Reel Talk: Watching Shia Labeouf watch himself

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I spend a good portion of last Thursday and Friday watching Shia Labeouf watch his own movies. While many will argue that this is a waste of time — that I could have spent this time doing something far more productive — I’ll argue that nothing is more important than watching Shia Labeouf watch “Holes,” or the greatest film of all time.

In all seriousness, it was an interesting experience. For 72 hours, Labeouf watched all of his filmography, from his most recent film, “Man Down” which hasn’t even come out yet, to his screen debut in “The Christmas Path,” a television movie. He watched these non-stop from Wednesday to Friday (with only 20 minute intermissions) in a movie theater in New York that was open to the public for a free screening of his movies. While I would just accept that Labeouf wanted to watch his movies as an introspective experience on his career, it was in fact a performance art piece.

Throughout the livestream that I managed to catch, I saw Labeouf range from pure joy during “Surf’s Up” to pure agony while watching “Transformers: Dark of the Moon’. It was interesting to watch Labeouf see both his successful films and the ones that just don’t make any sense (like “Transformers”).

Despite his young age, he’s had a long career— for a long time, he was considered a successful actor who transitioned from being child star. Anyone watching the livestream could see his reaction to his de-aging into the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid he used to be.

The audience got into it too. While it was frustrating to watching fame-hungry people try to get on camera, the entire audience fed off of Labeouf’s reactions. It was most palpable during the “Even Stevens Movie”, a television movie based off his hit Disney channel show that makes me incredibly nostalgic. It was a point at with Labeouf was most happy, laughing at the ridiculousness of the entire film. And the audience was happy for him. They had watched him cry, sleep and crawl to the back of the theater because he couldn’t stand the movie playing anymore. But for two glorious hours, he was enjoying watching his kid self perfect the art of armpit farts. And I was happy watching him.

The entire event just reinforced the idea of performance art. It means something that thousands of people would line up in order to catch a glimpse of Shia Labeouf’s face as he watches his own movies. It means something that millions of people would fit his livestream into their schedules. We, as audience members, often care more about art when we can actually see the art in question.

This also means something for Labeouf’s career. One can gather from his after-performance interview that the days were illuminating for him. I’m excited to see a critically or commercially successful performance in the future, and not the crazy behavior we are so used to.

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