I would’ve been at the Tribeca Film Festival work-in-progress preview for the new Alma Har’el movie LoveTrue no matter what. I saw her last film, Bombay Beach, at Tribeca back in 2011 and it knocked me out; whatever she’s doing next, I’m in. But that’s not why there was a throng of photographers on the red carpet. It’s because Shia LaBeouf was there.
LaBeouf is credited as the film’s executive producer, which means, in his words, “I wrote a check.” But it also means that he’s attached to the movie, and that he’ll lend his name and, these days, notoriety to get it some attention, which was certainly the case Thursday. The actor’s, um, new look may have already made its way to your Twitter feed; for the record, Mr. LaBeouf came to LoveTrue clad in a respectable gray suit, wearing not just earrings but an eyebrow ring, his hair shaved on the side, styled (permed, maybe?) on the top, and with a lengthy, braided rat-tail draped down his lapel.
During the discussion and Q&A that bookended the clips from Har’el’s forthcoming movie, LaBeouf was as quotable as ever.
On art and commerce: “My favorite art, it all comes out of pain. The best art all comes out of pain. So when a genius is in pain, y’know, the Warren Buffet in me is like, ‘Go,’ y’know?”
On performance: “You see documentaries and you feel performance. As a performer, I watch documentaries and I watch performers. We’re all performers. On our Twitters, we perform. I mean, we’re constantly performing. It’s why people don’t pick their nose on CNN. There’s a representative that we all have. That is a performance.”
On identity: “Like, you can have two selves. Like the Internet pushes this, you have one fuckin’ email address, and that’s it. That’s you. That’s the you, that’s the one you. It’s a true you. Which is bullshit, you know. Oliver Wilde [sic] said something great about, you wanna hear an honest man, give him a mask. I fucked that, I butchered the quote, but it’s something like that.”
On the actor-director relationship: “It really doesn’t matter if I share myself with you, ‘cause I know that you got me. So I could open up all the way, ‘cause I can trust that you got me on the other side. Y’know, if you’re my dude, if you’re my fuckin’ dude, yeah? I can tell you anything and I know that you got me.”
On moviemaking: “Film sets get so large, and you have people lookin’ at you like, ‘Oh, you’re just a fuckin’ actor,’ or y’know, you’re talking to a fuckin’… Bumblebee [in Transfomers] never sounds real. It’s just a name. The name alone, you can never make that real, no matter how much you put into it, because on the other side you have a director who doesn’t believe it either.”
And so on. Look, I could pull everything LaBeouf said at this thing and we could turn it over, examine it, try to figure it out, maybe have a laugh — it’d be easy to do, because his pronouncements, like his persona, have become such a peculiar mixture of pretentious actor blather and talking over his head, sifted through bouts of admirable bridge burning and honest-to-God insight. I don’t know what to make of the guy anymore, is the point, and I doubt you do either.
That said, I can’t think of a better use of his eccentric celebrity than this. He’s wise to hitch his wagon to Har’el (she also directed him in that Sigur Ros video) because she’s an honest-to-goodness visionary, her intimate documentary portraits fusing memory, observation, home movies, stylized dramatization, dream imagery, and performance into something altogether unexpected and frequently transfixing; her stories of love and loss are perched at the intersection of documentary and narrative filmmaking, borrowing spiritually and aesthetically from both to make something unique and new and revelatory. Our peek at LoveTrue was brief but tantalizing, intercutting the stories of three people (a stripper in Alaska, a surfer in Hawaii, a musician in New York) on their quest for love and healing, and she’s doing things in this movie that I haven’t seen before. And that’s thrilling.
So when you get down to it, Shia LaBeouf has got crazy blockbuster money, good taste, and the sense to get out of the way. “I’ve been on film sets where, y’know, the executive producer feels like he paid for his fuckin’ opinion to be a part of something that, it’s just not needed,” he explained Thursday. “And then, I’ve been around so many disgruntled directors that are like, Oh, it’s fuckin’ this guy again. So being on the other side now, I didn’t wanna be that guy… and she’s brilliant, they got family, y’know, I literally was just facilitating the pragmatic shit.” And however you come down on LaBeouf, you must admit this: there’s something wonderfully delicious about Transformers residual checks financing a film as diametrically opposed to that one as LoveTrue.
LoveTrue is currently in post-production. It previewed as a work-in-progress at the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs through April 26.