An inside account of watching Shia watch Shia

When Shia laughs the crowd laughs — when Shia gets excited the crowd gets excited

Walking past the Angelika you’d have no inkling of the spectacle taking place inside. You’d have no idea that Shia LaBeouf seized the basement of the theatre: attempting yet another performance art piece/publicity stunt/act of self-reflection.

And you’d have no idea that, by word of mouth, in a couple of hours, hordes of New Yorkers would fill the theatre ready to join him.

In the first few hours, NYU’s film buffs and general hipsters tightly packed themselves against one wall. The rest of the lobby disproportionately empty, it didn’t take long for the journalists to arrive. Every publication from Newsweek, to the New York Post, to Esquire, to the Daily News had sent its youngest reporters to infiltrate the line of millennials. And they had a lot to work with.

This sort of spontaneous mid-day act of artistic outrageousness is, after all, what most of NYU’s creatively inclined live for and aspire to. For Isabel, a 22-year old Gallatin Film major, this sort of thing is right up her ally. She’s excited to be there and she thinks it’s awesome. “I don’t think it matters whether he’s doing this as a stunt—or whether he puts on this persona—he decided to put this on, and what matters is that he’s doing it.” She says. “If someone doesn’t want be here for it than they shouldn’t come.”

I nod understandingly as I take a bite out of some chocolate cake that was offered to me by a friend I made in line. Isabel, my new friend from Brooklyn College, who’s name I didn’t get because I was distracted by cake and I began to discuss the absurdity of all things Shia LaBeouf — the good, the strange, and the crazy.

We discussed his presence in Sia’s music video Electric Heart, his drunken disruption at Broadway’s Cabaret and his most recent performance piece in an L.A. gallery where he invited observers to do anything they wanted to him while he sat in a chair with a bag over his head. And according to Isabel, during the first hour of LaBeouf’s live stream of his screening, he even began crying.

Nutty to some, this conversation only strengthened my view that LaBeouf is no different than my NYU friends at Tisch — he’s the average Joe of our generation’s attention-seeking self-expressionists. Longing to come off as unique and prophetic, he indulges in his vanity — literally. (But he is a hell of an actor and at least this is free!)

When it’s finally my turn to see what all the fuss is about I head down the escalator. As I step onto the basement floor’s red carpet I notice that right in front of me is Shia LaBeouf with a massive tub of popcorn running into the theatre. “Woa!” Yells everyone around me, which seems to be the only appropriate reaction.

A dedicated fan

His fans and I are ready to run right after him into the small theatre but three security guards in a triangle formation stop us all. After my airport-level check I make my way into the theatre to see LaBeouf engaging in small talk with the excited fan in horn-rimmed glasses sitting next to him. They laugh like they’re best friends. I end up sitting just behind him to the right so I can watch him watch himself.

As Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 begins, the audience is fixated on irl Shia, who’s bobbing along to the opening song — all eyes remain on Shia until after his first scene: a fittingly uncomfortable sex scene. From then on the audience seems to focus on the screen — shifting their gaze to irl Shia only when the screen is bright enough to see his reaction. When Shia laughs the crowd laughs — when Shia gets excited the crowd gets excited.

I decide I’ve gotten the full effect of the experience so after 20 minutes I pack up to leave. As I get up, my phone falls under the chair in front of mine. But I didn’t realize this at the time. So I feel around as much floor as I can—dipping into someone’s old nachos and spilled soda. I ask the guy sitting next to me if I could use his phone as a flashlight, which got Shia to briefly look over at me (success?) But I couldn’t find my phone! So I forced myself to sit through the rest of the movie, waiting for the light to come back on.

Not wanting to make a spectacle of myself at Shia’s spectacle — I stared at the screen passive aggressively feeling, myself, like the performance art.

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