“Electric tiaras” are what theatre historian Ben M. Hall called the movie marquee. The cinema marquee and its readograph – the backlit sign written with moveable letters – is as important as the movie poster. Originally a rectangular sign, its shape was adapted to a more trapezoid formation specifically to be seen from a moving car. An iconic image like the film projector, clapper board and film reel, the movie marquee evokes the Golden Age of the movies. Before the internet, before the telephone, it beckoned everyone to the palace of pictures. The marquee is a tractor beam to those who need entertainment, adventure and solace.
As the COVID-19 crisis bites hard through the big screen industry, many of its cinemas might be closed, but their marquee remains, telling us not to lose faith. The Esquire Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio is prime example of the trouper spirit. Every Friday the Esquire Theatre will put a new movie quote on the marquee’s readograph. The first 3 people to guess the correct movie that the quote is from scores two passes to the theater. For those who are self-isolating, the theater posted a photo online. The ever-changing marquee is a sign of life: as long as new letters go up, the movie house is far from dead.
Here are some recent examples of encouraging marquees to remind us why we go to the pictures. So be excellent to each other – and remember: It could be worse. It could be raining.
The home of Hollywood’s famed movie studios, Los Angeles has any number of cinemas that have updated their marquees to reflect their current pandemic closures.
Movie houses in London too are not immune from closure and have also taken to switching up their marquee signage to let patrons know.
Portland, Oregon has a strong indie cinema scene which has taken to their marquees en masse to announce COVID-19 shutdowns in one form or another.
A trend that seems to be prevalent is cinemas placing ironic movie titles, real or fictitious, on their marquees. Likewise, well known quotes from classic films are another popular source for recent marquee material.
Some operators are offering upbeat words of encouragement as their customers self-isolate at home.
Then there are those cinema operators that are using their marquees for clever promotional efforts while they are closed.
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