Remember when Joaquin Phoenix lost his mind, grew a big bushy beard and said he was going to be a rapper? And everyone was like, “Whatever, weirdo,” and laughed at him, and then he was all, Wait, wait, it’s a joke! Then he made that “documentary” with Casey Affleck, I’m Still Here, and claimed it was meant as some kind of commentary on celebrity and popular culture. I remain highly skeptical of those events. I suspect Phoenix, instead of merely stating, “I’m kinda burnt out and won’t be acting for a while,” threw a public fit and then used the documentary to rewrite that entire episode as a fart-smelling exercise in performance art.
What’s going on with Shia LaBeouf reminds me of the Joaquin Phoenix of six years ago, when he started spiraling out. It’s the same thing—bad (public) behavior covered up as “art”—but really it’s just a plain old-fashioned asshole being an asshole. And I can no longer count this as good for gossip, because all of this started with an act of plagiarism. He’s gone from “noted weirdo” to “liar and thief”, and he is using his public assholery to try and turn the conversation away from the fact that he is a liar and a thief.
The latest happening with The Beef is his bizarre behavior at the Berlinale, where he is promoting Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Part 1. During the film’s press conference he quoted a French soccer star, Eric Cantora, and then walked out (seems calm in the video—I’m not willing to call that “storming out” like The Hollywood Reporter did), and then later showed up at the film’s red carpet premiere wearing a paper bag with “I’m not famous anymore” written on it on his head. Also he’s missing a tooth.
This is not Shia out on the town, being a prick to bar patrons. This is not Shia being a douche on his own time. He is in Berlin to promote a movie. For actors, this is work. THIS IS HIS JOB. Bad enough that he is acting like this WHILE AT WORK and we accept it because actors, what are you going to do? But worse that we’re letting him actively ret-con his lying and thieving as part of a larger commentary on art and appropriation.
I’ve already dealt with LaBeouf’s original act of plagiarism and his initial non-apology for ripping off Daniel Clowes, but just to reiterate, bleating that “all art is appropriation” is what every hack busted for plagiarism does, and is also the first, last and only raison d’etre offered by every sh*tty student in art school. But Andy Warhol never claimed to invent Campbell’s soup. His art depended on using an object so massively familiar that even the layest of the laypeople could understand its appropriation. What LaBeouf did was take a property little known to the mainstream and call it his own. That makes him a thief, but plagiarism also carries with it the inherent lie of creation. He lied about creating something that he did not, in fact, create.
Just because he keeps tweeting, “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE”, just because he is now quoting famous French soccer players and walking out of press conferences and then showing up to red carpets with a bag on his head does not make Shia LaBeouf some kind of creative genius. It doesn’t even make him a good performance artist. What it makes him is a liar and a thief who is trying to make everyone forget about how he’s a liar and a thief. I wish that wasn’t the case, as I could then unrepentantly enjoy an asshole failing to keep a lid on his assholery. But as it is, all I see is a liar and a thief being exactly the kind of dickhead you’d expect a liar and a thief to be.