Watching Shia LaBeouf watching Shia LaBeouf

Watching Shia LaBeouf watching Shia LaBeouf

[This article originally appeared on TouchVision.com on November 13, 2015. However, since the company has since folded, the link may not work and the complete work appears here]

On the surface, there is nothing extraordinary about the live stream of Shia LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies performance art project. There’s no sound and a single camera is aimed at LaBeouf who sports a thick beard and wears a dark t-shirt, a white hoodie and a green parka that he takes on and off. The entire time, his focus is on what’s on the screen in front of him. An actor watching all 27 of the films he’s appeared in and inviting others to join sounds like a narcissistic stunt and an exercise in feeding his ego. But a closer look reveals a method to Shia’s madness.

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I’ll admit I thought I would check out the stream, laugh at the absurdity of the situation, get bored and move on. But the more I watched, the more I saw others’ reactions on Twitter and the more I read about how LaBeouf got to where he is, the more I became fascinated with a camera pointed at a single person in a dark theater hundreds of miles away.

LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies takes place at the Angelika Film Center in New York. It’s a small theater and the event is free and open to the public. The 29-year-old actor’s face flickers with the reflection of what’s on the screen and in the background visitors who have waited in line for hours come and go.

What I immediately noticed was the authenticity (or apparent authenticity) of LaBeouf’s reactions to his films. He’s engaged, he laughs and even towards the end of the Even Stevens Movie, he shows the kind of embarrassment that one does when they watch a home video with friends that know the inside jokes that appear on screen. He’s a person who seems to be sincerely enjoying himself. Shia dozes off and takes naps here and there but for the most part I admire his will to push forward and watch movies for nearly 72 hours. Through the live stream and among the audience members who joined him, LaBeouf is presenting himself without the filters of tabloid magazines creating a narrative or a film depicting him as a character. He’s just another guy in a theater watching movies. For three days straight. And he’s in all the movies.

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LaBeouf relives his career in reverse chronological order starting with Man Down and works his way to Breakfast with Einstein and I can’t help but imagine that this is the epitome of someone’s life flashing before their eyes. Triumphs, failures, laughter, tears, romance and heartbreak are all presented to reveal how Shia has transformed over the years. That’s why the order is so important to what LaBeouf is trying to get at. You go from the troubled actor who works in indie films like Nymphomaniac, move on to the bankable movie star from the Transformers franchise and eventually reach the child actor in Holes that so many of us came to know and love. Through that journey of LaBeouf’s career, the celebrity has been deconstructed from the corrupt, weathered man in front of the camera to the most innocent form of Shia that we first came to know.

Shia LaBeouf’s other performance art stunts haven’t been so well received. You might recall the time he showed up to the Berlin Film Festival with a paper bag over his head that read “I’M NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE”. There was also another event in Los Angeles where the actor sat silently in a room while visitors could interact with him however they wished. Many people thought he had gone off the deep end. I did, too. It’s hard to empathize with another human being when that human is presented to you on a 50-foot screen or through stories on TMZ. But #AllMyMovies, which finds LaBeouf collaborating with his partners Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö, is a different story. Through populist media-movies in this case-LaBeouf is sharing an experience we all have had and are familiar with.

His goal is to share the idea to challenge what “celebrity” is and that at the end of the day he, and other high profile people, are human. They have emotions, past experiences and they make mistakes just like everyone else. LaBeouf has made plenty of mistakes and has had numerous run-ins with the law. Through watching 27 of his own films, he’s someone looking at a corrupted, filtered reflection in the characters he plays. With all he’s been through, he just wants to be himself and wants you and me to look at him that way too.

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And how LaBeouf conducted himself throughout the three days reflects that. While #AllMyMovies is performance art, Shia isn’t acting or performing beyond not speaking. Visitors brought him food and he shared some of his own. LaBeouf quietly and quickly acknowledged those that wanted autographs or selfies. If anyone wanted to have a word with him he kindly gestured towards the screen to let them know that he was occupied. But most importantly, he enjoyed himself. Despite getting little to no sleep, he would laugh along with the audience and be engaged with the film. Those small details and random moments are what lured me and thousands of others to stay and watch the live stream or wait hours to get into the theater. I thought I knew Shia LaBeouf through what’s been told to me about him through media. But in #AllMyMovies, he’s presenting his most authentic self to the most number of people at once.

Those watching the live stream or in the theater expecting a troubled artist to act erratically or like a statue instead witnessed another moviegoer like themselves. LaBeouf isn’t a zoo animal for us to poke at. He’s just a guy who likes movies. And through his smiles you see someone who’s tired and made mistakes in life. But at the same time there’s the creative person who can reflect on the good times and try to make the best of moving forward. That’s something we can all relate to.