Caligula (film)

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Caligula
Caligulaposter.jpg
US release poster
Directed byTinto Brass
Additional scenes:
Giancarlo Lui
Bob Guccione
Produced byBob Guccione
Franco Rossellini
Written byGore Vidal
Uncredited:
Malcolm McDowell
Massolino D'Amico
Tinto Brass
Ted Whitehead
StarringMalcolm McDowell
John Gielgud
Peter O'Toole
Helen Mirren
Teresa Ann Savoy
Music bySergei Prokofiev
Aram Khachaturyan
Paul Clemente
CinematographySilvano Ippoliti
Editing byNino Baragli
1984:
Enzo Micarelli
Uncredited:
Russell Lloyd
StudioPenthouse
Distributed byProduzioni Atlas Consorziate (Italy)
Analysis Film Releasing (US)
Release dates
  • August 14, 1979 (1979-08-14) (Italy)
  • February 1, 1980 (1980-02-01) (United States)
Running time156 minutes (Wide)
See alternate versions
CountryItaly
United States
LanguageItalian
English
Budget$17.5 million (Initial)
$22 million (Final)
Box office$23,438,120 (US)
 
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Caligula
Caligulaposter.jpg
US release poster
Directed byTinto Brass
Additional scenes:
Giancarlo Lui
Bob Guccione
Produced byBob Guccione
Franco Rossellini
Written byGore Vidal
Uncredited:
Malcolm McDowell
Massolino D'Amico
Tinto Brass
Ted Whitehead
StarringMalcolm McDowell
John Gielgud
Peter O'Toole
Helen Mirren
Teresa Ann Savoy
Music bySergei Prokofiev
Aram Khachaturyan
Paul Clemente
CinematographySilvano Ippoliti
Editing byNino Baragli
1984:
Enzo Micarelli
Uncredited:
Russell Lloyd
StudioPenthouse
Distributed byProduzioni Atlas Consorziate (Italy)
Analysis Film Releasing (US)
Release dates
  • August 14, 1979 (1979-08-14) (Italy)
  • February 1, 1980 (1980-02-01) (United States)
Running time156 minutes (Wide)
See alternate versions
CountryItaly
United States
LanguageItalian
English
Budget$17.5 million (Initial)
$22 million (Final)
Box office$23,438,120 (US)

Caligula is a 1979 ItaloAmerican erotic biographical drama film directed by Tinto Brass, with additional scenes filmed by Giancarlo Lui and Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. The film concerns the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula. It was based on a screenplay by Gore Vidal, co-financed by Penthouse magazine and produced by Guccione and Franco Rossellini. It stars Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud. It was the first major motion picture to feature both eminent film actors and pornographic scenes. It remains one of the most infamous cult films ever made[1] and remains banned in several countries to this day.[2][3]

Plot[edit]

Caligula, the young heir to the throne of the syphilis-ridden, half-mad Emperor Tiberius, thinks he has received a bad omen after a blackbird flies into his room early one morning. Shortly afterward, Macro, the head of the Praetorian Guard, appears to tell the Caligula that Tiberus, his great uncle, demands that he report at once to the island of Capri, where the Emperor has been residing for a number of years with Nerva, his close friend; Claudius, a dim-witted relative; and Caligula's younger stepbrother Gemellus. Fearing assassination, Caligula is afraid to leave, but his beloved sister and lover Drusilla convinces him to go.

At Capri, Caligula finds that Tiberius has become depraved, showing signs of advanced venereal diseases, and embittered with Rome and politics. Tiberius enjoys swimming with nude youths ("little fishes") and watching degrading sex shows, often including children and deformed freaks of nature. Caligula observes with a mixture of fascination and horror. Tensions rise when Tiberius jokingly tries to poison Caligula in front of Gemellus, his favorite. After Nerva commits suicide on the prospect of Caligula's rule, the dying Tiberius is at his mercy. However, Macro halts Caligula's action and commits the deed himself, choking Tiberius and thus hastening Caligula's ascent to the throne.

Caligula triumphantly removes the imperial signet from Tiberius' finger and realizes that Gemellus has witnessed the murder. Tiberius is buried with honors and Caligula is proclaimed the new Emperor; he in turn proclaims Drusilla his equal, to the apparent disgust of the Roman Senate. Afterward, Drusilla, fearful of Macro's influence, convinces Caligula to get rid of him. Caligula obliges by setting up a mock trial in which Gemellus is intimidated into testifying that Macro alone murdered Tiberius. After Macro is executed in a gruesome public game, Caligula appoints Tiberius' former adviser, Longinus, as his right-hand man while pronouncing the docile Senator Chaerea as the new head of the Praetorian Guard.

Drusilla endeavors to find Caligula a wife amongst the priestesses of the goddess Isis, the cult they secretly practice. Caligula only wants to marry Drusilla, but when she insists that they cannot marry because she is his sister, he marries Caesonia, a priestess and notorious courtesan, but only after she bears him an heir. Despite some reluctance, Drusilla supports their marriage. Meanwhile, despite his popularity with the masses, the Senate dislikes Caligula for what initially seem to be light eccentricities. However, darker aspects of Caligula's personality emerge when he rapes a bride and groom on their wedding day in a minor fit of jealousy and orders Gemellus' execution merely to provoke a reaction from Drusilla.

After discovering that Caesonia is pregnant, Caligula suffers severe fever; Drusilla manages to nurse him back to health. Just as he fully recovers, Caesonia bears him a daughter, Julia Drusilla; Caligula marries Caesonia on the spot, but insists on regarding Julia Drusilla as a boy. During the celebration, Drusilla collapses in Caligula's arms from the same fever he'd suffered. Soon afterwards, Caligula receives another ill omen in the guise of another blackbird. Despite his desperate prayers to Isis, Drusilla dies from her fever. Initially unable to accept her death, Caligula suffers a nervous breakdown and rampages through the palace, destroying a statue of Isis while clutching Drusilla's body.

Now in a deep depression, Caligula walks the Roman streets while disguised as a beggar; he causes a disturbance after watching an amateur performance mocking his relationship with Drusilla. After a brief stay in a city jail, Caligula proclaims himself a god and becomes determined to destroy the senatorial class, which he has come to loathe. His reign becomes a series of humiliations against the foundations of Rome – senators' wives are forced to work in the service of the state as prostitutes, estates are confiscated, the old religion is desecrated, and the army is made to embark on an absurd and hopeless invasion of Britain. It is obvious to the senators and the military that Caligula must be assassinated, and Longinus conspires with Chaerea to carry out the deed.

Caligula wanders into his bedroom where a nervous Caesonia awaits him. The blackbird makes a final appearance, but only Caesonia is frightened of it. The next morning, after rehearsing an Egyptian play, Caligula and his family are attacked as they leave the stadium in a coup headed by Chaerea. His wife and daughter are brutally murdered and Chaerea himself stabs Caligula in the stomach. With his final breath, he defiantly whimpers "I live!" As Caligula and his family's bodies are thrown down the stadium steps and their blood is washed off the marble floor, Claudius is proclaimed the new Emperor.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Gore Vidal developed a screenplay from Roberto Rossellini's un-produced Caligula television mini-series. Franco Rossellini, nephew of Roberto, and Vidal's original choice, was to create a modestly-budgeted historical drama. When the pair could not obtain financing, Vidal contacted media mogul and Penthouse founder and publisher Bob Guccione. Guccione agreed to finance the project on two conditions: that the film would be transformed into a flamboyant, luxurious spectacle akin to Hollywood's sword-and-sandal epics of the 1950s and 1960s, and that extra sex and nudity would be added to the script in order to promote Guccione's magazine. Vidal and Rossellini agreed and the project was launched.

Federico Fellini's art director, Danilo Donati, was hired to build the expensive and complex sets and costumes. Renowned acting talent, including Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and Sir John Gielgud were cast. Maria Schneider was originally cast as Caligula's doomed sister Drusilla, but later dropped out and was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy. After Guccione was unable to come to an agreement with more established directors John Huston and Lina Wertmüller,[4] Tinto Brass, a relatively young Italian director, was selected by Guccione to direct the film. Guccione was impressed by Brass' previous work, the controversial 1976 film Salon Kitty, which fused explicit sex with a big budget historical drama. Caligula production was housed in Dear Studios, Rome, where Cleopatra had been filmed thirteen years earlier. Shooting began in September 1976, with plans for a 1977 release.

From the start, Caligula was plagued by difficulties. According to Guccione in a 1980 Penthouse magazine interview, Vidal (whom Guccione called a "prodigious talent") started trouble with a Time magazine interview in which he called directors "parasites living off writers", and that the director need only follow the directions provided by the author of the screenplay. According to Guccione, an enraged Brass responded to Vidal's comments by throwing Vidal out of the studio. Guccione was forced to side with Brass (whom he called "a megalomaniac") because "Gore's work was basically done and Tinto's work was about to begin."[4]

Casting and logistical issues were problems. Uncomfortable with the sex and nudity in the script, the female lead Schneider quickly resigned from the film.[5] It was soon apparent to the filmmakers that the aggressive shooting schedule developed by the inexperienced Rossellini and Guccione was unrealistic for a film of such scope. Donati had to scrap some of his more elaborate original ideas for the sets and replace them with such surreal imagery as bizarre scenic backings, blacked-out areas, silk backdrops and curtains. This resulted in significant script changes, with Brass and the actors improvising scenes written to take place in entirely different locations, and sometimes shooting entirely new scenes (such as the frolicking scene that opens the film) in order to show progress while the incomplete or redone sets were unavailable. The production was plagued by delays due to disagreements between Brass and Donati over Brass not using Donati's completed sets,[4] as well as Brass and Guccione disagreeing over the sexual content of the film.

Brass was similarly unhappy with Vidal's script. "It was the work of an aging arteriosclerotic. Vidal redid it five times, but it was still absurd."[5] With the help of McDowell, Brass rewrote some of the screenplay.

Malcolm McDowell as Caligula

By the time principal photography on Caligula was completed, Vidal (having a previous issue with his involvement in the infamous Myra Breckinridge) was concerned about being associated with such an out-of-control production. Fearing the film would turn out incoherent, Vidal distanced himself from the project. Of Vidal, Brass concluded, "If I ever really get mad at Gore Vidal, I'll publish his script."[5]

As the film entered post-production, Guccione took control of the film footage, fired Brass for running up huge costs (Guccione claims Brass shot enough film to "make the original version of Ben-Hur about 50 times over"),[4] casting actual criminals as Roman senators,[6] and using what Guccione considered "fat, ugly, and wrinkled old women"[4] in the sex scenes instead of his Penthouse Pets. Guccione hired friend Giancarlo Lui to re-edit the film. Lui was instructed to refashion the film into something more in keeping with what Vidal had first scripted, while delivering the sexual content demanded by Guccione. In their most controversial move, the pair shot extra scenes of hardcore sexual material[6] which would be used to replace scenes shot by Brass.

With much footage improvised and rewritten from the original draft of the film, Lui further scrambled, re-cut and deleted scenes altogether. Many of the disturbing sexual images shot by Brass were removed, replaced by approximately six minutes of hardcore sex shot by Guccione and Lui. In the end, the final cut of the film had strayed far afield from what Brass had intended. Ironically, perhaps, it bore little resemblance to what Vidal had scripted as well.

In the unpleasant aftermath, both Brass and Vidal launched independent tirades against the film and lawsuits against Guccione, delaying the release of the film. Vidal, who was paid $200,000 for his script, agreed to drop his contractual claim for 10% of the film profits in exchange for having his name removed from the title of the film (original billing was to have been Gore Vidal's Caligula).[4] In 1981, Anneka Di Lorenzo, who played Messalina, sued Guccione, claiming sexual harassment. After a protracted litigation, in 1990 a New York state court awarded her $60,000 in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. On appeal, the punitive damages were determined to be not recoverable and the court vacated the award.[7]

In late 1979, three years after production began, Caligula made its debut.

During the time span of Caligula's post-production difficulties, Rossellini produced a second film titled Messalina, Messalina in order to ensure the elaborate sets and costumes created for the first film paid off in some way should the first film not get released. The second film was much more cheaply produced and was filmed as a comedy, depicting the promiscuous activities of Messalina, wife of Caligula's successor as emperor, Claudius (Anneka Di Lorenzo portrayed Messalina in both movies). The second film was released prior to Caligula's premiere and to a much smaller audience. However, following the first film's release, the second was repackaged under the title Caligula II: Messalina, Messalina.

Reception[edit]

The film was panned by critics.[8] Roger Ebert gave it a rare zero stars rating, calling it "sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash", criticizing not only the film's vulgarity in its depiction of sex and violence, but also its technically incompetent direction and structure.[9] It is one of only three films Ebert ever walked out of ("two hours into its 170 minute length"), the other two being Tru Loved and Jonathan Livingston Seagull.[10][11] Time Out London called the film "a dreary shambles".[12]

Versions[edit]

Caligula was shown in various versions:

In popular culture[edit]

In 2005, a fake trailer for Gore Vidal's Caligula was produced by artist Francesco Vezzoli for an alleged remake as a promotion for Versace's new line of accessories, starring Helen Mirren as "the Empress Tiberius", Gerard Butler as Chaerea, Milla Jovovich as Drusilla, Courtney Love as Caligula, and Karen Black as Agrippina the Elder and featuring an introduction by Gore Vidal. It was a parody, "ostensibly [promoting] a film about a mad Roman emperor who sleeps with his sister, executes his critics and presides over a crowd of ambisexual extras dressed only in the occasional accessory."[15] The trailer screened worldwide, including a showing at New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art's 2006 Whitney Biennial.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Case Study: Caligula". Students' British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Film Censorship: Caligula (1979)". Refused-Classification.com. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Davis, Laura (5 October 2010). "Caligula (1979)". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Ernest Volkman (May 1980). Bob Guccione Caligula Interview from Penthouse May 1980 "Penthouse Interview: Bob Guccione". Penthouse: 112–118, 146–115. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c "Will the Real Caligula Stand Up?". Time (magazine). 3 January 1977. Retrieved 9 June 2012.  (requires reader to be a registered member)
  6. ^ a b Vinciguerra, Thomas (6 September 1999). "Porn Again". nymag.com. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  7. ^ "Marjorie Lee Thoreson A/K/A Anneka Dilorenzo, Appellant-Respondent, V. Penthouse International, Ltd. And Robert C. Guccione, Respondents-Appellants". law.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2011-01-19. 
  8. ^ "Caligula (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Roger Ebert (22 September 1980). "Caligula". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "Roger Ebert : IAmA". Reddit. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Roger Ebert (16 October 2008). "Don't read me first!". blog.suntimes.com. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  12. ^ "Caligula (1979)". timeout.com. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  13. ^ "Caligula (1979) - FAQ". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  14. ^ Image Entertainment / Feature Film / Caligula (Imperial Edition)[dead link]
  15. ^ "My Hustler". artforum.com. 16 June 2005. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Yablonsky, Linda (26 February 2006). "'Caligula' Gives a Toga Party (but No One's Really Invited)". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 

External links[edit]