Monday, November 16, 2015

Watching Shia LaBeouf Watching Shia LaBeouf

Last week, Shia LaBeouf and several collaborators created a unique piece of performance art, titled #Allmymovies.  Over three days, the bulk of his filmography was screened at New York's Angelika Film Center in reverse chronological order, and LaBeouf marathoned all of it, from the recent indie film "Man Down" to the Disney dub of Miyazaki's "Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind."  Only brief breaks were scheduled, so he slept through several of the films, and ate during others.  The goal was for him to remain in his seat for as long as possible.  The whole thing was livestreamed, and curious fans could also drop by the theater and join the audience at the screenings - admission was free.  The Gothamist covered what was going on outside the screening room.

I logged in briefly to the livestream site during the first day, and was greeted by the image of LaBeouf's passive face as he watched one of the films.  You could also make out a couple of other spectators sitting behind him, but not very clearly.  The lighting constantly changed because of the flickering screen, but you could clearly see LaBeouf's expressions, or the lack thereof.  I only lasted a few minutes before quitting the stream.  I don't feel like I really got the full effect of the piece, but I didn't have the time or resources to really commit to the experience.  No sound from the movies was supplied because of copyright issues, so following along required some work.  A schedule of the films was supplied so the curious viewer could sync up with LaBeouf, but was it worth the effort?

I've tried to keep an open mind about Shia LaBeouf's artistic ambitions and offscreen foibles.  His plagiarism of a Daniel Clowes comic two years ago was definitely a low point, but his very public string of apologies (several of them also plagiarized) and jaunts into performance art have been intriguing, if not always very effective.  Marina Abramović he ain't.  The marathon strikes me as an original idea, at least.  A famous actor watch his own films isn't something we've seen before, and it's a perfectly appropriate piece of programming for the Netflix generation, who have made marathoning television shows and watching livestreams of other people playing video games popular.  Heck, just a few days ago Twitch streamed the entire run of "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross to a not-inconsiderable audience.  Just because I haven't the time or inclination to watch Shia LaBeouf watching "Dumb and Dumberer" doesn't mean that others online don't.

I've written a bit before about the pleasures of secondhand and communal viewing, and how the internet is creating new forms of both.  Reaction videos, liveblogging, and livestreaming are commonplace these days.  As I've read over some of the reaction pieces to the Shia LaBeouf marathon, what struck me was how familiar it all felt - the speculation about his intentions, the obsession over minutiae (someone gave him a can of Pringles!), and the nostalgia from younger viewers over LaBeouf's earlier films.  #Allmymovies is just giving us a new excuse to have the same conversations about Shia LaBeouf we've been having about him for years.  It's the fact that LaBeouf is instigating the conversation this time that's the interesting part.  While the stunt is inherently attention-seeking, there's no sense of desperation about it, no indication that it's meant to be anything more than exactly what it is.  LaBeouf's actually had quite a decent run of movies lately with "Nymphomaniac" and "Fury," and he seems to be successfully putting the "Transformers" phase of his career behind him.

But that doesn't mean he can't revisit it.  Interest in #Allmymovies seemed to peak during the screenings of the films people were the most familiar with: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the first "Transformers," and his Disney Channel era features like "Holes" and the "Even Stevens" movie.  Without LaBeouf providing any commentary, viewers could only guess at what he was thinking while watching the younger version of himself in these films, and many did.  Poking around on Reddit and Twitter, I found so many watchers sharing speculation: Did he seem bored by this one?  Was he embarrassed by that one?

I don't think that most of Shia LaBeouf's films are worth revisiting, but revisiting them alongside their star is another matter.  And LaBeouf keeps doing things like #Allmymovies, he's not going to lose the spotlight any time soon.


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