Film Buffs Flock To Movieoke

Remember the scene from "When Harry Met Sally ..." when Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are sitting at the diner? Or when Jack Nicholson exclaims "You can't handle the truth!" to Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men"? Or how about the dance number in "Flashdance" when Jennifer Beals gyrates around in leg warmers to the song "Maniac"? Anastasia Fite knows them all — and acts them out on stage at "movieoke," which is essentially like karaoke but with movie scenes instead of songs.

Fite, 24, runs the event out of a campy little theater called the Den of Cin in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday nights.

"I can't karaoke," she said. "Film is my thing, which is why I had to create movieoke."

Fite said she once made a film in school where the main character could only communicate in movie lines, and after she became manager at the Den, which also shows independent films, she concocted the idea of having people act their favorite scenes on stage.

The process is pretty rudimentary. Fite has patrons write down which scene they want to do, she runs to the adjacent video store to get the DVDs, and cues it up. The process takes about 10 minutes.

The movie flickers against a small screen, and the actors stand in front, with the scene projected on them, reading subtitles from a monitor that's set up on a table. Some people bring their friends on stage to act with them; others do all the characters. There's no admission, and people can bring in their own copies of films if they choose.

The most requested scenes come from '80s flicks such as "The Breakfast Club," and "Pretty In Pink," though Fite said some people do old movies like "Casablanca."

On a recent Wednesday, the tiny space was packed with mostly younger hipsters, although there were a few men in business suits. Capacity is 50, and Fite said usually she'll see about 80 people on a given Wednesday.

Dave Rubaltelli, an ophthalmologist in New York, heard about the event from friends and was making his acting debut.

"I talk about movies all the time. We all sit around and say `Oh did you see this?' So this seems like a fun way to spend a night," he said. "But I'm a little nervous."

Rubaltelli, 29, did a scene from "Trading Places" with Dan Akroyd. He was pretty stiff going up there, but he loosened up once the scene came on and he affected different accents for the two characters in the scene.

Others, like Matt Dujnic, 29, have been doing movieoke since its inception in October and are sort of house celebrities.

Dujnic did a hilarious rendition of "Evil Dead II" with no lines, where a man's hand is possessed. He worked up a sweat by flinging himself around the stage, using paper plates for props, and the backdrop screen as part of the scene, eliciting cheers from the audience.

But the real master was Fite, who took off her shoes and danced around to the "Maniac" scene from "Flashdance." She had every move down.

There's even the equivalent of the guy at karaoke who insists on dragging the crowd down with a version of "Feelings." This time, it was a long scene from "Back to the Future Part II."

The process needs a bit of refining. Currently Fite turns down the scene so the actors can perform, but the silence is a bit awkward, and the audience needs to participate more. The down time between scenes can be a bit long, and it's difficult for people to hold audience attention with no props or others on stage.

The other problem, patrons say, is the media. Since movieoke caught on in late November, there has been a string of TV and print reporters from all over the world harassing the audience and shining lights on the movie screen during scenes.

"The media is getting a bit out of hand," Dujnic grumbled to his friends after doing an interview for a Swedish network. "I'm not here for them. I'm here for me."

And movieoke might be there for you before long: The idea is spreading. In St. Louis, a little coffee shop and video store called Farrago started its own version a few weeks ago, and an Internet search returns hundreds of movieoke hits.