Just hours after having been released online, Shia LaBeouf's short film HowardCantour.com--a meditation on the role of the film critic--is being roundly criticized...but not for the reasons most of the actor/filmmaker/comic book writer's projects tend to be.
Rather than his performance, or the film's general quality, HowardCantour.com is being accused of being a near-complete adaptation of Daniel Clowes' comic Justin M. Damiano. Eric Reynolds, longtime editor of Daniel Clowes’ comics and associate publisher at Fantagraphics, called the film “shameless theft” after seeing that the premise as well as large chunks of dialogue are identical to the 2007 comic.
The film, which stars comedian Jim Gaffigan, first debuted the work at the May 2012 Cannes Film Festival and has appeared at numerous festivals since, according to its official website. Clowes, though, hadn't heard anything about it until the short film became available publicly online this week and an acquaintance sent him an e-mail.
“The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I’ve never spoken to or met Mr. LaBeouf,” Clowes told BuzzFeed. “I’ve never even seen one of his films that I can recall — and I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that he took the script and even many of the visuals from a very personal story I did six or seven years ago and passed it off as his own work. I actually can’t imagine what was going through his mind.”
The fact that LaBeouf is a comic book fan who campaigned for years to make Y: The Last Man and whose admiration for Clowes is established makes whatever he may have been thinking all that much more confounding.
“I know something about the gulf between critical acclaim and blockbuster business. 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,” LaBeouf told Short of the Week. “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.”
Clowes has been adapted before--albeit in an authorized fashion. Terry Zwigoff adapted his graphic novel Ghost World years ago and shortly after that, Clowes himself wrote the adaptation of his comic Art School Confidential.
Embedding is not permitted and LaBoeuf's own version is now reportedly password-protected, but you can see the eleven-minute short film at the Buzzfeed link above.