Shia LaBeouf caught plagiarizing Dan Clowes
If you were going to plagiarize an indie comic for your first "art film," would you pick someone obscure or would you pick the most famous indie comic booker this side of Robert Crumb?
Shia LaBeouf’s critically acclaimed 2012 short HowardCantour.com was available online today — until people familiar with indie comics noticed its remarkable resemblance to Justin M. Damiano, a 2007 comic by Ghost World creator Dan Clowes. The video, available on the short’s official website, suddenly became password protected shortly after bloggers started commenting on the similarities this afternoon.
How closely does the film, which appeared at several film festivals, hew to the comic? Well, both open with exactly the same monologue from their eponymous leads: “A critic is a warrior, and each of us on the battlefield have the means to glorify or demolish (whether a film, a career, or an entire philosophy) by influencing perception in ways that if heartfelt and truthful, can have far-reaching repercussions.”
Both stories then switch to a scene wherein the titular critic discusses a film with a freelance critic he dislikes, who asks whether he’s attending a junket where the director will be present. In Clowes’, the freelance critic explains that the director “so perfectly gets how we’re really all like these aliens who can never have any meaningful contact with each other because we’re all so caught up in our own little self-made realities, you know?” In LaBeouf’s short, she says the director “so perfectly gets how we’re all like these aliens to one another, who never have any meaningful contact with one another because we’re all so caught up in our little self-made realities, you know?”
In fact, a lot of dialogue in HowardCantour.com appears lifted almost directly from the Clowes story — Howard’s narration throughout the short is almost verbatim, except where characters’ names are different. Somewhat amazingly, HowardCantour.com isn’t an official adaptation of Justin M. Damiano, and Clowes is absent from the credits, which simply describe the short as “A Film By Shia LaBeouf.”
LaBeouf did not respond to a request for comment. LaBeouf, who has created comics of his own and is a fan of Clowes’ work has been caught plagiarizing before. He has said the genesis of the short film was his attempt to understand those who would comment on his work. “I have been crushed by critics (especially during my Transformers run), and in trying to come to terms with my feelings about critics, I needed to understand them,” he told the Short of the Week website. “As I tried to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at me and the people I’ve worked with, a small script developed.”
In the most sympathetic reading of this situation, LaBeouf’s HowardCantour.com is a fan film tribute to Clowes’ Justin M. Damiano that, by accident or design, “forgets” to credit the source material. Consider it the big budget equivalent of one of those Batman videos you’d find on YouTube — except, considering that those movies normally come up with their own storylines and dialogue, it’s actually far less original and much more immoral.
“My first reaction, before I even watched it, was basically that as much as the plot sounded like the Justin M. Damiano, I presumed that LaBeouf would be smart enough to change everything just enough to make it his own thing and shield himself from any legal liability, even if it didn’t excuse him from being a weasel,” said Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics, which publishes Clowes’ comics. “Which is why, when I actually started watching it, I almost spit out my coffee when I realized he lifted the script, word for word.”
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