After an enigmatic, teary-eyed piece of performance art last year and an incident at Broadway’s Cabaret that wasn’t so artsy, Shia LaBeouf made an appearance today at the Tribeca Film Festival to show that he has turned a page in his career. The actor, whose filmography collectively has amassed $3.9B at the worldwide box office, appeared onstage at the SVA Theater as the executive producer/financier of a work-in-progress documentary Love True from director Alma Har’el. Har’el, a Tel Aviv, Israeli native, is no stranger to TFF. Her film Bombay Beach won best doc feature at the 2011 fest, a title which follows the poor California community of Salton Sea.
And while LaBeouf explained that he just wrote a check and stayed out of the director’s way given his admiration for her work, his candid comments today at the half-filled screening stole the show as he railed against Hollywood, Transformers, and Al Pacino’s acting, while knocking his former Transformers co-star Bumblebee. He even was upfront about his time in rehab. LaBeouf has been press shy of late. If you’re lucky, he’ll answer your e-mail questions. No bother. When LaBeouf speaks in public, just move forward in your seat.
In terms of how he met Har’el, LaBeouf explained that he found a copy of Bombay Beach at Amoeba Records in Hollywood, a moment of fate which became catharsis for the actor. “I was looking for a Bob Dylan documentary and I saw this beautiful cover for Bombay Beach with the Tribeca stamp on it. I watched it. I was in a shitty relationship at the time. It was an escape and I watched it over and over again and it blew my mind. There are moments in there where I thought there’s no way one can capture this kind of truth.”
“As a performer, I watch documentaries. We’re all performers, on our Twitter, we perform. We’re constantly performing; that’s why people don’t pick their nose on CNN,” added the actor who sported a mullet that resembled Davy Crockett-coonskin cap.
LaBeouf said during his battle with drinking and drugs, Bombay Beach hit him hard. The actor wrote Har’el a letter, met up with her and soon found himself starring in a music video she directed for Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur Piano.”
The intriguing aspect of Har’el’s filmmaking is that the viewer never knows whether the people onscreen are being sincere or not. Love True explores couples and their approach to love. From the clips shown, it played pretty much like a Terrence Malick movie with its strong use of poetic voice overs and breathtaking imagery. Har’el revealed that the people on screen reenacted scenes via improv and psychodrama. In her introduction, she also mentioned how her parents’ up-and-down marriage served as inspiration for the doc. LaBeouf later spilled the beans that Har’el was in “deep deep pain” when she made Love True prompting the filmmaker to reveal that her own divorce also served as an impetus.
LaBeouf praised, “I never worked with a director who shared so much. When you watch stuff like this, it’s family members filming each other. There’s no inhibition, it’s a mutual vulnerability.”
The actor added, “The best art comes out of pain. When a genius has pain, the Warren Buffet in me is like ‘Go’”. Har’el equally gave props to LaBeouf as a man of his word: On New Year’s Eve she received a check from him to make Love True with no strings attached. LaBeouf’s lawyers didn’t even get involved with the transaction.
However, later during the Q&A, when LaBeouf was asked to juxtapose his work in the Sigur Rós video and the Sia one where he dances wildly, the actor took aim at Pacino’s acting saying, “Sia video was much more about aesthetics then” and LaBeouf hit his chest with his hand. “It’s performance gymnastics, it’s dance movies. It’s like Scarface. Al Pacino’s acting – nothing against him but there’s a big difference between something that’s presentational and something that’s representational. I think even Pacino would agree that his work is representational, whereas someone like Joaquin Phoenix is presentational.”
When it came to describing how Har’el directed performers in her docs, LaBeouf compared it to an exercise he went through in rehab nine months ago, saying “You do this kind of operatic therapy, where you go in and sit with your small little group, three or four people, and you work through your shit. Somebody will play your father, somebody will play your mother, and there’s literally like an action/cut thing and you go all the way there. For me, it’s like method acting. … The only way you can actually have something like that go on is when everyone agrees that that’s what the reality is. You rarely get that on a large film set.”
Then, feeling the need to provide further example, La Beouf said, “Bumblebee never sounds real, it’s just a f—king name. The name alone you can never make real, no matter how much you put into it, because on the other side, you have a director who doesn’t believe it either. So when you work with certain directors who give over and do something that’s presentational and you both believe it, then there is no f—king around, and you really are in this alternate universe.”
Recently, LaBeouf has made a point to attach himself to more serious, prestige films such as Fury and Lawless versus popcorn fare. From an early age, LaBeouf has had a successful career that most actors waiting tables would kill for, demonstrating that he can open non-franchise studio titles and leg it out at the B.O., i.e. Disturbia and Eagle Eye. Like Phoenix circa 2010 when he starred in the doc I’m Still Here, LaBeouf seems to be going through a phase where he is wrestling and reconciling his craft with Hollywood’s commercialism demands.
As early as yesterday, he knocked the industry and celebrity in Variety saying, “The requirements to being a star/celebrity are namely, you must become an enslaved body. Just flesh — a commodity, and renounce all autonomous qualities in order to identify with the general law of obedience to the course of things. The star is a byproduct of the machine age, a relic of modernist ideals.”