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Steve Lopez / POINTS WEST

Billboard's 'Captivity' audience disgusted

March 18, 2007|Steve Lopez

Shanise Laurent and her friends left Palms Middle School one afternoon last week and stopped for a soda at Jack in the Box.

Shanise, a seventh-grader, didn't need me to point out the billboard across the street. She said she had noticed it the day before.

"What a graphic, nasty billboard," said the 13-year-old.

Her sister Rachel, 11, was in agreement, as were their friends.

"There's kids who walk around here," said Taylor Shaw, 13, who didn't think kids should be subjected to such images on their way home from school.

"I think it's scary," said Cameron Olivas, 12.

Across the busy intersection of Overland and Venice was one of 30 billboards in the Los Angeles area promoting the May 18 release of the film "Captivity." The ad consisted of four panels:

Abduction, in which a terrified young blond woman has either a gloved or black hand over her face, as if she's being kidnapped.

Confinement, in which she's behind a chain-link fence and appears to be poking a bloody thumb through the fence.

Torture, in which she is flat on her back, her face in a white cast, with red tubes that resemble jumper cables running into her nostrils.

And Termination, in which her head dangles over the edge of a table, the murder complete.

Hooray for Hollywood.

I thought about ordering up a photo of the billboard for this column, but trust me, you don't want to see it. I felt like I needed to take a shower just from having been within a hundred feet of it.

On the upside, it's so insultingly violent and gratuitous, maybe people will be disgusted enough to stay home.

"I would not want to watch it," said Jonathon Orosco, a 15-year-old Hamilton High student who walked by.

Lora Cain and Roberta Raye seconded that idea. A Venice actress and comedian, Cain had alerted me to the same billboard at a different location -- La Brea and Washington -- and agreed to meet me there with her friend Raye.

"For any woman, it's flat out abusive to be forced to look at while we're trying to drive in this city," Cain had said in an e-mail.

As we stared at the billboard, Raye noted that you don't quite catch the meaning of it in one take, because of the progressive panels.

So you follow the story, naturally curious, only to end up feeling as though you're part of a savage exploitation.

"It's the kind of thing that goes straight into your subconscious," said Raye, who was determined to find out where all the other billboards were, so she could make sure her 11-year-old daughter would be spared the horrific imagery.

"The message is that this is what you do with women," Cain said. "You kidnap then, you confine them, you torture them and you kill them."

Peter Wilkes, a Lionsgate executive, told me the studio had nothing to do with the ads that bear its name. Lionsgate partnered with After Dark Films. So I talked to Courtney Solomon, who runs After Dark. He said the billboards were a mistake. That ad was one of 50 or 60 concepts under consideration, he said, and before any were approved, this one ended up at a printing plant and up on billboards in L.A., as well as on New York taxicabs.

"To be honest with you, I don't know where the confusion happened and who's responsible," Solomon said.

I'm having trouble believing that two movie studios had not a clue that ads for their movie would be all over Los Angeles and New York, but Solomon said he ordered them all taken down after he received the first complaint and drove to see one of the billboards. He said he knew of at least 10 complaints forwarded to him by Lionsgate.

The billboards should all be down by Tuesday, Solomon said, carping a bit about how much it would cost him to have the ads removed. He apologized to those who were offended and said he hoped people don't get the wrong idea about "Captivity." It's not a slasher movie, he said. "It's about something that happens to 850,000 people in this country a year."

I told him I was unaware of 850,000 people being abducted, tortured with cables stuck up their noses and murdered.

"This movie is about a story of what happened to one person who is abducted," he said.

I guess that means there could be 849,999 sequels.

Can't wait.

*

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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