In Los Angeles, Movie Billboards Are Back, And We’re Glad

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in 'Mank'

Two cheers for movie billboards.

They are BIG—as big as Gary Oldman’s second chin on the Mank sign at Wilshire Blvd. and Wellesley Ave. in West Los Angeles.

They are blustery. “Electrifying . . . A Dazzling Powerhouse Drama” boasts the promo for Judas And The Black Messiah, just down the street.

Okay, in keeping with the spirit of these Covid-weary times, they are also a little sad, like the pitiful look of Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel in News Of The World, gracing a bus stop along the Pacific Coast Highway.  So they don’t get a third cheer.

But it’s a relief, finally, to see outdoor film advertising staging a late seasonal bloom in and around Los Angeles.

Those of us who have been walking away the pandemic—what else to do, with restaurants and theaters in lockdown for months?—are pretty weary of tent camps and plywood store fronts. That we might actually miss movie ads seemed impossible a year ago.

But after staring at that left-behind Tenet poster and a few promos for The Prom around Bundy Drive for a while, something began to sink in. That is, the absolute necessity of large, lively, visual advertisements for the next round of films.

In local terms, those ads—on billboards, bus stops and the side panels of traffic-stopping Metro trains—are integral to the landscape, like palm trees and stucco bungalows. They’re not always beautiful. But they’re a reminder that you are here, in Southern California. Hollywood. Movieland.

Even more, those braggadocious outdoor images—a promotional art form that co-evolved with film for the last hundred years—do what algorithm-driven suggestions of the next picture you might want to stream really can’t. They get you out of your own head. They make you look.

By nature, I’m not an action-film fan. But “Yippee-ki-yay” on the side of a Santa Monica Blue Bus got me into a Die Hard sequel. Quirky character wraps on trash cans at the beach made me wish I’d gotten around to Incredibles 2, another picture that wouldn’t really match my digital profile.

Even while theaters were closed, outdoor film ads started to blossom here a couple of weeks ago, as the much-delayed awards season kicked in. The vanity factor always brings a healthy crop to the neighborhoods where filmmakers live, work and play: Nothing like a billboard on Sunset Blvd. to convince a contender that you’re doing your promotional best.

Now, with Monday’s Oscar nominations and the promised theater openings, promos will be breaking out all over. “The Best Picture Of The Year.” “Umpteen Nominations!” “A Stupefying Achievement.”

Sure, it’s silly. But it makes you look. And it’s a welcome promise of normalcy.

So let the puffery begin.





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