Tuesday afternoon, at noon on the nose to be exact, the ever eccentric, always bizarre, and consistently fascinating Hollywood anti-superstar Shia LaBeouf commandeered a small screen at an Angelika Theater in New York City. His plan: to screen all of his movies (27) in reverse chronological order, and live stream himself watching his movies. Not live stream the movies, just himself watching himself, in a theater open to the public. #AllMyMovies. It’s simply his most recent bizarre performance art, for a performer who has grown increasingly offbeat over the last twenty months, ever since he showed up at the Berlin Film Festival premiere of Nymphomaniac in February, 2014, wearing a paper bag over his head with “I Am Not Famous Anymore” scribbled across the front. A few weeks before that curious move, LaBeouf famously plagiarized a short film based on a Daniel Clowes comic and claimed to have done it all in the name of a publicity stunt, or performance art, or something… His past is littered with weird behavior, alcoholism, and what always seems to be the crushing weight of celebrity expectations.
Last year, Shia staged #IAmSorry, where he sat in a room and invited the general public in with him where they could say whatever they wanted to say directly to his face. He would remain silent, as he is in the theater this week. It broke down the barrier that exists – that ever-so-safe troll barrier – for internet critics with Twitter muscles who found themselves in a room with another human being. Not some out-of-touch superstar. It broke down that barriers so intensely that LaBeouf was allegedly sexually assaulted – or ALMOST sexually assaulted depending on the account – by one of his visitors.
Which leads us to #AllMyMovies. Dave Ehlrich of Rolling Stone already wrote on this most recent stunt at fascinating and insightful length, so there’s no need to re-hash what he’s already said better than I ever could. I’ll just build off what he says in my own way. Ehlrich’s piece points out Shia LaBeouf’s attempt to crush convention, deconstruct celebrity, and invert the fishbowl back on itself. I have found myself drawn into the live stream from time to time. I have the schedule of the films, so I know what he’s watching when. There’s no need to watch for more than a moment at a time. But there’s something hypnotizing about seeing LaBeouf seeing himself. It’s an existential, Lynchian examination that deserves attention. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss LaBeouf as an out-of-touch Hollywood nut job looking for attention; that just means you aren’t paying attention yourself.
LeBeouf is anything except an out-of-touch Hollywood type. He appears to have been crushed by the weight of an extremely un-ordinary life of adulation and the inability to function as a normal human being. For all of his strange quirks and interplanetary ramblings, I contend, much like Ehlrich, that Shia LaBeouf has figured out a way to deconstruct the celebrity detachment better than Clooney could ever do when he was busy damning paparazzi. Watching #AllMyMovies form time to time, a strange thing happens: you start to identify with this person, just another human being in a theater, watching movies. The fact he is in these movies becomes secondary, and his reactions to certain films we know are ridiculous breaks down an invisible wall we know exists, but are never able to pinpoint. Think about how bizarre and detached the life of a celebrity is, then reconsider what LaBeouf is doing.
Laugh all you want, dismiss Shia LaBeouf as another aloof moron Hollywood type. I see merit in what he’s doing. I’ve always been fascinated (mostly amused) by his antics, and as the buzz has built surrounding #AllMyMovies, my chuckles transformed into a strange fascination I can’t quite comprehend. Though I’m trying. And that’s what LaBeouf wants; he wants us to think, to dissect, to not simply gaze at navels and blindly accept the way things are between this gaggle of powerful celebrities and you and I wandering around the rest of the world. Consider what’s been happening as this stunt has grown in popularity: between films Wednesday night he spendt his time taking selfies with fans. They are obsessed with being there, with him, in that room, and having proof. They are proving his point. It’s a vanity project, sure, but isn’t everything we all do, all the time, an exercise in some sort of vanity?