Nobody Needs To Know

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

NOBODY NEEDS TO KNOW

3/10

US 2003 : Azazel JACOBS : 95 mins

Nobody needs to see Nobody Needs To Know, a gratingly self-conscious example of cod-bohemian Manhattan film-making at its most wildly pretentious. Only fractionally redeemed by Daniel Andrade’s crisp monochrome cinematography, the project is torpedoed by the glaring lack of writing or directorial ability on the part of Azazel Jacobs – and while he does a decent enough job as editor, he could perhaps have cut another hour off the running-time.

Tellingly, no information about his credentials or creative background is given in the catalogue for the 2003 Rotterdam Film Festival where the film world-premiered, apart from the fact that he’s “the son of avant-garde film-maker Ken Jacobs.” And, as Jacobs Sr was responsible for 1963’s 33-minute Blonde Cobra – a strong contender for the title of Worst Film Ever Made – even this detail should be enough to give potential viewers serious pause for thought.

Further warning-signs are available on the film’s official website*, which features a self-penned biography by the budding auteur: “Coming from a family so uncomprimising [sic] in their own avante-garde [sic] work, simply using proffesional [sic] actors was delving into testy [sic] waters, even synch sound was risky.” Of the film itself, Jacobs admits: “Feeling that I could not tell a better story than Fellini, make a record better than the Clash’s Sandinista, or express myself with more clarity then [sic] Lenny Bruce, I set out to combine these beloved influences in hope that there [sic] meeting would spark something new.”

Hmm. This ‘new’ combination of Fellini, Strummer and Bruce turns out to be the half-baked story of a self-obsessed would-be actress in modern-day Manhattan. Iris Dawn (Mia-Farrow-cropped Tricia Vessey) is one of numerous thespians we see auditioning for a pudgy, not-quite-sure-what-he-wants director, Jonas (Matt Borum) and his casting assistant Linda (Mikal Portnoi Lazarev) – including, in what may be the year’s most baffling cameo, Emily Mortimer (as ‘Emily’). The vague Jonas asks the actresses to improvise a scene, his only guidance being that it must end with their character’s death. Iris stuns Jonas by refusing his request, and retreats to the apartment she shares with a rather more down-to-earth and successful would-be starlet, Mira (Liz Stauber). After an encounter with disgruntled Hollywood star Kurt (Norman Reedus) who happens to be filming nearby, Iris holes herself up in her room and undergoes a picturesque nervous breakdown.

Iris’s story is narrated by Lamont (Alvin Seme), a laid-back omniscient observer who, at the start of the film, has somehow accessed a kind of pan-Manhattan surveillance system. The details of this gimmick are never made clear, but seem to involve Lamont (and, later, other characters) being able to spy into the lives of their neighbours as if through a network of invisible security cameras. We hear clicks as Lamont’s perspective shifts from point to point (“A-ha. now I’m in control!”) – and while his voice-over is crystal clear, the sound we hear from Iris, Jonas and his other ‘subjects’ is distractingly muddy. Which is perhaps just as well, given the numbingly vacuous dialogue they’re given as they negotiate their personal crises.

The real nadir of self-regarding SoHo-boho posturing is reached with the appearance of Reedus, the sitting crosslegged on a rooftop in a vest, smoking a cigarette and expressing the anguish of a Creative Young Artist stuck within the Cruel Hollywood System: “It’s not worth it – what am I, some fuckin’ show pony?” Coming from phonus-balonus Reedus, show ponies may consider this statement a case of collective slander.

The spy-cam business is, at least, a mildly original way of constructing a film – but Jacobs doesn’t yet have the skill to make the most of his concepts, and the execution becomes more annoyingly clumsy as it goes on. Lamont’s voice-over is drastically overused, so we feel pestered and nagged-at by his trite ‘insights’ into the psychological motivations of Iris, Mira and the rest. Near the end, these become unbearable example of self-help preachiness: “Without a problem,” he raps, “you don’t really have a thing to grow from. You just gotta make it somehow.”

It’s almost as bad as Ed Burns’ glib to-camera moral at the end of Sidewalks of New York, with the sole redeeming feature that, unlike Burns, Jacobs doesn’t have the rampaging ego that would allow him to impart these pearls of wisdom in person. He does, however, have the brass balls to give us, in Jonas, a director character whose artsy-fartsy pretension is held up for our ridicule in sequences loaded with cheap laughs – on this evidence, even Jonas couldn’t have done much worse job than Jacobs himself.

10th March, 2003
(seen 31st January, Pathe Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam – Rotterdam Film Festival)

* http://nobodyneedstoknow.com/

For all the review from the Rotterdam Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young