Derived from the more primitive pastimes of stealing traffic signs and posters from hoardings at night, and combined with the present-day fascination with movies, the premise of the craze is to remove the large cardboard displays, known in the trade as 'standees', and the huge vinyl posters that adorn cinema foyers, naturally without prior permission.
The craze, called 'standee-jacking' by cinema managers, started with the advent of the multiplex cinema, when these promotional film items first appeared. Cinema-goers realised 'standee-jacking' could enliven a night out if the film they had just paid good money to go and see turned out to be a dud, which these days is more often than not.
The attraction of standee-jacking stems from the desire for film memorabilia - why settle for just the Malcolm X baseball hat when you can have the far more exclusive Malcolm X cardboard cut-out and vinyl banner? And then there is the thrill of the chase - you can spot a die-hard standee-jacker a mile off: he is the one lurking in the foyer, casting nervous glances at the flickering Jurassic Park display, close to tasting the exhilaration of making a hit.
I first got hooked on standee-jacking a couple of years ago when the craze was in its infancy. My friend Eddie and I had just watched a dreary film, featuring Winona Ryder, at a Kensington cinema. On leaving, we noticed that the foyer was empty, and we both had the same idea when we saw a large standee for Stephen King's Misery placed at the top of the foyer steps. We grabbed it and stormed out to Kensington High Street, not stopping until we had thrown our prize in the back of Eddie's pick-up truck.
There was no turning back. Word soon spread, and pretty soon my friend Paolo asked me to help him to get a coveted New Jack City vinyl banner that was riveted to a makeshift wall outside our local multiplex.
Late one night we crept down to the cinema to survey the scene. The poster was proudly mounted in full view of the foyer, where about half a dozen ushers were milling about. Counting to three, Paolo and I rushed across the forecourt and each grabbed a corner of one end, then continued running so that the long banner would be wrenched free.
Unfortunately, the rivets popping off the wooden wall made a sound like a volley of crackling gunfire from the soundtrack of the movie itself, and alerted the ushers who came bundling out to give half-hearted chase in vain. Paolo displayed the poster in his house during his university days and would recount the story to acquaintances, usually adding a fight scene for good measure.
Standee-jacking is more successful if you really want the item, as Paolo did. Eddie and I once made the mistake of standee-jacking for the sake of it at a small cinema in Oxfordshire. We emerged from some dismal film, Blame It On The Bellboy as I recall, and spied the behemoth standee for the sci-fi film Freejack. It was the mother of all standees - about 10ft tall, in 3- D, with cardboard heads of the three main actors sticking out of the top.
We didn't really want the thing and certainly wouldn't have been able to fit it into the car. But we picked it up anyway, and made a bolt for the door. Trouble ensued though, when Mick Jagger's head got caught in one of the foyer lights, and the cardboard Anthony Hopkins broke off and fell on Eddie, blocking his view and making him trip on the stairs.
By this time, an aged attendant had come out of her ticket booth mumbling threats, so we hotfooted it out of the cinema, leaving the dismembered display lying on the floor.
Standee-jacking, then, should not be taken lightly. One false move can end in disaster. Military precision is required, and this is exactly what Eddie and I employed to pull off our finest coup at a multiplex in Preston.
We spotted our target the moment we walked into the cinema. We knew standee-jackers up and down the country would be after this one - a 7ft cardboard beauty sitting seductively on an octagonal pedestal, with piles of hair and swollen red lips. Her name was Holli Would, a cartoon film character, and we knew we had to have her.
We couldn't employ a grab-and-run technique with a treasure like this - the foyer was well manned and there was a security guard outside, presumably employed to rugby tackle standee-jackers like ourselves. Eddie and I left the cinema and patiently waited in his car until the guard went off for his cigarette break. I headed for the foyer, while Eddie backed the car up to the fire exits, opened the boot and kept the engine running.
I strolled into the cinema and headed straight for our laminated beauty. A gaggle of usherettes giggled by the popcorn counter, oblivious to my intentions. I calmly foisted Holli under my arm, and headed round the corner to the fire doors. I had her] Imagine my horror then, when the usherette came out of Screen 8, directly towards me. Looking straight ahead, I walked on, holding Holli as vertically as I could. The usherette walked past without a word, so I can only assume she wasn't wearing her glasses and mistook Holli for my date.
I threw Holli unceremoniously in the back of the car and we roared off past the guard, having his last few puffs, into the Preston night. Holli now resides in Eddie's bedroom, a much admired trophy.
Unfortunately, as cinema staff become more vigilant, standee-jacking is becoming increasingly tricky. There was recently an incident in Newcastle where two standee-jackers were chased by a police car. And a recent visit to the multiplex where we got the vinyl poster shows all such items to be secured on the ceiling, well out of reach. Paolo estimated we would need a crack force of about four standee-jackers and a stepladder to get them. And the standees keep getting bigger, so now they are either too tall or too wide to get out of the cinema doors. Nevertheless, this summer season should be a challenge: lousy films but some great displays.Reuse content