As if to underscore the whole point of the affair, sometime Wednesday, a guy showed up in the smallest theatre at the Angelika Film Center dressed as Kurt Cobain did when Jesse Frohman captured him for Rolling Stone in November 1993. The Kurt wannabe sat one row back and to the right of Shia LaBeouf, the man everyone was there to see, and yet not actually see much of at all.
LaBeouf was at the theatre in New York to watch each of the 27 movies in which he has appeared, in succession, without pause, in reverse chronological order. All the while, he livestreamed a shot of himself watching the films. He has called the project #allmymovies, and at any point during the roughly 72 hours it took to play all the movies, anyone could watch Shia as he watched himself, despite being unable to watch the films along with him. He invited members of the public to sit with him in the theatre. Many lined up for hours to do so.
It was all, apparently, more than simply an endurance test (though it is that, too); it was a performance piece by an actor who, at the height of his fame – that is, after starring in the first Indiana Jones movie in over a decade, and anchoring three massive Transformers films – went a bit off-script, for lack of a better term.
LaBeouf’s sideways movement away from what might be expected of a young Hollywood star has manifested itself in a few ways. His journey has included: being accused of plagiarism and then apparently plagiarising his apology for the alleged plagiarism; appearing at the Berlin Film Festival sporting a bag over his face which read “I am not famous anymore”; echoing Eric Cantona at a press conference before walking out of it; head-butting a guy in a London pub; fighting on a street in Vancouver; being arrested for disorderly conduct in a Broadway theatre; reportedly entering rehab for alcoholism in July 2014; being arrested for public intoxication in Austin, Texas this year; hosting an art show in which he sat, again with a bag on his head, and allowed members of the public to manipulate his body at will (during which he claims he was raped).
But as I was saying, there was a guy in the Kurt Cobain outfit sitting in the theatre behind Shia. And not just any Kurt Cobain outfit, but the specific one from that specific photo shoot. The photo shoot for which Kurt was three hours late, despite it taking place in his hotel rather than Central Park – at his request, no less. The one where, as Frohman described it to Rolling Stone in 2012, Cobain was “very stoned… coherent on some level and gone on another level.” The one for which Cobain wore sunglasses the entire time so as to prevent Frohman from getting a shot of his eyes. The photo shoot at which Cobain wore not just any sunglasses, but sunglasses popularized by Jackie Onassis, another tragic celebrity.
“We got these really interesting pictures because he was aware of what he was looking like, and he was unaware of how he was, because he was pretty out of it,” Frohman recalled of the photo shoot. “Kurt was an anti-hero and he didn’t like to be pretty, and he didn’t want to be glorified, and he didn’t want to be treated like the way celebrities want to be treated.”
How do celebrities want to be treated? Is that a weird question? It feels like we should know the answer. After all, we are constantly seeking the celebrity treatment, or looking for a way to at least convincingly fake it. As a culture, we often strive to project a somewhat glorified, if not extreme, version of life, don’t we? And isn’t that what celebrity is really all about, anyway? It’s easy to point the finger to social media, the tool with which we now cast a more perfect and more pampered life to the world, but probably this search for living for ourselves what we perceive as a celebrity treatment has long existed. It has always been about being seen.
Except in a theatre, of course. In a nice twist, the temple at which we still worship the celebrity we aim to emulate or achieve, is one the few remaining places where we are free from the collective scrutiny we pretend to want. In a theatre, nobody gets to see your face. But if they did, it would probably look a lot like Shia Labeouf’s.