around, we felt too out of place to dig in. That soon changed when Vince, an acquaintance we hadn’t seen in quite some time, randomly appeared. He was meeting friends who’d staked out space in the front row where we gladly joined them. To our left sat a fenced in rock, which Jeff quickly identified as “Arbitration Rock” from one of his Wikipedia binges. Once it came time to start, we endured my least favorite part of these things, the introductions. I understand that it takes a lot of people to put something like this together, and they should be recognized, but it’s a good way to lose your audience. We then spent another 20 to 30 minutes watching the short classic, The Red Balloon. Aside from the bright colors and impressive ’50s flying technology, it didn’t do much for me. During intermission, I couldn’t help but wonder who all these people were behind me. Ridgewood isn’t really that far, but somehow it felt like we’d all made a serious commitment to venture up here.
Once we cracked the second bottle and the feature presentation began, though, I realized that Pee Wee was still a real draw all these years later. Growing up, I’d always loved the show but had less experience with the movies. When his Broadway special came on TV I watched about half of it, before falling asleep. I vowed to stay awake this time. The moment the credits came up, I remembered the main drawback of outdoor movies — audience participation. Seeing movies in any public place means you’ll experience some inappropriate laughter, but outside you also get a healthy dose of talking and hollering. The increasing amount of booze probably didn’t help. After a few minutes, though, I realized that this was the perfect movie to see in such a setting. Focused more on scene gags than an overarching story, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is meant to be enjoyed with others. A few minutes and a couple more sips in, I was laughing right along with them.
It seemed that I’d finally found a way to coexist peacefully with hipsters out in the wild (namely with them sitting behind me in a dark environment). I didn’t even mind when the host, dressed in Pee Wee-style attire, led a dance line up front during the famous “Tequila” scene. Pee Wee’s boundless optimism had made me feel more open-minded, and for a second I even considered going to the event-sponsored after party in Bushwick. Maybe it was the speaker interference of a pop radio station near the end that pulled me out, or the realization that I had to open for brunch the next morning, but I ended up deciding against it. After saying bye to Vince & co., unsuccessfully looking for chickens in their coop and downing the last of our beer, Jeff and I returned to the world. Looking at the Onderdonk from across the street as packs of bikers departed and we waited for our bus, it almost didn’t seem real. The name Wonderdonk might just make sense after all.