What was he thinking?

That is the one question I'm going to want answered with Shia LaBeouf finally makes some sort of comment on the bizarre story that's been unfolding today. If you haven't been following it, the day began with people linking to a short film that originally played at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. I guess no one who was at Cannes is a Daniel Clowes fan, though, because there was nary a whisper afterwards about any sort of issues that there might be with the film that Shia made.

Now, though, thanks to the fact that plagiarism is nearly impossible to get away with in the age of the Internet, in less than 24 hours, LaBeouf has had to lock the film behind a password because the connection was instantly made between his film, "HowardCantour.com," and a comic by Clowes, best known as the creator of "Ghost World," called "Justin M. Damiano." I really like Clowes, but I'm no authority on his work. Still, when BuzzFeed ran the short film past Clowes today, they did it because they were surprised he wasn't credited on the film. What seemed like an odd oversight at first became something more when Clowes replied.

"The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I have never spoken to or met Mr. LaBeouf." It seems incomprehensible to me that someone would do something like this, and Clowes seems to agree. "I actually can't imagine what was going through his mind."

The film itself was worth a conversation anyway, and the pages from the Clowes comic are pretty great. I think it's absolutely valid to debate the value of criticism and the way people approach the creation of it, just as I think it's absolutely valid to debate the value of art and the way people approach the creation of it. I ran a piece earlier this year when Calvin Reeder, director of "The Rambler," took exception to what I said about his film after Sundance, and I have done the same thing in the past when someone gets really upset about something I write. I'm willing to have the conversation with anyone who feels they got a raw deal in something I wrote, and I've admitted in the past when I felt like I got something wrong. Writers on both sides of the equation are human and take things personally and can express themselves in blunt fashion in those moments.

Kelly Marcel, for example, does not seem to be a fan of Amy Nicholson's recent "Saving Mr. Banks" review. I like Marcel, and I like Nicholson. They're both good at what they do. I'd rather listen to the two of them sit down and have a genuine spirited exchange about the points raised by Amy, though. In the year of "Blackfish," posting that Sea World photo seems like a very pointed and personal shot. No one wants to be on Sea World's side right now, but that picture lacks context. I was there that day as well. It was a trip we took to watch some of the shooting of "Anchorman 2," and none of us gave Sea World any of our money. Does that even matter, though? Marcel wanted to take a poke, and she did.

 



So let's say LaBeouf felt the same way. If he really did come to this idea organically because of how often he got terrible reviews for things like the "Transformers" films, then why borrow the very personal work of Clowes to express those ideas? It's not even an issue of some of the same ideas being expressed in similar ways. We're talking direct quotes, big blocks of voice-over lifted directly from the comic. I have a feeling this story is going to get blown up over the next few days and weeks, and I can't imagine a scenario where everything ends up being just fine for LaBeouf as a filmmaker. This is about a direct a torpedo as I've ever seen someone fire at their own directorial career.

It's a shame. I would rather have the conversation about how criticism is one of the most intensely personal forms of writing when done what I consider well, and the short film (as with the comic) does get the world it's set in correct. It is not badly made, and I don't think it comes across as a direct slam on someone being a critic. Instead, it does a nice job of expressing how a million different things can come together in forming someone's opinion of something. I have no doubt that my reaction to "Man Of Steel" is because of personal feelings I had when I saw the movie, but that's why I love movies. I love when they burrow under your skin and get hold of you in some way, and I go into every movie trying to be wide open to the experience, to whatever the film is meant to do or say or convey, and I fully recognize that the way I watch films is not the way everyone watches movies. I can't tell people how they will react to something. All I can do is accurately and in detail try to convey my own experience with it.

Shia LaBeouf may well have a valid point to make about critics, but thanks to a staggeringly bone-headed decision, it looks like that conversation is dead before it starts.

We'll keep you posted as this one unfolds.

UPDATE - 10:55 PM PST

Shia LaBeouf has posted the following comments on Twitter, and it seemed only fair to include them here. I think what he did goes well beyond being "naive," but here's his explanation:

 

 

Regarding the article itself, it appears that I was in such a hurry to get this posted that I didn't really describe the short film. Starring Jim Gaffigan, it portrays a day in the life of a film critic with his own Internet site who is gearing up to write a scathing review of a film. He attends the junket for the film, has a short conversation with the filmmaker, then goes home and writes the scathing review anyway. I'm sorry if the piece above was confusing, and hopefully this adds some clarity to it.

Now... what do you think of Shia's response? Considering how loud the conversation about copyright is these days, I find it hard to believe Shia thinks this was okay. Does he think anyone who wants to can make a "Transformers" film? Can I shoot my own version of "Charlie Countryman" tomorrow as long as I'm moved by the material? It's a very strange argument for a working industry professional to make. I wouldn't buy it from a college student, so why should I buy it from someone who was in an Indiana Jones movie? He's not some fresh farm kid who didn't know better... is he? Is that really his argument?

I get the feeling this isn't over yet.