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Not for Publication
Not For Publication is a real odd duck of a movie. It's not bad, or boring, nor has it aged poorly, it's just a bizarre mishmash of tones and ideas that don't necessarily congeal into anything, in a way that's more puzzling than disappointing. Co-writer/director Paul Bartel made a name for himself as an oddball sort of artist, but Publication feels less like the work of an idiosyncratic artist and more like a bundle of good intentions that just don't quite come together, in the end, even if the film feels like it should work just fine on paper.
The three major plot threads here are Lois' job at The Informer, Franklyn's re-election campaign, and the investigation that Lois and Barry are on in the evenings (as well as their experience getting to know one another). The third thread is probably the most effective, with Allen and Naughton having a pleasant comic rapport, and their dive into Bartel's vision of the seedy underbelly of New York City leading into some of the film's most entertaining scenes. The highlight of the whole film has to be a scene where Lois and Barry sneak into a club called The Bestiary, where some sort of animalistic orgy is going to happen. Lois and Barry come up with a cover to get them in, which is that they're performers, leading to an absurd musical number co-written by Bartel, complete with singing, dancing, and even a touch of tap, all in ridiculous bird costumes. There's also a little runner involving Barry's kooky mom Doris (Alice Ghostley), who claims to talk to various ghosts via the radio.
The wrinkle with the movie -- it's not quite a problem -- is that Bartel doesn't seem to have much investment in drawing the threads together in much meaningful way. The scene with the bird costumes, which is quite funny, also doesn't do anything to move the story forward. Lois' journalistic ethics make for a good opening scene, but it's possible she never mentions her belief in the power of print for the entire remainder of the movie, as well as slowly morphing from the lead into a supporting as Barry becomes more assertive. Scenes with Franklyn frequently feel like the script (co-written by Bartel and John Meyer) spinning its wheels until it fits into the rest of the movie. It's also not necessary for Not For Publication to have any sort of coherent message about political mores, but there is an air of political thought that feels like it doesn't pay off into anything (although to go into more detail would require spoilers).
All that said, Not For Publication is oddly endearing, perhaps because Bartel has such a strange vision of what constitutes sleaziness. His idea of an underground orgy is weirdly wholesome, featuring a lot of anonymous torsos and legs writhing -- greased up, but also inches apart, underwear on. Lois is accompanied on her investigations by a little person named Odo (Cork Hubbert), who drives an old-fashioned car hauling a wooden milk truck, which is actually a mobile darkroom for her photographers to use, and the friendly banter between Odo and Lois is quite sweet. Naughton has an "aw-shucks!" goofiness that's quite endearing, and Allen is charming as always, even if it feels like her character could stand to be a bit more spunky. The most outrageous thing in the film, despite the R-rating and promise of tawdriness, is the racist moniker given to a bizarre pimp played by Barry Dennen (and even that character is so cartoonishly absurd that it's hard to take the offensiveness seriously).
Not For Publication arrives on Blu-ray with its original theatrical poster art intact, featuring an illustraiton of Nancy Allen peering over a copy of The Informer, with David Naughton on his knee beside/behind her snapping a photograph of the viewer. The back follows Kino's standard template, although the box copy actually spoils a major, if somewhat predictable late-movie plot point. The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Not For Publication has been blessed by Studio Canal with a brand new 4K master, which was the source for Kino's 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded presentation, which looks great. The disc offers incredibly impressive depth created by startling clarity and fine detail, colors are nicely balanced and rejuvenated throughout, there's a nice sheen of film grain present that looks organic and untampered with, and the print is spotless in terms of any nicks or damage. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which is as clean and crisp as the image, featuring nicely-rendered dialogue and some decent directional effects. Only the English SDH subtitles come up a little wanting; there's a frequent failure to include any sort of indication (spacing, line breaks, dashes) to indicate that the text on-screen at a given time is actually coming from two separate characters. There are also a couple of punctuation and capitalization errors.
There is one supplement on the disc, an audio commentary by filmmaker Allan Arkush and filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer. If you're a fan of Bartel, or anyone in his orbit -- Roger Corman, Joe Dante, the cast of this film, Arkush himself -- this is a lively and delightful track. The two men have a great rapport, and while they seem to share the same "mixed bag" evaluation of this particular film (while taking plenty of time to praise the things in it that turned out well), they're clearly having a ton of fun, with Arkush sharing all sorts of lovely memories and Kremer providing his own insight, as well as factual details that send Arkush onto new tangents. Everything and the kitchen sink comes up: "Ally McBeal"! Death Race 2000! Bartel's acting career! Steak! Jim Jarmusch! Wim Wenders! Fleetwood Mac! Soup commercials! Blonde Venus! The Boys in he Band! The most amount Caddyshack II discussion in one place since the making of Caddyshack II! Absolutely worth a listen.
Note that when the disc was announced by Kino a few months ago, there was meant to be a second extra, "16-minute documentary about Actor/Filmmaker Paul Bartel featuring interviews with Roger Corman, John Landis, Tab Hunter and others," but it's MIA when it comes to the final product. No idea what happened to it.
An original theatrical trailer for Not For Publication is also included (as well as a bonus trailer for Bartel's Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills).
Not For Publication is not a particularly successful movie by traditional standards, but it's so oddly pleasant, it's easy to root for the movie even when it doesn't really gel into anything. Fans of Bartel will also find the disc worthwhile whether they like the movie or not, armed as it is with a really great presentation and a wonderful audio commentary. Recommended.
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