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CALIGULA is a terribly misunderstood film. I believe too many people think
of it as a cheap porno, and bash it due to that. "All porn is bad," right?
CALIGULA was a daring film experiment incorporating big-name, established talent, and the raw energy of under ground film techniques. What results is nothing short of a fascinating product.
All of the acting is very good. Malcolm McDowell plays psychotic villains so well, one can't help but think he's like that in real life. His portrayal of Gaius Caligula just drips with maniacal megalomania. The little-known Teresa Ann Savoy is convincing as Drusilla, Caligula's sister. And Peter O'Toole's Tiberius Caesar, whose diseased face is rotting away, is truly an oddity to behold...put he pulls it off well. The acting in general is all very good.
The use of music is also to be noted. There are original, evocative pieces written for the film by Paul Clemente, no doubt a talented composer.
While some of the photography is stilted in this film, for the most part it's gorgeous. A lot of people say the colors are "dark" and "washed out", but I think that lends to the grittiness of the film.
Danilo Donati's sets are big and well designed, it kind of shocks you to see someone getting a blow job in them. They look like they belong in a run-of-the-mill Hollywood produced film. Aren't all pornos supposed to be filmed in the director's back yard?
And that right there is the point of the film. To shock you; you can't believe you're seeing what you're seeing. Beyond the violence and the sex is a well written, acted, and photographed film.
I have spoken!
Some describe CALIGULIA as "the" most controversial film of its era.
While this is debatable, it is certainly one of the most embarrassing:
virtually every big name associated with the film made an effort to
distance themselves from it. Author Gore Vidal actually sued (with
mixed results) to have his name removed from the film, and when the
stars saw the film their reactions varied from loudly voiced disgust to
strategic silence. What they wanted, of course, was for it to go away.
For a while it looked like it might. CALIGULA was a major box-office and critical flop (producer Guccione had to rent theatres in order to get it screened at all), and although the film was released on VHS to the home market so many censorship issues were raised that it was re-edited, and the edited version was the only one widely available for more than a decade. But now CALIGULIA is on DVD, available in both edited "R" and original "Unrated" versions. And no doubt John Gielgud is glad he didn't live to see it happen.
The only way to describe CALIGULIA is to say it is something like DEEP THROAT meets David Lynch's DUNE by way of Fellini having an off day. Vidal's script fell into the hands of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who used Vidal's reputation to bankroll the project and lure the big name stars--and then threw out most of Vidal's script and brought in soft-porn director Tinto Brass. Then, when Guccione felt Brass' work wasn't explicit enough, he and Giancarlo Lui photographed hardcore material on the sly.
Viewers watching the edited version may wonder what all the fuss is about, but those viewing the original cut will quickly realize that it leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. There is a tremendous amount of nudity, and that remains in the edited version, but the original comes complete with XXX scenes: there is very explicit gay, lesbian, and straight sex, kinky sex, and a grand orgy complete with dancing Roman guards thrown in for good measure. The film is also incredibly violent and bloody, with rape, torture, and mutilation the order of the day. In one particularly disturbing scene, a man is slowly stabbed to death, a woman urinates on his corpse, and his genitals are cut off and thrown to the dogs.
In a documentary that accompanies the DVD release, Guccione states he wanted the film to reflect the reality of pagan Rome. If so, he missed the mark. We know very little about Caligula--and what little we know is questionable at best. That aside, orgies and casual sex were not a commonplace of Roman society, where adultery was an offense punishable by death. And certainly ancient Rome NEVER looked like the strange, slightly Oriental, oddly space-age sets and costumes offered by the designers.
On the plus side, those sets and costumes are often fantastically beautiful, and although the cinematography is commonplace it at least does them justice; the score is also very, very good. The most successful member of the cast is Helen Mirren, who manages to engage our interests and sympathies as the Empress Caesonia; Gielgud and O'Toole also escape in reasonably good form. The same cannot be said for McDowell, but in justice to him he doesn't have much to work with.
The movie does possess a dark fascination, but ultimately it is an oddity, more interesting for its design and flat-out weirdness than for content. Some of the bodies on display (including McDowell's and Mirren's) are extremely beautiful, and some of the sex scenes work very well as pornography... but then again, some of them are so distasteful they might drive you to abstinence, and the bloody and grotesque nature of the film undercuts its eroticism. If you're up to it, it is worth seeing once, but once is likely to be enough.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
What started out as a massive, haunting and disturbing look at the
corruption of bureaucracy ended up as a mere flesh flick, consisting
mainly of outtakes and only two types of opinions from the viewers;
"this movie is crap" and the infamous "I love the sex in that movie! It
gives an erection every time I see it." All of these travesties, and
more, are a major insult to the many talents involved in this
production of "Caligula."
From what one can tell, it would have been an excellent film. Malcolm McDowell gives a performance of a lifetime, portraying an Emperor whose dedication to exposing the senate for what they are, a corrupt bunch of spineless bastards, ultimately leads to his descend into madness. Helen Mirren gives an interesting performance as Caligula's seductive wife, Caesonia and Teresa Ann Savoy is great as the cute and sweet Drusilla, the only voice of reason in the time of madness. The supporting cast is also top notch. Sire John Gielgud gives an awesome portrayal a stoic Roman aristocrat Nerva and Peter O'Toole is a true jaw dropper as Tiberius, the old emperor, a completely mad sex addict, plagued with syphilitic lesions. The rest of the supporting cast are unknown Italian actors, except for the B-movie god John Steiner, who plays the two faced Longinus, Caligula's treasurer.
The much talked about sex in the film was never meant to be in any way arousing. If one looks closely, he can see that most of the nudity and sex is handled in a very clinical, unappealing fashion. Tinto Brass did an awesome job showing how the Ancient Rome was so used to perversity, that a few people romping in a corner was just not a big deal in those days. Same can be said about the gore and violence in the film.
From the small hints remaining in the film, "Caligula" was well on its way to become a moody piece of paranoia, corruption and deep character study. There are some truly chilling and atmospheric moments. For example, when Caligula puts on the royal ring, you can actually see him losing soul, thanks to Malcolm McDowell's awesome facial expressions. Also, there is a haunting scene of Caligula asking the dying Nerva, who lies in a bath tub filled with blood, about the afterlife. And the humorous scenes of Caligula "judging" a land dispute between two whiny senators and one where a Senator says he would give up his life to cure Caligula's to fever, only to realize that Caligula has excepted his proposition.
But sadly, none of the points I made can be seen to a naked eye. When Tinto Brass got fired, the film's producer, Bob Guccione (yes, *that* Bob Guccione), tried to splice the film together himself, although he had no idea what he was doing. What ended up was a pathetic mishmash of truncated and misplaced scenes, out takes, rehearsal footage and some dull extra sex inserts with the Penthouse Pets, shot by Bob himself after the filming has wrapped, designed simply to promote the magazine. All the important subplots and story lines were deleted, making the film lose most of its plot and meaning, the pace is ruined due to endless pauses and there are maddening zooms that are obviously just raw footage of camera operators adjusting the lens. The movie is simply unwatchable because it is mostly cut together from the blurry, shaky outtakes. In other words, Bob Guccione stole a masterpiece and turned it into his own little wet dream.
Everyone who dealt with this film disowned it after seeing the finished result and rightfully so.
So, next time you watch the film and notice how bad it is, don't blame the actors, Tinto Brass or Gore Vidal. Blame Bob Guccione and the botched editing.
For what it could have been, I give the film a 10/10. For what it ended up, it receives a 2/10.
It is funny.
As pornography, this film leaves a lot to be desired. To call it such is naive and absurd, and you obviously haven't seen any REAL pornography.
As a film, it leaves a lot to be desired. It lacks a number of things (dialogue, plot movement, etc) that make even a mediocre movie mediocre.
As far as a complete effort, it is fantastic. The attempt to even try something like this is outrageous and to have pulled it off (pardon the pun) as much as Guccioni and the gang did is amazing.
It seems as if the fact that some actual money was poured into this epic makes it bad, while something like 'Pink Flamingos' by John Waters is thought of as 'great' when it is just as likely to make a person squirm with its bad taste (again, pardon the pun and God rest Divine).
I really like this movie. It is like NOTHING that has ever been made nor will there ever be anything made like it. It is all at once historical (at least as much as say, Saving Private Ryan); it is thought provoking, it is strangely erotic, it is disturbing, and lastly, it is a movie that (love it or hate it) you will NOT forget if you do decide to see it.
I say see it.
Rating = 10
This film, as with all, has good points and bad points.
In general, I feel that the good ones far outweigh the bad.
The film simply gives the story of the rise and death of Emperor Caligula in a very straight-forward manner. Indeed, it can be seen as shocking, but I think that this is a side-effect of it's desire to be realistic, rather than a deliberate act on the part of the film-makers.
The cinematography and camera work is awful. The huge sets seem at times almost claustrophobic which is an absolute crime considering the magnificence of them. There is also too much emphasis on Caligula himself, to the detriment of revealing some important traits in other characters, making them seem somewhat shallow at times.
The sex scenes are very well placed within the context of the film. I thought that only two scenes stood out as being unnecessarily overt, but for the most part, the explicitness is on the fringe of the focus of each scene, while also playing a major part in the atmosphere.
Never once did I feel that any dialogue was out of place, nor did the acting strike me as being bad.
By far the biggest problem with this film is the fact that the sexual content is widely advertised and therefore anticipated before viewing. This may cause people to focus dominantly on those scenes without really looking at the film as a whole. For me, it enhanced the film. Not in a particularly titillating way, but in the fact that there was no compromise during scenes of sexual acts. Roman orgies are regarded to have been extremely opulent and promiscuous - I found it refreshing to see one as it may have actually been rather than lots of fully-clothed laughing fat men pouring red wine over their faces and eating grapes while draped with female automatons.
In summary, Caligula definitely has it's place in film history due to it's controversy, but if you look beyond that controversy, you should find a rather good film which neatly tells the story of how power can turn someone into a madman.
Maybe it helps to be familiar with the history, Art, and literature of
the Ancient Rome because "Caligula" is surprisingly truthful adaptation
of the chapter about Caligula in "The Lives Of The Twelve Caesars by C.
Suetonius Tranquillus, the Roman Historian. If you read the chapter
dedicated to Nero, you'll be even more shocked because Nero was always
fascinated by his uncle Caligula (he was a son of Caligula's sister
Agrippina who later became a wife of Claudius who adopted Nero and made
him the heir for the title and the power of Roman Emperor). Anyway,
Nero made Caligula his role model and managed to surpass his uncle's'
The movie is notoriously famous for the plentiful scenes of real sex, including incest, necrophilia, rape, and orgies. The movie also includes quite nasty and gruesome scenes of torture, executions, murders, and humiliations but all of the events have been documented in the historical documents that still exist.
I don't think of the movie as a masterpiece or even a good movie for all of its 2.5 hours. It actually reminds the life of real Caligula. In his childhood and youth, he was adored by Roman people and especially by the army and he was a promising young man. When he grew up as a heir to the cruel and suspicious Tiberius, he had to hide his feelings and go through many humiliations in order to survive. Shrewd Tiberius said about his adopted grandson that "never humankind knew the better slave and the worse ruler than Caligula" and that he was rearing "a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world."
When the young man finally received an access to the absolute power it had absolutely corrupted him. It is also known that soon after becoming head of Roman Empire, Caligula suffered an illness and as the result of it, he became incredibly nasty, cruel, and suspicious man who had indulged in the worst acts of debauchery, cruelty, and sadism. The movie follows this pattern. I still think that it is an interesting movie with very good actors. Not every day you can see porn with Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, Sir John Gielgud, and of course, Mr. Clockwork Orange himself, Malcolm McDowell.
Excuse the title of this review however the bottom line is, it has to be seen to be believed. The purely supreme cast is more than likely the only thing keeping the film from being well and truly buried in a basement. Historical revelations indicate that the content of this film probably does in fact (to a degree) reflect the lunacy rampant at the time and yes that means....meaningless executions, wild paranoia, incest and of course the gratuitous sex which could probably leave some soft porn movies looking very average (provided you get the right version). No its not a true classic but it dabbles with taboo, and dares go where other films draw the line. Its one i'll watch again and one you'd have to see merely to say you saw it. 6/10 scorpio
This is actually a pretty good film. Perhaps the intense nudity and
graphic-ness was not likeable but the movie was very closely tied to the
facts and history of Caligula himself. You don't see many movies that
actually stick with the facts instead of making it 'Hollywood.' I reccommend
this to people who "know" about Caligula in advance so that they know what
their seeing instead of going into the film not having a clue what its
about. I don't think they could've made the movie any better that relates to
Caligula- he was a psychopath and it showed in this movie.
Tons of great scenes, and it showed what the "real" Rome was like. Brutal and harsh and misgiving.
The film builds around one of the most notoriously decadent of the
Roman emperors, Caligula
The movie covers his rise to power, his
four-year rule, and his bloody assassination
His vile deeds include
crashing a wedding and sexually abusing the bride and groom, playing
erotic fantasies with his sister (who is also his lover) and turning
the Imperial Palace into an exclusive brothel
For a really big-money film, the treatment of the sexual scenes is daringly explicit, but somehow the obsession with it makes the film uneven It blends very good actors, O'Toole and McDowell, with some simple-minded Penthouse models The overall effect is disappointing...
Guccione does deserve a hand for the exquisite sets, costumes, production values, and very fine cinematography
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Somehow, in my early teens I managed to rent this all on my own from a small video rental kiosk attached to our regular after-school amusement arcade.
Whoever it was behind the counter (a woman in her twenties, I recall) had either never seen it or was nonplussed as to ratings.
As I remember this was just before the video nasty laws were introduced and heavy censorship blighted our lives.
It was the full-on no-holds barred version I watched jaw-agape in my teenage bedroom.
And, you might ask, how does one grow up from that rather turbulent early experience to NOT become a serial killer? Purely because, even back then, I recognised this as something rather special.
More of a pantomime staged in hell than a movie, the reason this provokes such polarised opinion is its complete and utter truthfulness.
Subsequent viewings over the decades have slowly revealed Caligula the movie's shameless audacity to be in line with all accounts of the time history can throw at us.
Each perversion, each shocking ultraviolent episode is delivered with much relish and much gratuitously beautiful cinematic execution, BUT, and this is the crux of the film's 'charm', BUT NEVER with judgement.
It is left to you, the audience, to provide your own moral compass and that is a device (or lack of) seldom permitted to be employed at all nowadays.
'Tell us what we're meant to think/feel/do!' your tenderised modern-western conscience screams. Porn! Violence! Outrageous melodrama from some of cinema's finest thespians! Sweeping epic sets, beauty and horror in abundance and very often side by side.
And Caligula the movie does offer no answer, merely a repetition of Malcolm McDowell's smarmy, sneery, deadly smile.
It'll stab you in the heart; it'll stab you in the back; it'll love you and rape you; it is still quite unlike anything I've ever seen. A truly 'adult' epic.
I watched it again tonight and I'm smiling too. At McDowells creepy, campy, over-the-top portrayal of Rome's darkest heart; remember, like Ledger's Joker interpretation, all the world really knew of Roman nobility was the imperial grace of the 50s and 60s blockbusting epics. To show an emperor in such light was brave, sordid, and shocking.
Where was the romance, where Anthony and Cleopatra? (scr*wing under a pile of bodies in at least one scene I'd hazard a guess...)
I still love this film (and the uber-sexy goddess Helen Mirren), in all it's 'glory'. Hardened to the sensationalism which enrapt me as a teen, I've no doubt that even 30 years later when everyone's seen it all and sees it all on the net 24 hours a day, no major Hollywood production could ever hope to get away with what they did back then.
So it is difficult if not impossible to apply any regular film critique to something which will always be more than a film.
I long for the day when someone breaks silence and we get the full diaries of events surrounding the production of this monster, because it sure as hell radiates off the screen that everyone was having the time of their lives. After all, don't you always disown your own most indulgent and raucous excesses? Thank you Brass, Gucionne, McDowall, Mirren, Vidal, O'Toole, etc, etc, etc right thru to the 'fluffers' ;)), for a most epically enduring epic and its all-pervading honesty and mayhem.
They sure don't make 'em like this any more, and I don't think they ever did; at least not outside ancient Rome anyway.
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