The Oke Stands for Choke

The most popular Japanese import since ruthless corporate efficiency, the phenomenon known as karaoke helped every bar-hopping American realize their lifelong ambition of being a rock star, even if it was only for three minutes in front of a crowd of rum-soaked programmers hoping you finish up quick so they can do an hilarious whiteface Lil Jon song. But if there’s one dream dearer to American hearts than enacting our own sports-bar edition of American Idol, it’s being a movie star. Now, thanks to Movie-Oke, the latest permutation of karaoke, we can do that too.

Made possible by digital video technology, Movie-Oke (which, like most deeply obnoxious trends, started out in New York before finally hitting the flyovers with much fanfare, as tens of thousands of Brooklynites swear they never heard of it), uses the subtitling feature of DVDs to allow individuals or groups to act out scenes from their favorite movies as the flick plays on a big-screen projection TV behind them and the bartender wishes he’d gone ahead with Geeks Who Drink trivia instead. As with karaoke, patrons take turns fulfilling their silver screen fantasies by having the host cue up the scene of their choice of overly familiar mass-market fare, throwing back a few overpriced microbrews, and taking a crack at it; and, as with karaoke, the results are often, well, more exuberant than accomplished.

But the often-raucous crowds, filled with the same high-ABV steam beers and IPAs, are just as likely as karaoke crowds to appreciate a good effort or an amusing take on a scene just the same.  The first Movie-Oke event I attended saw a boisterous crowd (another shared quality with karaoke is the tendency of the crowds to become more enthusiastic, and the performers more broad in their dramatic interpretations, as their cocktail tabs increase in value) being treated to spirited amateur renditions of Travis Bickle’s mirror monologue from Taxi Driver, always a favorite of phony tough guys; merrily obscene songs from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, always a favorite of fun-loving libertarian coders; and the tellingly popular restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally, always a favorite of frustrated women whose partners cannot bring them to orgasm.  Oh, and also, Gollum’s mono-dialogue from Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring.  Lots and lots of Gollum.  That thing is like the nunnery scene in Hamlet for nerds.

So, as I see it, the main problem with Movie-Oke isn’t the concept, which is no more or less absurd than any other group entertainment in an era where handicapped Quidditch leagues are a real thing.  Nor is it necessarily the execution, which, I mean, you’re drunk watching someone pretend to be someone pretending to be someone else, how valuable is your time, anyway?  No, the problem is, as is also the case in karaoke, selection.  Aside from the probably-inescapable nerd factor of seing a neckbearded sad sack muttering “precious” to himself over and over again, there are people who pick scenes that are far too long, with the cinematic equivalent of a lengthy guitar solo; there are others who pick scenes way out of their range; and there are yet again those who, overestimating their own dramatic heft, pick some heavy emotional monologue that brings the whole proceedings crashing down into a major bummer, having failed completely to read the room.

And yet it need not be this way!  The very nature of Movie-Oke makes it infinitely more adaptable than even the most innovative, copyright-law-flaunting karaoke DJs could dream of.  The built-in subtitling capacity of most DVDs adds a unique feature to Movie-Oke that gives it an advantage over its musical forebear: patrons are encouraged to bring their own movies and play out their favorite scenes.  Even with physical media on the way out, replaced by streaming, Movie-Oke patrons have a whole universe of movies and TV shows with which to blow away their fellow drunks without having to rely on the same old…well, whatever the movie monologue equivalent of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or “Carry On Wayward Son” is.  Thus, in the spirit of improving the medium, five suggestions for Movie-Oke performances that will blow ’em all away:

1.  The “Is this a dagger I see before me?” soliloquy from Orson Welles’ Macbeth.  A great one for people who want to impress with a Shakespeare monologue, but are afraid they lack the chops to elevate it past amateur status.  Simply deliver it in Welles’ incomprehensible Scots burr and no one will know what you’re saying anyway.

2.  Amilyn’s death scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Neo-nerds like to pretend the movie version of the House that Joss Built doesn’t exist, but recreating Paul Reubens’ prolonged expiration not only scores you deep-cut geek points, but requires very little heavy lifting:  all you have to do is slump over in the corner and noisily gurgle every few minutes to remind people you are still alive.

3.  John Giorno in Sleep.  Another sure-fire crowd-pleaser, because hip young people love to pretend they are deeply familiar with the anti-films of Andy Warhol.  This one also lets you really work the crowd while expending as little effort as possibly, requiring only that you fall asleep and remain so for five hours and twenty minutes.

4.  Lionel Barrymore in A Free Soul.  Normally, we’d suggest going for Howard Roark’s heart-stopper of a courtroom speech in Ayn Rand’s paean to assholism, The Fountainhead, but despite Rand’s participation, the movie version is a compromised monstrosity in which Roark’s speech, at six interminable minutes, is still considerably shorter than it is in the book, where it goes on for sixty grueling pages.  Instead, those wishing to show the sheer ballsy contempt for others’ time and attention that a true Movie-Oke master should aspire to are directed to this monologue from a 1931 picture; it lacks Rand’s all-encompassing hatred of human decency, but at 14 soul-grinding minutes, it will at least have your audience donating you all their spoiled fruit.

5.  Dan Hedaya’s telephone conversation at the beginning of Joe vs. the Volcano.  Listen, I don’t care how dumb an idea you think this is.  I will personally pay you fifty bucks to stand in front of a bunch of howling drunks as Mr. Waturi, endlessly muttering “I know he can get the job.  But can he do the job?”

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