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Shia LaBeouf Loves Plagiarism, Irony

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire December 17, 2013 at 9:55AM

LaBoeuf apologized for lifting much of his short film about an online film critic from a Daniel Clowes comic.
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LaBoeuf

So, this happened:

LeBoeuf

And then this happened:

And this happened:

And this happened:

And then this happened:

And, finally, this:

And, okay, this happened, too.


First, and most obviously, it's somewhat embarrassing to have been taken in by LaBeouf's flabbergasting act of appropriation. Even after a colleague hipped me to the fact that LeBeouf's HowardCantour.com was largely taken from a Daniel Clowes strip, I assumed it must have been done with Clowes' permission: Although the short, which can still be seen at BuzzFeed although LaBeouf has removed all links to it, is called "A Film by Shia LaBeouf," it has no writing and directing credits, so it seemed possible those had just been omitted. But it turns out that neither Clowes nor his publisher, Fantagraphics Books -- who, incidentally, recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to cover a financial shortfall caused by the death of their co-founder -- had ever heard of HowardCantour.com until yesterday.

What LaBeouf did was wrong, and so blatant it's hard to imagine he thought no one would notice -- if, indeed, he did think that. Adapting a secondary text is a common film-school exercise, and given that it's unlikely LaBeouf ever made, or will make, a dime off the film, it's possible he thought clearing the rights wasn't necessary. It's also possible he thought he could away with copying a strip from one of the world's better-known cartoonists, or that, even though he's a self-proclaimed Daniel Clowes fan, he's also an entitled movie-star millennial who thinks other people's work is free for the taking. This Vulture report from Cannes describes LaBeouf as "fucking terrified" before the short's world premiere. I wonder why?

Its bastard origins don't forcibly alter HowardCantour.com itself, although the fact that LaBeouf was copying a source he doesn't fully understand helps explain the somewhat confused nature of the short. LaBeouf did alter and add to Clowes original, in some cases updating or dumbing down cultural reference points: Titanic becomes AmistadContempt becomes Shakespeare in Love. But as my colleague Bilge Ebiri pointed out, any quasi-reputable critic who did what LaBeouf did would be swiftly drummed out of the business. Perhaps in addition to studying up on copyright law, Shia LaBeouf should spend some time pondering the meaning of irony.

This article is related to: From the Wire


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