2014, the year of…shia labeouf
From the “I’m Not Famous Anymore” paper bag on his head to his #IAMSORRY art show rape claim, we wonder if it’s been a meta-modernist breakdown or breakthrough for the actor this year.
Before we get to Shia LaBeouf, we need to discuss screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, because if we're going to discuss Shia LaBeouf then we have to discuss meta-modernism, and Sorkin's 2014 got so meta-modern that his work is a cheat-sheet into understanding what this heady art-theory is about. It's The Gordian Knot served up as pop pretzel, if you will.
In the last ever series of The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin mimicked real news events by depicting a government whistleblower contacting his fictional ACN cable news network. Instead of the real-life Edward Snowden, Sorkin cast his whistle-blower as a woman. And instead of his journalists chasing the whistleblower to a Russian airport, gripped by a thirst to snare a career defining news story, he wowed us all by casting the serious situation as a backdrop for his two journalists to romantically kiss. The biggest scandal to hit America's NSA and Britain's GCHQ was morphed into a kind of aw-how-heartwarming episode of Days Of Our Spies.
No sooner had the last episode aired than the Sony scandal hit and Sorkin found his own private emails leaked to the world, possibly by a team of hackers dispatched by Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Where Sorkin's writing had previously imitated real-life for television, everything doubled back when his actual life was blasted across the e-atmosphere by a real hacking leak which Sorkin promptly announced (via an op-ed in the New York Times) was boring and un-newsworthy. This entire event was ironic-yet-sincere, ridiculous-yet-serious and now-yet-kitsch. This, ladies and gentlemen is meta-modernism put through a pop cultural shredder.
And now we come to Shia LaBeouf. 2014 began with our intrepid hero quoting French footballer Eric Cantona at the Berlin Film Festival where he was promoting Lars Von Triers' Nymphomaniac. During the press conference, LaBeouf gulped from a glass between delivering Cantona's famous lines about sardines being tossed from a trawler, then stood up and walked out. Walking the red carpet, LaBeouf wore a paper bag over his head that read, "I'm Not Famous Anymore", which he repeatedly posted on twitter. It was his response to the scandal that he'd plagiarised graphic novel artist Daniel Clowes in his own directorial debut, HowardCantour.com
Next came the skipping. Beamed live from Los Angeles into a London art gallery, Shia LaBeouf appeared before a web-cam wearing full-look acid green and, underneath a glorious blue LA sky, proceeded to skip for an hour in front of his own reflection for an art-piece entitled Meditation For Narcissists. The audience in London were offered skipping ropes and invited to join Shia in his "quest to find his inner self". He was funny, his knee-high socks were funny, the internet went wild and the art world stroked its beard.
Then came the Cabaret-at-Studio54-meltdown. It began with a drunken Shia reportedly chasing a man who was holding a paper bag through the theatre district of New York. It segued into him heckling a live performance of Cabaret where he slapped Alan Cumming's arse, and ended with him locked in a cell rapping made-up lyrics at the police.
All this and we haven't even got to the part where he sat in an art gallery wearing a dinner suit and another, different paper bag over his head. On the opening day of this new art performance, "I'm Not Famous Anymore", word spread through LA like a smartphone virus that the public were invited to sit alone in a room with a silent, tearful Shia and an array of objects signifying moments from his career. A public, interactive apology for his artistic sins, it seemed.
From here we had a court appearance, then interviews with magazines where he described how he stalked Alec Baldwin for a month, throttled one of his directors while high on acid until finally, in December, a world wide web palava caused by his revelation that he was sexually assaulted during his summer art performance.
Phewee. But what does any of this mean? Meta-modernist breakdown or meta-modernist breakthrough? And why did we care? Well, we cared because it was funny and entertaining. And, breakdown or breakthrough, 2014 was the year where LaBeouf - who cites all the wild men of cinema as heroes - Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Lars Von Trier, Joaquin Phoenix - got competitively chaotic. Concurrently, as he played muse for a new intellectual art movement - authorship of the Metamodernist Manifesto was re-attributed to LaBeouf - it was like we all became audience members in an absurdist theatrical spoof, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Avant-Lunatic.
On closer inspection, and speaking to one of the artists from the pieces #IAMSORRY, Meditation for Narcissists and #metamarathon, it transpires that all of these performances were co-created by Shia Labeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner.
What will the situationist from Echo Park do next? As we lurch into 2015 let's imagine for one second another movie directed by Lars Von Trier, written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Shia LaBeouf. The thought of those three locked in a room alone makes me want to press a happy-toy to my temple, pop the trigger and a Warholian flag saying 'bang' rolls out.
Text Sarah Hay