My Encounter With Shia LaBeouf
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 01:14 by James White in Empire States
There are some moments in life that really help crystalize your standing in the world. Today was one of mine. One of my colleagues recently got to train to be a spy, shoot guns and hang with Sir Kenneth of Branagh. Me? The magazine’s West Coast Editor? I was going to sit across a table from Shia LaBeouf in an art gallery in the middle of Los Angeles. Yes, really. Instead of (mock) mortal peril, I was risking sun exposure and the chance of aching legs from standing around.
Let’s back up a little. First came the controversy. Last December, LaBeouf – best known for his sterling work shouting “NO!” a lot as Sam Witwicky in the first three Transformers movies – released a short film called Howard Cantour that was, the world quickly established, largely cribbed from a Daniel Clowes graphic novel. LaBeouf used skywriting to apologise to Clowes, then took to Twitter via his account and began a series of apologies that were themselves direct lifts from a variety of other sources. The weirdness continued more recently at the Berlin Film Festival press conference for LaBeouf’s latest actual work, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. LaBeouf said little beyond Eric Cantona’s famous line about controversy, “When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” and then marched out. He later walked the film’s red carpet in the customary tux but with a less-than-customary paper bag over his head, quoting the text of one of his tweets, “I Am Not Famous Anymore.” He also, somewhere within it all, announced he was retiring from public life.
So far, so very Joaquin Phoenix in I’m Still Here, with all of its press-grabbing stunts and studied eccentricity. But there was more to come. Yesterday, LaBeouf announced that he would be participating in what could technically be described as a “happening”, a collaboration with artists Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö called #IAMSORRY. Hours and the location at the Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles were provided.
Which is where I come in. I was dispatched to go and check out the exhibit, and turned up bright and early a good half an hour before the 11am opening time on Wednesday morning. I’d read reports from Tuesday that talked of people getting in quickly, but word had gotten out and the line stretched down the street and around the corner.
The Cohen Gallery is an unassuming place on Beverly Boulevard in the middle of the city – if Los Angeles can ever truly be said to have an actual middle. Surrounded by other galleries and shops, it sits opposite a Jewish high school and Buzzfeed’s offices (you could practically hear them coming up with a “10 People You’re Most Likely To See Waiting For Shia LaBeouf” list as the line slowly lengthened). The crowd gathered were a pleasant lot: a mix of hipsters, hypesters, celebri-fans and the generally curious. Plus one British ex-pat cursing the sun (you’d think nine years living here would have adapted my pasty skin to its killer beams. You would be wrong) and cursing myself for forgetting my bottle of water even as I’d remembered my notebook and audio recorder. Someone had brought her dog. I wished I’d brought a dog. Or a cat. That could be funny.
As 11am rolled around, I wondered if this meant things would get moving quickly. How wrong I was! The line barely moved for the first hour or so – I learned from line chatter that it appeared he was running late today; just one more thing we could conceivably ask him to apologize for – and passed some of the time by chatting with those around me, asking why they’d come. Sara, a 24-year-old native, admitted she was simply curious and didn’t know what she was going to do when she got in there. Another wanted to record the experience for his podcast. Around the periphery of the line stalked others: curious locals wondering whether the fuss was for some new trendy food item, annoyed other gallery owners trying to keep “the damn kids” (one man’s actual phrase) off their window sills and the odd greasy haired, tracksuit-sporting pap taking pictures of the line, presumably hoping that LaBeouf would make an appearance.
But if you wanted an audience with Shia, you had to wait. And wait I did! For just a smidge longer than two hours, worrying, as the digital clock on my phone monitored the minutes ticking away and the power drained from its overworked battery, that I would miss my chance because I had to run back and move my car from its spot in a residential street with tough parking restrictions and wealthy neighbours who looked like they’d enforce the rules themselves if need be.
Finally, it was my turn. The two black shirted, khaki-wearing security guards beckoned me forward, wanded me down (in case I was trying to bring a weapon in to paint the gallery’s walls with Shia’s life juices? After two hours in the sun, I was a little crazed but not quite that homicidal) and waved me inside. I had made it through! I was there in the inner sanctum and it was… well, still an empty art gallery. But there was a table, with various items including a pink ukulele, a Transformer toy, a bowl of folded notes (which, I’d learned in my literally minutes of web research while waiting, contained a series of insults directed at LaBeouf via Twitter), a bullwhip and others. I chose the Transformer, figuring maybe I could represent the outraged faction of Empire
readers (and a number of the staff) who hated Revenge Of The Fallen
and Dark Of The Moon
. I suppose they weren’t all Shia’s fault, but neither Michael Bay nor the writers were here, and he’d chosen to put himself in this position, so he only had himself to blame. Or rather to accept blame.
Then, parting a curtain, I was at my final destination. There he was, in a tuxedo and the wrinkled, careworn brown bag reading “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” he’d been wearing in Berlin. At least, I assume it was the same bag – for all I know, he’s got 20 of them, and swaps them out at regular intervals. Talking of intervals, I did wonder what happened when he needed a wee, and now I know – a complex, wheezing system of pipes, pulleys, vacuum cleaner parts and a small hamster takes care of that.
On second thought, that was probably a heatstroke hallucination.
I sat down. He said nothing. I asked how he was. He remained silent. I explained who I was and this passed without comment. I asked if anyone had been particularly violent to him. He offered no reply. I was sensing a pattern here. Asking if he’d liked the dog that had been to visit earlier, I then offered (prompted by an earlier email exchange with my colleague Chris) to show him pictures of the dogs I’m currently pet-sitting. They’re very sweet and likely to brighten up anyone’s day. I took his silence to mean he would. So I did. I’m not sure if any of the visits were filmed, but I’m pretty certain I won’t be ending up on any final footage. Which, if I’m honest, is fine by me. Was he crying, as has been reported? His eyes seemed wet, but who knows if he means it? I doubt it.
And that was pretty much it for my interaction with Mr. LaBeouf. Sadly, I have no amazing tale to tell, no story of a shared moment or a huge revelation. Just a slightly overcooked journalist sitting across from an actor in a tux wearing a paper bag. You know, an average Wednesday in Los Angeles. It was at least not the most awkward celebrity encounter I’d ever had in my career. Shia was still easier to deal with than the time Mickey Rourke, clearly exhausted from a tiring day of two interviews and one photoshoot, practically fell asleep in front of me (I tried not to take that personally.)
I didn’t take this personally either – I suspect no one will quite get to the bottom of all this until LaBeouf himself explains it. Was it an attempt to do something different than the usual apology tour of talk shows, as most memorably travelled by Hugh Grant in 1995 after his most infamous incident? It doesn’t really feel like a meltdown in the traditional sense; it’s all too organised and arty. Has he been inspired by von Trier or someone else to try a new form of publicity, or just decided to do all this for a lark? It’s not exactly high art. Or high performance art. Possibly it’s performance art while high (though it didn’t seem like the best time to conduct a drug test).
Whatever it is, I’m not sure I came away with a clearer understanding of his recent behaviour. I didn’t, in case you’re wondering, head next door to check out Jerry O’Connell’s spoof exhibit, #IAMSORRYTOO
, mostly because word of its existence didn’t break until I got out and was I was too busy dashing back to my car, worried that it was being smashed to pieces by the angry looking old woman I saw coming out of a nearby house as I parked.
Mostly, I was unhappy that they didn’t even give away a souvenir. No badge that read, “I sat across from Shia LaBeouf and I’m still not famous." Perhaps I should just make one of my own: I Sat Across From Shia LaBeouf And All I Got Was A Vague Sense Of Ennui.
#IAMSORRY will run between 11am and 6pm until Sunday February 16 at the Cohen Gallery, 7354 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Admission is free. Bring liquid for hydration. And a hat.
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 11:42
So he is now copying Marina Abramovic in a weird stupid way with no meaning? French for shower. Nice article though
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 12:14
Rearrange the words to see my comment:
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 13:23
James White, you need a pay rise.
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 14:43
If he kept the bag on his head and said nothing the whole time it is certain it was actually him?
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 14:45
Is it. Sorry.
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 15:39
This reminds me of Mr Brainwash from 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'. Hype generated through the media with no actual substance behind it.
It was advertised as a 'Happening' which means nothing, yet there are queues around the block to see it.
The visitors know nothing of what the 'Happening' is and are not charged to enter, so I see no problem.
Let him have his fun.
Posted on Thursday February 13, 2014, 16:33
I can't help but recall the Halloween episode of The Simpsons where all the advertising mascots go crazy and smash the crap out of everything. Granted he's not smashing the crap out of anything, but the resolution remains the same: Just Don't Look. Stop paying attention to him and he will go away. Guaranteed.
Posted on Friday February 14, 2014, 10:31
(Shia, that is. Not you, James.)
Posted on Friday February 14, 2014, 10:39
Did you smell any strange odours in the room? You mentioned about him maybe having to use a mechanical system to relieve himself, could he have had a "happening" while you were there with him?
Posted on Friday February 14, 2014, 20:13
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