Watching 'Surf's Up' With Shia LaBeouf #ALLMYMOVIES
When I heard about #ALLMYMOVIES I didn’t know what to make of it, just as I don’t know what to make of Shia LaBeouf. Sure, I’ve enjoyed some of his movies. And I absolutely no holds barred adore his collaboration with Sia for “Elastic Heart.” But it seems every time he’s offscreen he’s acting like an ass, bragging about his bonkers method, mocking plagiarism accusations, or making a scene with a paper bag, art instillation or bad behavior. Honestly, most days I just prefer not to think about Shia LaBeouf.
But I live in New York. So more and more of my colleagues were flocking to the Angelika Film Center to do some on-the-ground reporting, penning think pieces, sending scathing tweets. Meanwhile, I looked out my window and saw rain. Nope. Not interested enough.
Twitter kept buzzing about it. Some praising Shia. Others wondering what’s going through his head. Most sharing gifs and screengrabs from the silent livestream. I began to itch with an urge to participate. But I loathe the Angelika because it’s dank and pretentious, and I heard lines were stretching to 3-hour waits because only 50 people can fit into the theater at a time. Nope nope nope.
Then I realized this would be a decent excuse to treat myself to a rewatch of Surf’s Up in the midst of my hectic end-of-year screening schedule. Upon reflection, I realized this is my favorite LaBeouf joint. Which is not shade, just an affirmation of how much this underrated cartoon about a smalltown penguin who dreams of surfing glory appeals to me. So, I set up my DVD, and tried to time it with the start of the Angelika’s screening. Bit of an issue arose when I realized there are two different schedules circulating for #ALLMYMOVIES. But I’m confident I was on the money, because a scene involving lighting was a solid way to check my sync.
From here, I expected I’d tell you details about Shia’s reaction. Like how he seemed truly tickled when the arrogant Tank shows off his “ladies” (surfing trophies), yet declined to laugh at the scene’s masturbation joke. (“Are you polishing your trophies again?!”) Or how Shia smiled broadly in just about any scene where Big Z (Jeff Bridges) coaches his Cody Maverick in the ways of the wave. But watching a kid’s movie with Shia had a surprisingly profound effect on me. And it started out rough with a predictably ugly side to this event.
Countdown until someone hijacks Shia's publicity stunt with one of their own.— Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) November 11, 2015
I tuned in early to figure out this scheduling confusion, and began to second-guess this whole endeavor.
A guy in w/a paperbag over his head has snagged the seat next to Shia's. He's been told not to. Even w/o sound this is clear. #allmymovies— Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) November 11, 2015
It was bleak beginning.Then Shia returned.
Where the controversial star was apparently annoyed by Transformers—even bailing before the ending—he seemed delighted by Surf’s Up, chuckling occasionally and bobbing his head to the plucky soundtrack. But he also seemed restless. Which makes sense! No matter how sweet this movie may be, the dude has been in this theater for 30 hours now, sitting at attention, munching candy and popcorn, offering delivered pizza to his audience, sleeping on the floor to the right of the frame, and excusing “fans” who come up in his face to snap prohibited pictures (with a flash no less!). Watching Shia this way, it upset me.
I don’t get “performance art,” despite trying to for most of my twenties. I went to confounding exhibitions where I spoke with the artists and nodded with feigned understanding as they rambled on about their “truth.” I took solace in David Sedaris’s confessions about his imposter performance artist phase, and privately smirked at Shia’s past attempts like #IAMSORRY. But—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—#ALLMYMOVIES spoke to me.
Watching Shia watch his movies sounds like we’re participating in some narcissistic game, where whatever our response, he wins. And in some sense I suspect that’s true. But I began to wonder if what I was watching is real. Shia knows he’s being observed. He’s invited us here, given us all permission to gawk in the theater for free, or from the comfort of our couches or offices.
Whether his watching is a performance of engagement or actual engagement with what’s on screen can be debated. But I’d argue it doesn’t matter. Either way, Shia’s achieved a bit of revenge against those who’ve turned him not just into a celebrity but a dancing monkey who never gets a damn break. We tend to think of celebrity like a contract, where you sign on to insane fortune and rewarding fame, in exchange for any right to privacy. If fans approach you, you must be kind and patient. No matter what. No matter how bad your day has been. No matter how tired you are. No matter how rude they are. Because you are always expected to be “on,” or else be publically scorned and reviled.
I expected to watch Surf’s Up with occasional glances to Shia. But instead, I listened to the movie, and watched him pretending we’re not watching him. He never acknowledged the camera. He showed superhuman patience with the Kurt Cobain cosplayer in his absurd indoor sunglasses. And watching his filmography in reverse, Shia presumably reflects on making these movies. Who he was making each one. How he went from quirky kid star to blockbuster-shouldering ingendude to “method” bad boy and public joke. Wondering where he goes from here by reflecting on where he’s been. We can all keep asking what #ALLMYMOVIES is all about, but I’m not convinced even Shia totally knows.
Maybe it’s an attempt to get us to see him outside of all the hype, just as a human watching a movie. Admittedly, a movie he stars in. Maybe it’s a weird scheme, and we’ll find out a year from now the jokes on us I’m Still Here style. Or maybe this was Shia’s way of gaining some control over his fame. Yeah, you’re watching him. But he allowed you. He lured us in with the draw to gawk, perhaps to refocus the dialogue on what he wants us to watch: his work.
Kristy Puchko is as stunned as you are.
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