Thursday, September 21, 2006

XXIV. CALIGOLA (CALIGULA) 1979




Caligola (Caligula)

Year;
1979

Director: Tinto Brass, Additional Scenes Directed By: Giancarlo Lui, Bob Guccione, 1st Assistant Director: Piernico Solinas, Script: Gore Vidal, Masolino D'Amico, Additional Dialogue: Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui, Story: Gore Vidal [uncredited],Treatment: Roberto Rossellini

Country; Italy & America

Duration; 102 mins [UK - video] 115 mins [USA - R-rated version] 143 mins [Argentina; Australia; USA - erroneously listed on laserdisc sleeve] 146 mins [Norway; Sweden] 148 mins [USA - 1990 re-release; laserdisc - erroneously listed as 143 mins on the sleeve] 150 mins [UK - theatrical] 156 mins [Australia - uncut version; USA - unrated versions] 157 mins [Italy] 210 mins [version shown at Cannes]

The Players; Malcolm McDowall [Caligula]John Gielgud [Nerva]Peter O'Toole [Tiberius] Helen Mirren [Caesonia]Teresa Ann Savoy [Drusilla]Guido Mannari [Macro]Giancarlo Badessi [Claudius]Bruno Brive [Gemellus]Adriana Asti [Ennia]Leopoldo Trieste [Charicles]Paolo Bonacelli [Chaera]John Steiner [Longinus]Mirella D'Angelo [Livia]Richard Parets [Mnester] Paula Mitchell [Subura singer]Osriride Pevarello [giant]Donato Placido [Proculus]Anneka di Lorenzo [Messalina - uncredited]Lori Wagner [Agrippina - uncredited]Gerado Amato [uncredited]Patrick Allen [voice of Macro - uncredited]Eduardo Bergara Leumann [high priest - uncredited]

Alternatives; Caligula, My Son - UK advertising title Io, Caligola - Italian title Caligola - Italian title
Available; Image DVD - 156 minute version
Original Ratio;
1.85:1
DVD Ratio; 1.85:1
Colour*Dolby 5.1*English Language*

''What would you have done if you had been given absolute power of life and death over everyone else in the whole wide world?''

*SOME SCREEN SHOTS ARE OF AN ‘ADULT’ NATURE NOT FOR PRUDES, THE SEXUALLY IMMATURE OR MOANERS WITH HANG-UPS*

Caligula was to peplum as Night Porter was to sadiconazista. Both movies cemented a staple format for a ‘hybrid’ genre that emphasised the extremities in sex and violence as they were in Ancient Rome.

This flawed classic has suffered merciless cuts and silly re-marketing until finally the full complete version turned up stateside on a pristine 20th Anniversary edition,courtesy of Image Entertainment. Finally a maligned, unique and opulent epic, that took 4 years in the making, got the star treatment and care it duly deserved.

Assholes! To the prudish critics that take the piss out of it and big shame to the actors that revile it, they are so wrong and should be proud of their participation. I’ll tell you why….

First and foremost we have a superb script by Gore Vidal that is partial historical fact, for a change, adding credibility to the story. Vidal later requested his name be removed from the movie when what was finally revealed wasn’t exactly in keeping with some of the original.

Secondly we have a grade A list of acting wealth, the lead played fascinatingly and impishly by Malcolm Mcdowell. The gorgeous Helen Mirren plays Caesonia with a sophistication, charm and a ravenous libido, unfortunately though she doesn’t seem to live up to her ‘whore of Rome’ infamy as she doesn’t put it about much.

Although brief, Peter O’Toole ‘decays’ very well as the sore addled Tiberius and poor John Gielgud performs well despite him seeming somewhat ill-at-ease. The only slight disppointment is that of Teresa Ann Savoy, she seems a bit out of her depth in such a major part. She's just as wooden as her appearence in Brass' other sadiconazista foray 'Salon Kitty'.

However she is not shy when it comes to nudity or dodgy themes so credit where credits due and I glory in her pluck for doing what she did. Compared to some of the modern day actors and actresses Savoy seems oscar worthy anyway.

Thirdly there are the wonderful sets and magnificent visual design, perfectly grandiose and features rapturous bold colours igniting the screen where necessary.

Fourthly, and controversially, there is nasty violence and hardcore interludes that don’t seem out of place. One sequence featuring a Roman soldiers’ march inter-cut with fellatio, culminating in the moment of ejaculation, is one of the most powerfully erotic sequences I have ever had the delight in viewing.

I could also mention the superb soundtrack used throughout featuring verbose classical pieces and pounding drums that accommodates the power and sheer lavishness of the time perfectly.

The sexual freedom one witnesses in the lavish orgies and in the beautiful lesbian sequence is positively uplifting. As Tinto Brass has taken so much care in nearly every frame and set piece this does not denigrate the sequences into the smutty throw away porn category.

Brass also brings such magnificence to the screen with long shots that concentrate on the epic proportions and the very punchy cuts that can go from gentility to gruel in an instant, a bit like the mad emperors state of mind.

When this cut occurs it provides a kick to the senses as well as leading the viewer into insecurity as to what to expect next. This is one of the keys that I’m sure unlocks the door to what it is that makes the proceedings such engrossing viewing.

All of it is stunningly cinematographed including the rude- making them outstanding moments of hardcore finery. Guccione, Brass et al, wanted to serve the cinema going public a dish of warts and all ancient decadence and has achieved this on every level.

Some of the celebrities were allegedly unaware of the ‘smuggling in’ of several hardcore actors and actresses on set; once the production had ceased, so the premier must have been very interesting.

The majority of the time naked people wander around in different scenarios putting nudity into the background as the intrigue becomes dominant in the fore.

The set for Tiberius’ ‘realm’ features not only lurid hetero couplings but a bit of bestiality involving an eel, glimpses of the most oddest sex toys in action and what seems to be real and sfx freaks getting it on.

Apparently in ancient Rome people with disabilities of all manners were highly sought after and paid handsomely by Tiberius to add to his ‘unusual’ collection.

The scenario resembles something Hieronymus Bosch may have come up with if he was in charge of the lens; as beautiful as it is twisted, with the exception of the soldier who drank too much, I’ll leave you to find that one out.

Another superb sequence has to be the decapitation machine which seems to make you laugh and wince at the same time.

Caligula really has so much going for it and really hooks you but only in its full version.

Channel 4 tried to screen it on national English TV and bless them did their best. Instead of showing the hacked to oblivion region 2 release available on the u.k high streets they screened as much as they could, slowing down sequences to cover up the hard core and still maintain the running time.

It’s sad really, I can comprehend why on national television this is the case but not on their (at the time) pay per view channel on digital which has its’ own parental control.

For those that think Caligula is a bit of glossy smut or a bit of a bore – think again.

Penthouse financed the movie and attempted, bravely, to bring hardcore to the mainstream and add spice to the sword and sandal sagas. Unfortunately, just as the other peplum of the 60’s, Caligula took a battering from the critics and wasn’t the success it thought it could become.

The film begins with the plotted death of Tiberius as we see Caligula and his bodyguard Macro strangle the old perv with a piece of black chiffon.

Thus Caligula’s’ despotic reign begins, with his new founded position Caligula indulges in varied depravities.

Some of these are totally cold and cruel as it seems anyone who highlights the nutty emperors’ insecurities just by the way they look or who they are, are mercilessly executed in the most horrible and gruesome of ways.

The motivation behind some of Caligula’s demands lies purely with his sister Drusilla, who the emperor is having a relationship with. As it is illegal in Rome to wed brother and Sister Caligula marries Caesonia in order to provide a healthy son and heir.

Caligula contracts a deadly fever and is nursed to health by his sister. Unfortunately Drusilla falls ill and dies from it.

Caligula goes completely loopy imposing ludicrous demands on his citizens and his advisors as well as turning the senates’ wives into whores of the republic (including the gob smacking results displayed on screen for your delectation – the notorious imperial bordello!).

These actions act as a fatal catalyst and from here after Caligula and his family spiral into a vortex of despair and madness until their brutal demise.

These are glimpses into a totally unique movie, shrouded in unjust controversy and unnecessary criticisms that we will never see the like of again.

A decent DVD extra worthy of note, is the documentary which features edits from the final cut including one excised sequence where Caligula bashes a senators head open with a sledgehammer. The documentary was previously available on one of Penthouses’ compilation laserdiscs.
It provides insight into the construction and development of the hardcore sequences as well as brief interviews with the cast; Mirren seductively stating the movie to be ‘an irresistible mixture of art and genitals!’ is a classic moment – how I shuddered!

The documentary is titled Gore Vidal’s Caligula and features him passionately talking about the character and how he interprets it. Guccione also says his piece about what motivated him to embark on such a venture. This is interesting to see especially when one reads varied reports on how sour things turned.

The film still packs a bit of a punch and has aged considerably well considering its’ 26 year old vintage – an exploitational peplum classic.

Buy this from this link – it’s worth every penny.

Check out the IMDB’s trivia about the movie, there’s enough stuff in here of interest to keep the fact hungry fiend occupied for an autumn evening ! Fascinating reading of a fascinating film.





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