Director Paul Bartel Brings out the Beast in Nancy Allen and David Naughton.
DIRECTED BY PAUL BARTEL/1984
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JUNE 30, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
On the exceptional commentary track for Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray edition of Paul Bartel’s 1984 comedy Not for Publication, it is mentioned that in making it, the director had ten times the budget of his previous film, the breakthrough perverse absurdity Eating Raoul (1982). So, what is that, ten times $40…?
I kid; there’s no way that Not for Publication, with of-the-moment stars Nancy Allen and David Naughton and its fair share of big city New York City exteriors, was produced for only $400. But hopefully the intent behind the quip is apparent, which is to imply that although Not for Publication is a well-deserved step up for the perpetually low-low-low budget Bartel, it nevertheless remains in that realm of indie catch-as-catch-can moviemaking. For whatever it’s worth, this sort of thing is indicative of an era gone bye-bye: That of the under-the-radar auteur shindig, modest in its hoped-for rung-by-rung advances up the singular ladder of respectability and greater success.
For Bartel, a most refined yet always mischievous graduate of the Roger Corman school of figure-it-out-yourself el cheapo moviemaking, Not for Publication was both a step up in terms of production value and resources, but a step down in terms of verve, spunk, and brazen boundaries pushing. Remember, not only did Paul Bartel make the fetish-friendly and afore-mentioned Eating Raoul (again, I kid because I love, Eating Raoul!), he’s responsible for, among other unlikely delights, the seminally twisted Death Race 2000. (1975, for Corman’s company). These films found audiences and made plenty of money, yes, but also managed to keep the erudite and homosexual filmmaker pigeonholed. Not that Bartel’s sensibilities didn’t square up in that odd, particular nook, though. (Whatever that nook was…).
Nancy Allen, hot off a run with (and marriage to) Brian De Palma, stars as Lois Thornedyke, a serious reporter who’s stuck working for a sleazy tabloid. She goes undercover as assistant to NYC Mayor Franklyn (Laurence Luckinbill), whom she adores. As Lois allows herself to be romanced by Franklyn, red flags are raised for both the viewer and her new, nice-guy photographer Barry, played by David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London). Don’t worry, she also hits it off with him as their adventure unfolds. The film is refreshingly non-judgmental of Lois in this regard.
Lois snd Barry’s smut-tinged adventure eventually lands them on the stage of a bizarre upscale S&M nightclub where the jungle-themed orchestra is right out of the Dietrich film Blonde Venus and the patrons’ masks are right out of Eyes Wide Shut. There, in the film’s most charmingly warped scene, they perform soft-shoe number of an original song by Bartel and John Meyer called “You Bring Out the Beast in Me”. He’s disguised as a giant felt blue duck with yellow tights and flippers; she’s wearing what might best be described as an adorable explosion of pink and white yarn. I think she might suppose to be a sheep. The song is a two-minute quickie that leaves you wishing the movie had been a full-blown musical. Leave it to Paul Bartel to render bestiality as flirty, or vice versa.
The rest of the film is merely pretty good, a screwball lark set in that old skeezy Mayor Koch NYC that so many people are weirdly nostalgic about. Allen and Naughton really shine in this film, giving their all to this goofball outing in which their undercover vehicle is legitimately a wooden Old West milk wagon complete with non-street-legal wooden wagon wheels pulled by a cherry red vintage convertible that’s driven by a guy with more than slightly suspicious demeanor. But it’s all in good, rather innocuous, R-rated fun. (There’s actually next to nothing in the way of nudity, language or violence, yet the lingering on the sex club orgy- more a bit of well-oiled, barely clothed choreography- earns the classification). In the end, Not for Publication has some rather skewering things to say about opportunism and ambition.
Even if you are not sold on the film itself, the new commentary track with Bartel’s good friend and fellow director Allan Arkush and Filmmaker/Historian Daniel Kremer is worth the price of admission for film buffs. Though Arkush makes no secret that he feels that Not for Publication is a weaker effort by Bartel, he finds plenty of compliments along the way. But mostly, the pair indulge in all manner of amusing memories of Arkush and Bartel’s days in the Corman movie mafia. No stone is unturned in paying tribute to the wild and weird career of the late and famously erudite director, both in front of and behind the camera.
Kino’s Blu-ray beautifully sports a new 4K transfer, not only rendering the film more vibrant than it’s ever looked on home video (and probably certain theaters), but renders it available, period. Indeed, it seems that over the years, home video distributors apparently took the movie’s title literally, making it one of Bartel’s rarer films. But for now, while the moment lasts, Not for Publication is published in style, and worthy of taking of home. Wrap it in a brown paper bag for old time’s sake.
The images and promotional material used in the review are present only as a reference to the film and are not meant to reflect the actual image quality or content of the Blu-ray.