With Movie Theaters Closed, Marquees Go Viral
“You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.”
The final words of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) loom over the empty streets of Minneapolis. A quote from “Back to the Future” (1985) reminds Vancouver, Wash., that leaving the house could cause serious repercussions. A marquee in Lake Oswego, Ore., encourages the community to stream a film that the theater never had a chance to show.
In mid-March, as Broadway went dark and “nonessential” businesses began to close their doors, the gravity and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States grew. When movie theaters closed and owners buckled down for an indefinite hiatus, some chose to leave their own messages on the way out.
Some left lighthearted jokes, warping titles to create “The Social Distancing Network,” “No Close Encounters of Any Kind,” “No Corona for Old Men” and “Good Vaccine Hunting.”
Others opted for more abstract references.
Jordan Perry, the general manager of the Lake Theater & Cafe, initially wrote a dark parting joke for his community in Lake Oswego, Ore.
“It made me chuckle when I thought of it, and then it seemed to be making a lot of people chuckle,” Mr. Perry said. “But after about two weeks of that, as we sort of settled into the groove of coronavirus, it didn’t quite speak to the outlook that I, at least, wanted Lake Oswego to walk away with.”
“I had this marquee at my disposal — or the business’s marquee at my disposal — and I liked the idea of not only getting people to watch this great movie but of trying to speak in more hopeful terms,” he said.
Mr. Perry, who has worked at the Lake Theater & Cafe on and off for 23 years, said the two-screen theater is both a home for his staff and a home-away-from-home for his patrons. And though digital support is no substitute for the physical community that he’s missing, it’s still nice to see people laugh.
“The fact that it did catch on made me happy because it essentially showed there’s a place for more hopeful messages; that dark humor isn’t the only way we can express ourselves,” Mr. Perry said, before laughing. “It was also fun to see everybody think I was high, too.”
Dan Wyatt, the owner of the Kiggins Theater in Vancouver, Wash., has also been updating his marquee to match the phases of quarantine.
Following his first two messages — “Goonies never say die” and “Keep your distance, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance” — Mr. Wyatt decided to reference his favorite movie, “Back to the Future.”
“Cinema was always — for me — about hope and optimism,” Mr. Wyatt said. “You always hope these marquee messages going out will resonate the same way, or create the same effect that people have while sitting together and watching a movie communally and sharing those emotions.”
His single-screen theater has since caught the eye of many housebound movie fans, with Michael J. Fox — who played Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” trilogy — reposting a photo of the marquee himself. Since then, Mr. Wyatt has tried out two new messages: A play on different Tom Cruise movies and a reference to The Princess Bride.
“I think there’s a communal experience that goes beyond the budget spectacle,” Mr. Wyatt said.
“If you have a $100,000 movie theater in your home, it still does not compare to sitting elbow to elbow with people, and enjoying those experiences together,” he continued. “A comedy is going to be funnier, and an exciting adventure is going to be that much more exciting when it’s watched communally.”
Matthew Viragh, the founder of The Nitehawk Prospect Park in Brooklyn, left three parting messages on the theater’s marquee when it closed on March 14. For the last two months, the front has read “Now Showing: Onward,” referencing the animated movie that debuted shortly before quarantine began.
Though there’s no end in sight yet, he’s sure that the community will flock back to theaters once it’s allowed.
“People really do enjoy going to the movies and getting out of their apartments and being with people in general — that’s why you live in New York, right?” Mr. Viragh said. “For all the culture, all the food, and all of the time spent with friends.”
The other two sides of the Nitehawk’s marquee say “see you on the other side” and advise passers-by to “Be excellent to each other” — a message from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989) that has been written on theater marquees around the country.
And perhaps when it’s safe to reopen, theaters will add the response to that quote, rejoicing as we’re finally able to “Party on, dudes.”
www.nytimes.com 2020-05-15 19:39:27