As a millennial, excuse me Willennial, I have been a fan of Shia Labeouf since he was on the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Back then, Shia was all spastic, silly ball of energy in a show that was weird, crass and always funny. I wanted a friend like Louis and, because I was a child, I thought that meant I wanted a friend like Shia.
So I followed his career the whole way: from that awful Dumb and Dumber prequel to Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, from the secret gem of a movie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints to *shudders* the Transformers series. The movies varied in quality sure, but I felt like his proud best friend the moment he became a movie star and it hurt my heart the most to see what that kind of fame did to him…. at first.
I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t actually get Shia Labeouf. He’s still charming and irreverent in TV interviews, as though he’s still a kid just happy to be there. He seems to resent celebrity but I mean everyone hates celebrity, so it’s not much of anything to note. He has daddy issues which I can relate to, he dresses like your divorced uncle going grocery shopping which is a look I can get with and he does things that feel like purposely sarcastic commentary on life which is also right up my alley.
The whole performance art thing was easy to dismiss at first. The “I’m Not Famous Anymore” stunt was ridiculous and hilarious. When he turned up on a red carpet with the paper bag over his head, it irritated people (which felt like the point) and it seemed to be the latest in a long line of signs that Shia Labeouf was spiraling towards the bottom. Then it became one big performance art piece titled #IAmSorry at an art gallery in Los Angeles, where anyone could come in and interact with Shia in anyway they wanted to. Shia himself had the bag over his head and refused to talk or move. What was sure to be one big joke of an event, where any reporter who could nab the story could go in order to make fun of the ludicrousness of this social experiment, instead turned into an empathetic moment of connecting with a celebrity. The reviews were pretty positive but it didn’t signify much of anything other than people who mocked Shia now hoping he found a little happiness.
After this, there were other stints at performance art, including one in which Shia made a motivational video in front of a green screen reciting statements sent to him by fans, but none of it compared to Shia’s latest production: #AllMyMovies. The idea is simple enough: Shia shows up to an open movie theatre and watches every single movie he’s ever been in reverse chronological order while a camera records his reactions the entire time.
On its face it may seem like a narcissistic endeavor into self-voyeurism, but it only seems that way because it is –in a sense. All of Shia’s performance art seems to be some sort of metamodernist exploration of our self-aggrandizing, internet-fueled and celeb obsessed culture. Where “I’m Not Famous Anymore” put the onus on the people to gauge a reaction, #AllMyMovies was 100% about Shia. In a sense, it’s like watching all your home movies with strangers, in another it’s essentially taking in all you’ve accomplished with your career up to this point and assessing where you came from.
It’s the same sort of fixation we all have with ourselves–our tweets, our instagrams, our bodies, ourselves as brands–exacerbated to a fuller extent. Also, it’s an excuse to go back to the oeuvre of Labeouf: the good, the bad and Eagle Eye. #AllMyMovies has been a hit with critics and has provided the internet with the currency it loves the most: memes. But what was it really?
“In that room it was egalitarian. Yes, I was being stared at and I’m the focal point and the pointing is happening, but the pointing is happening for me too. If we’re all pointing, then we’re on the same level. Yes it’s a film festival where you’re watching all of my movies, but a lot of this stuff—especially Even Stevens…the Even Stevens Movie was interesting, it’s all of our childhood. It’s mine and it’s yours. It wasn’t just me smiling like that. If you look at the freeze frames, everyone is smiling like wow, I remember Beans. I remember that stupid-ass song. We were all looking at our yearbook together and we’re all in the yearbook. It felt like family, we were sitting there like a high school class.”
This was one of the more insightful statements made by Shia in his Newhive interview with his collaborators Rönkkö and Turner. What he’s ultimately getting across in this and many other portions of the interview is connection. Celebrity is a bubble and being an actor forces you to have a technical outlook on filmmaking; in this moment he was an audience member, especially late into the project when the novelty of Shia in the audience wore off and it just became about the movies.
This response is probably a little disappointing to anyone looking for some sort of detached commentary on modern self-obsession and performing for audiences. But while I’m sure there’s a sliver of this in the formation of the project, isn’t all of that about secretly about connection anyways. Living in a bubble (whether imposed or self-created) is lonely and being disconnected from people for so long causes you to recede further into yourself to the point that you’re always on defense. It’s short-changing to say that Shia got to be human for 3 days, instead he got put in a position to be communal in a way he’s never had to be. Shia confirms as much, “I just know if I can explain a feeling, I feel lighter today. I feel love today.”
Shia found love by confronting himself head on and embracing everything that it entails. We should all be so lucky.