Patrons applauded for making a scene

Movieoke puts words in the mouths of the willing

Pop Culture

March 21, 2004|By Andrew Salomon | Andrew Salomon,NEWSDAY

Kristian Cardozo takes a final swig of his drink, climbs upon a small stage and steps into a movie. All of a sudden, the 26-year-old Connecticut man becomes Al Pacino - and Robert Loggia - in Scarface.

Back and forth between each character he goes, singlehandedly re-creating the pivotal scene from the 1983 Brian DePalma movie where Tony Montana (Pacino) defiantly tells his boss (Loggia) of his plans to take a big step up in the Miami drug world.

Cardozo has Pacino's wonderfully awful Cuban accent down pat, as well as his penchant for spitting four-letter words out of the side of his mouth. When Cardozo finishes, the crowd at the tiny basement bar in downtown Manhattan rewards him with lusty applause.

Cardozo, a singer-songwriter and sometime bartender from Bridgeport, Conn., is performing in Movieoke, a cinematic spin-off of karaoke that runs every Wednesday night at the Den of Cin, downstairs from Two Boots Pizza, in the East Village. Like its forebear, Movieoke allows regular folks to tap into their inner artist (or inner ham) - in this case, "acting" in their favorite movie while the real thing plays on an 8-foot screen behind them (and on a small monitor in front of them, so they can read the subtitles for their lines).

"Everybody wants to be a star - for a second," says Anastasia Fite, Movieoke's creator. "Everybody has a performing bone in their body. We need to give them permission to let that out."

But for Fite, who invented the concept last fall, Movieoke is more than a bone thrown to wannabe actors. It synthesizes her love for movies and her desire to create a community among those who share her passion, she says.

Gets cinephiles out

When VCRs began proliferating in the 1980s, people's experience of movies changed in significant ways. Not only were they able to watch their favorite movies repeatedly (Cardozo, for example, says he has seen Scarface two or three times a month for the past five years), but they also watched them alone - perhaps too often, Fite says.

"Movieoke is perfect in that way," she adds. "It's using the thing that would keep you in your house to come out and play."

For the past two Wednesdays, every seat in the Den was filled, with a handful of customers occasionally lining the stairs. The small space gets cozy with 35 people, packed with 50. Patrons write their requests down at the bar, and Fite runs up the back stairs to Two Boots Video (one of the other businesses in the Two Boots complex) to pull the DVDs off the shelf.

There can be dead spots in the evening, with sometimes 15 minutes between performances. That's when Fite's friend Clio Weisman might jump in with Kevin Costner's "what I believe in" speech from Bull Durham to keep things moving.

Film in her blood

Fite, 24, has had an intimate relationship with film ("one that may or may not be perceived as unhealthy," she says) since she was a young girl growing up in Topanga Canyon, Calif. An only child of divorced parents, she recalls faking sickness to stay home from school and watch videos. Unhappy in college at Cornell, she "watched movies to cope," and worked at a video store - all while graduating in 2 1/2 years. She then moved to New York, and has incorporated the showing of movies into each of her jobs, including when she worked as a bartender in Brooklyn.

"I like to use film to get people together," she says.

Recently, Leigh Laroussini went to the Den with her boyfriend, Porter McDonald. The young couple from Brooklyn did a scene from The Princess Bride, with McDonald turning in a fine Wallace Shawn impersonation, complete with lisp.

It is a treasured movie for Laroussini, 24, who has seen it more than 20 times since she was a child. She has never seen it, however, with a large crowd. "I think in general," she says, "it's better to see a movie in a theater, to see it the way it was meant to be seen."

So far, Fite's creation is succeeding. The audience buzzes with movie conversation. Over by the bar, three friends talk about maybe doing a scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Another woman contemplates something from Raising Arizona. Fite herself gets up on stage several times a night: Steve Martin's breakdown scene in The Jerk and Jennifer Beals' workout from Flashdance are two of her favorites.

"I have a tough time interacting with people," she says. "But I'm fighting to get beyond it. Movieoke is the happy medium."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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