Could Shia LaBeouf's recent bizarre behavior — including plagiarizing a short film, headbutting a man in a bar and wearing a paper bag over his head on a red carpet — all be part of a performance art piece? That's the question James Franco poses in an opinion piece from Wednesday's New York Times.
"Though the wisdom of some of his actions may seem questionable, as an actor and artist I'm inclined to take an empathetic view of his conduct," Franco writes. "This behavior could be a sign of many things, from a nervous breakdown to mere youthful recklessness. For Mr. LaBeouf's sake, I hope it is nothing serious. Indeed I hope — and, yes, I know that this idea has pretentious or just plain ridiculous overtones — that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art, one in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona."
Franco cites examples of other actors, including Marlon Brando, Joaquin Phoenix and himself, who have engaged in "acts of rebellion against an industry that practically forces an actor to identify with his persona while at the same time repeatedly wresting it from him."
And the attention gained from that rebellion can ignite a vicious cycle, Franco argues. "Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on," Franco writes. "Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d'être. Believe me, this game of peek-a-boo can be very addictive."
LaBeouf's actions have resulted in more than just tut-tutting from the media, however. Last year, the 27-year-old was supposed to make his Broadway debut opposite Alec Baldwin in the play Orphans, but was fired by producers due to "creative differences." Notes Franco: "Often an actor's need to tear down the public creation that constrains him occurs during the transition from young man to adult. I think Mr. LaBeouf's project, if it is a project, is a worthy one. I just hope that he is careful not to use up all the good will he has gained as an actor in order to show us that he is an artist."
What do you think? Is Shia LaBeouf's behavior "art"?