If Armond White is the king of Online Film Criticism from Under Troll Mountain, Jeffrey Wells is the wandering samurai-poet on a separate continent. Wells resides in the other end of entertainment journalism where euphemism, contacts and advertising are an essential issue but completely alien to folks that treat the Tomatometer or CinemaScore as the scales of justice.
Wells has always been a strange figure. A traditional print reporter from back before the time most of the online editors that gripe about him on Twitter even knew what a lede meant (whether they still do is arguable). Even then, Wells is the prototype for the modern online film columnist. So much of what Wells writes has become tied into his idiosyncrasies about wi-fi, fatness and a bit of reporting per se, but also random bursts of striking street photography. The closest encapsulation of his writing resume can be found here.
I've said it before, but it remains the same: for lack of a better term, Hollywood Elsewhere is a spectacular performance art that happens to involve entertainment media. So, why has it taken four years to revive the Great Moments in Jeffrey Wells? Because.
It helps to understand Wells by moving chronologically. After all, January...it's a special month
"Just focus on non-fiction books, TV, Blurays and DVDs of classics and/or well-reviewed films you didn’t get around to seeing in ’12."
It's important to learn that Wells is a bit eccentric. He has quirks. He likes to define the things he dislikes (e.g. elephants and eloi). He doesn't like it when you ghost ride that whip, asshole. What Wells ultimately comes across as pissed about is we--the readers, the critics, everyone on the Internet under the age of 30--are fucking idiots. Especially if we're not part of the same Trade process that he inhabited throughout the 80s. It's the sort of thing that makes him uniquely defined for playing insider--no, it's better defined as
"Almost three weeks ago Variety reporter Jeff Sneider got angry about publicist Kelly Bush having supplied an exclusive production story — i.e., Christopher Nolan deciding to direct Interstellar, a Paramount project based on his brother Jonathan’s script — to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Kim Masters instead of himself."
No one outside of the film trade world knows who Jeff Sneider is (which I mean with love as Jeff's an old college associate and beat me at some IFC trivia thing in a bar on the Upper East Side). Sneider and Wells both inhabit a world where scooping and exclusives are becoming so fucking insular that even rumors and Facebook videos count as breaking news. While Sneider continues fighting the good fight for scoops, exclusives and the American Way, Wells doesn't. To really grasp the concept of what Wells embodies, consider the following format that Wells prefers.
Or, the art of letter writing in two parts:
(Perhaps context is needed here--in fact this is one of the rare open letters Wells writes that has a response from a second party. But you'll quickly get the gist of what's going on. And if you don't, choose your own interpretation).
"...but what do you think, Bob? What do you want? How do you feel? You call yourself a neutralist and a stats man, but do you have a secret yen to see everything cleavered down to 1.85? You say you’re not on a campaign to see naturally boxy (1.33) or at least somewhat spacious 1950s and early ’60s compositions compressed into a 1.85 to 1 space? Who cares what exhibitors and distributors wanted to see in 1954 in order to make films of the day look cooler than television? Who gives a shit? Why should that be a factor in how we see films of the ’50s and early ’60s today?
Are you a boxy-is-beautiful type of guy (like me) or at least a 1.66-is-better-than-1.85 type of guy or what? Or are you strictly a neutral-minded research guy without any aesthetic preference? Because you never explain what you like and why. You never express who you really are.
You’re a very mellow, meticulous and well-mannered guy, Bob, but you seem to becomme ci comme ca about cleavering the tops and bottoms of iconic images, and for the life of me I don’t see why anyone who ostensibly cares about motion pictures would want images chopped down or otherwise reduced.
I am a boxy-is-beautiful guy, and if not that at least a 1.66-is-better-than-1.85 guy, and I’m extremely proud of being that. I say eff what the exhibitors and distributors wanted in 1954. Eff their priorities and their fears and their mid ’50s thinking. I am here now in 2012 and I like fucking breathing room or headroom, and if it’s viewable on the negative I said open it up and let God’s light and space into the frame. I really don’t like that horrible Being John Malkovich feeling of the ceiling pressing down upon actors, of walking around in a bent-over position like Orson Bean and his employees in order to exist within a 1.85 realm. I hate, hate, hate 1.85 fascism. Stop being a stats man, Furmanek, and let your real self out of the box. Who are you? What are you? What kind of a visual realm do you want to live in?"
"I’m hereby offering to debate Bob Furmanek and/or Pete Apruzzese and/orC.C. Baxter — anyone who believes in cleavering ’50s and ’60s films down to 1.78 or 1.85 when there’s a full-frame aspect ratio to work with — in a podcast format within a day or so. I’m talking about The Mother of All Aspect-Ratio Battlesin an audio format. 30 to 45 minutes. Get in touch and we’ll figure it out."
and to truly understand the Tao of The Balls of Wells In One Introductory Sentence:
"Dear Marty [Scorsese], We’ve never technically met but we did a phoner while you were cutting Casino."
edit: two other important insights to the nature of Wells' philosophy include when he crashed the James Gandolfini's funeral because he thought angels told him it was okay and how he vowed to never sublet to a specific race or age ever again.
And now, an interlude:
By this point, a snapshot should be forming. Online and in person, Wells is akin to...well, I think he says it best:
"and myself (the Last Honest Cowboy Hat — the most poetically-inclined, confessional-minded and intuitive, non-alcoholic poet-samurai truth-teller of them all)[.]"
Wells can be equally infuriating. For every adorable Magoo-ism he musters (" I could be wearing shiny black imitation-silk sweat pants or nice black velour sweatpants or heavy cotton sweatpants and I’d be on the treadmill right now, but because my jeans are black…let’s just say for the sake of friendly argument they’re black, okay?…I can’t use your place.") there's the terrifying concept that it isn't a persona. Wells was one of the first print writers to take a chance on the Internet in 1997 and it took the rest of the world a decade to catch up to him (" I’m not suggesting that this video clerk be brought up on charges. I’m just saying that if a 35 year-old video-store clerk has never heard of Wilder then the 20somethings and 30somethings who ostensibly love film have probably never heard of Mr. Wilder either. His reputation is not carrying over to the young ‘uns. And this is with a hot-pink-toned Billy Wilder theatre operaing [sic] in Westwood and Double Indemnity recently out on Bluray and so on. I show you the times. The world is changing. Oh, and by the way? They guy rummaged around and all he could find was a shitty pan-and-scan VHS of One, Two, Three.").
And when the world did, there was no idea it inspired the template for a force so utterly self-absorbed and reactionary that it could see a 1:01 teaser for the 2014 Academy Awards and immediately think:
"Decent song, spirited mood, DeGeneres brings it…but why couldn’t they use live dancers? Why couldn’t they choreograph it the old-fashioned way and shoot it organically? I love it when CG doesn’t look like anything, and hate it when it does. Even if I’m wrong and it was shot live (which I seriously, seriously doubt), I still hate it. Imagine Michael Jackson‘s Thriller video with CG dancers. Imagine West Side Story with CG-ed Jets and Sharks."
Just as randomly, there will be moments of wordless video art.
The majesty of Wells to those that don't know him is his wanderlust. To your average cinephile or working stiff this is the allure of the freelance lifestyle. Wander wherever you want, take a photo, have a meal, see the sights and let something somber play looking out over the landscape. Which is why one of Wells constant topics is travel and how he travels.
Whether he once again goes into a gripe about basic wireless etiquette on a flight ("The Virgin America wifi that I’ve [sic] paid $26 bucks for can’t handle streaming video, even two minutes’ worth on YouTube. Well, it can but it takes forever to load") or if he waxes poetic about the Hammer of the Muvie Godz ("The Movie Godz are foursquare against Gravity winning, I can tell you that. A Best Picture winner has to have some kind of social, political or psychological undercurrent — it has to say or reflect something about who we are (or who we used to be or want to be). Gravity says absolutely nothing except that we all want to survive — big deal").
Other times, Wells reminds us that he's the same as us. If not, you know, still recovering from the past:
"The term [FOMO-Fear of Missing Out] is most commonly applied to Shallow Hals who compulsively check their social media streams to see what might be happening elsewhere, etc. But I define it in as a fear of missing out on any rich, nourishing experience.Random HE FOMOs: doing the Camino trail across Spain, missing any great play on the London or New York stage, missing out on a beautiful sunrise in the Caribbean due to oversleeping, missing some hilarious joke being shared by someone two tables away from mine…I could go on all day. I guess it’s not FOMO as much as wanting to be in 100 different places at any given time. Or 100 different eras. I wish I could have spent a few days in Washington, D.C., during the Lincoln administration. Or somehow had a chance to meet Charles Dickens in London in the early 1850s, when things were going really well for him creatively. Or a chance to wander around Rome when Julius Ceasar ruled the world. Or Jerusalem during the time of Yeshua of Nazareth."
This is sandwiched between a break-down of an August: Osage County screening Q&A and questioning which 2013 films were the best edited. There's a twisted narrative in what Wells represents that goes hand-in-hand with the self-brand that gained popularity throughout the 2000s in publishing. But whereas most of those former top stars of NYC-based media blogs have burned out or re-purposed themselves, Wells continues on in his unique way.
This could be the part where, if I were a better reporter or writer, I'd discuss how the nature of Wells' advertising structure was a much whispered-about topic when I was a younger idiot. Today especially the For Your Consideration ads that grace Hollywood Elsewhere range from Oscar Hopefuls to banking on such asides as "Why am I so interested? Because Hollywood Elsewhere has been Ground Zero for the pro-[Adele] Exarchopoulos forces since Cannes, and I’m in this for the long haul."
Despite this, everything is strife to Wells and how he's had to adapt to constant reaction whether from his commenters, his peers or his infamous peanut gallery that have their own set of memes and rules at their special circle of comment hell.
What Jeff Wells is responsible for is different than the iconic Internet Trolls of Film Criticism. Wells is, going back to the idea of performance art, the template for the freelance film writer as we know them. Inside every Filmdrunk, /Film, Film School Reject or Gothamist--no, seriously they used to love him--is the spark of what Wells represents.
Godspeed #samuraipoet. May you continue to confuse the fuck out of us with your moments of avant-auti/eur/sm.
"The only way to deal with psychos like this is for three guys to face him as a team. Two guys need to go the lobby and buy three 24-ounce drinks while the third guy goes to a nearby sporting goods store and buys three baseball bats. The friend returns and they all go into the theatre, each carrying a super-size drink and a bat. They drench the talker with three simultaneous hits, one on either side of his face and one on the top of his head, and when he howls like a bison and gets up they fend him off with the bats and if necessary whack him once or twice. I know that’s a ridiculous scenario but you have to do something when these assholes won’t shut up, and the managers of these plexes are candy-asses — they never do anything. So what do you do? Use a taser?"
if I missed your own personal Great Moment, leave it below.