Words & Stuff

M: What's Showing?

(28 September 1997)

When I was in high school, doing backstage work for the theatre department, one of my occasional responsibilities was to put announcements (of theatrical presentations, sports events, and so on) on the marquee-style sign out by the road. Unfortunately, we had a limited set of letters to use, and every so often we would need more Ts, for instance, than we had. This limitation forced us to be creative; we could abbreviate words, for instance, or change the wording slightly, or turn some letters upside-down to approximate others.

Movie theatre marquees don't usually have to worry about running out of letters, but they are often required to fit the titles of a large number of movies into a relatively small amount of space. The result is often several titles run together (with no obvious separation, or with only a line break to separate them), and often involves abbreviating the titles. Sometimes the effect is unintentionally comic.

For instance, one East-coast theatre earlier this year was showing The Empire Strikes Back, Fools Rush In, and Jerry Maguire. The marquee outside read:

The Empire
Jerry Maguire

...Well, okay, perhaps someone made that one up. My notes are unclear.

chaos golubitsky told me about a marquee encountered in a book of amusing road signs:

The Fly
Gods Must Be Crazy

Bhadrika says that the Somerville Theater (in Somerville, MA) was showing these three movies at one point this spring:

Jerry Maguire
Chasing Amy

That set doesn't form a sentence, but it has a certain coherence anyway, don't you think? Similarly, Aaron Hertzmann provides what he calls "found poetry from the Angelika marquee" (I assume Angelika is a theatre in New York):

Broken English
All Over Me

Of course you can turn marquee-spotting into a game by having players make up amusing marquee-style title juxtapositions. Note that unlike a previous movie-title game I've described, the marquee game doesn't require any words in common among the titles, and doesn't require that all the words in the titles be used. (Titles should, however, either be complete or be given in a fragmentary style of the sort likely to appear on a marquee; don't just pick and choose words at random from a title.) In its strictest form, the game requires that all movies used could be found in theatres around the same time. For playability, I suggest using the rule that all movies used must have release dates within a year of each other -- that is, you could use a movie released in '85 and another released in '86, but you can't then add others released in '84 or '87. Or for more flexibility, pretend your marquee is for a repertory theatre to allow chronological mixing; still, it's best to come up with sets that might reasonably appear on a marquee together. Either style of marquee set -- the sentence-forming style or the found-poetry style -- is acceptable.

Best submitted marquees, actual or theoretical, will of course be posted on the reader comments page.

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>