on 25 March 2008
It's very rare to see a version of Caligula in this country above 90 minutes. This is the complete and uncensored version - a Dutch import, but it plays in English. This version does contain hardcore sex, sometimes carelessly inserted into the finished movie as it was. Young Italian director Tinto Brass's original vision was to be shattered, forcing him to withdraw his name from the movie. Producer Bob Guccione fired Brass for over-filming and running up huge costs from filming beyond what was financially acceptable. Guccione then took control of the film, and assisted by Giancarlo Lui later sneaked back onto the set and shot 6 minutes of hardcore sex which was later edited into the film. Lui re-cut, re-edited and changed parts of Gore Vidal's script to fashion what is possibly the most expensive porn film ever made, which bore little resembalance to Tinto Brass's original vision.
Despite the troubled production, Caligula could be looked at as a masterpiece of cinema, for various reasons. It's a wonder it ever got released at all. Still it maintains its power to shock and repulse - the power of cinema has never been so evident as what it is here. Caligula has beautiful lavish sets, semi-beautiful photography, a stunning classic score, epic orgy scenes, and superb performances from British thespians Malcolm McDowell, Sir John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole and Helen Mirren. McDowell and O'Toole are particularly outstanding in their performances, and none of the 'thesps' take part, or appear in any of the sexually explicit hardcore scenes. Thank goodness.
If you haven't ever watched Caligula and you're not easily offended then subject yourself to this version. If you have seen the film, watch it again because it still remains to be seen, and deserves a place in the 21st Century. We mustn't forget about films like Caligula because despite our repulsion and attitude towards sex and violence, this is human nature, and Caligula probably reflects the happy, and not so happy times when Rome rulled the world.
Ah, "Caligula"... Is it Hardcore drivel, or a highbrow masterpiece on a level with "I, Claudius"? (With Hardcore drivel inserted, of course). Whatever your opinion, it can only be surmised that all participants hadn't a clue what they were getting themselves into. The director(s), the actors, even the editors seem like innocents here; and the story behind it is one that can hardly be believed, in the context of the modern esteem "period" works are held.
Bob Guccione, Penthouse Scion and overall Peddler of Smut had dreams of producing something that would survive the ages and be held as a work of high regard (with hardcore bits in it). Hence, erotic director Tinto Brass was hired for the job - and somehow Guccione and Brass persuaded some of the greatest British Thesps of the period to sign on to acting in it. How? simple. NONE of them had any idea of what they had gotten themselves into. Had Brass been given Final Cut them perhaps their sensibilites wouldn't have been too scorched, but Guccione, horrified with the film that Brass had presented, locked the poor hack out of the editing room, re-cut the film with a blunt instrument (resembling a dirty spoon, most probably) and added many hardcore inserts. Hence, a Legend was born - a near-pornographic epic with John Gielgud in it. Only in America...
Over the years, the film has been presented in many truncated forms; in 1979 the BBFC massively cut the film down to 1 Hour 42 minutes from it's original 2 Hours 36 minutes. But now, for the first time in this country we can see the full film in all it's (smutty) glory. The set includes 4 discs - The original UK version, the uncut version and an "Alternate" version that is 2 Hours 33 Minutes long, but with the smut "covered up" by alternate camera angles and differing sequences and the like. The 4th disc is comprised by a lavish set of extras, such as interview, press notes etc. So, what's not to like? Even if such a film offends your "Stiff Upper Lip", at least you now have the option to actually SEE it. Thanks, BBFC!
You cannot defend 'Caligula'. It is a monstrous epic of over excess in almost every way possible. Useless porn spliced into an already labyrinthine production, oppulent sets, brilliant ideas, twisted imagery, crazed camerawork, hysteria and madness. It's closest cousin - bizarrely - is Gibson's 'Passion' in the sense of it being a film you admire for its balls, but don't necessarily approve of. And yet, 'Caligula' is fascinating. Perverse for all the wrong reasons and yet - genuinely - bordering of maniacal, bloody insane genius. The fact that it fails so magnificently is fitting for the production. A weak-kneed, boring film would have been a disaster. Okay, 'Caligula' might veer towards boring in some places (usually involving the 'Penthouse pets') but it is also the stuff of cinematic legend, graced with some of the finest British actors of the time.
This version is similar to the US 'Imperial Edition' except you have an extra disc (and I presume it is the cut to pieces version, which is going to stay in the box and never see the light of day). Like the 'Imperial Edition' you get the full, uncensored version (with lots of hardcore porn - working in the boat orgy and in the pleasure palace of Tberius, but nowhere else) and a rough edit with different and extended takes and really badly filmed inserts of softcore porn, shot on a different film stock. This cut on the US disc has 2 commentaries by Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren. The track with McDowell is an absolute blast.
The disc of extras has various documentaries and interviews that veer from genuinely interesting to late 70's promotional blag.
I agree with Mark Kermode that there is 'a bloody good film somewhere in Caligula' - at least you have the opportunity (at long last) to judge for yourself and quite possibly enjoy one of the most controversial films ever made. Don't get me wrong, it's a piece of sh*t, but it still stands head and shoulders above the growing, disposable dung heap of contemporary cinema.
on 28 December 2002
Some describe CALIGULIA as "the" most controversial film of its era. While this is debatable, it is certainly one of the most embarassing: 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 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 the accompanying documentary, 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 adultry 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 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. As for the DVD itself, the film is presented in its original ratio, but the term "restored" applies to previously censored scenes, not to the film itself, and the quality is so-so. An unintentionally hilarious documentary is also included on the disk.
My final thoughts: 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) 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 abstenance, 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. I suggest you rent it first.
on 22 August 2004
The US edition of "Caligula" runs for more than two and a half hours. This version is almost an hour shorter. It has been emasculated by the censors, and the result is incoherent and robbed of much of its meaning.
Development of character , setting, and plot in the uncensored "Caligula" depends on scenes involving nudity (erotic and otherwise), explicit sex, and brutal violence. The censored version lacks almost an hour, and what little is left is without context and therefore incomprehensible.
Don't waste your money on the 98 minute emasculated version. Get the 155 minute US version instead.
on 13 October 2003
If you are looking for a genuine experience of this erotic masterpiece, prefer the All Regions American version, since its European equivalent cripples under the burden of a debilitating censorship - despite all reassurances. The film itself is as you imagine it: lavish, extravagant, presumptuous, voluptuous, profound(ly corrupt). Reminds you of anything?
on 2 February 2004
The highlight of this film is without doubt the superlative portrayal of the protagonist. Mr McDowell’s Caligula is menacing, intense, frighteningly unpredictable and ultimately fascinating.
We are drawn into his world as if by hypnosis, he is by turn both appallingly evil and yet has a capacity for tenderness - he is somehow vulnerable and even likeable. This bizarre ambivalence in some ways echoes ‘Alex’ from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – the character that made Malcolm McDowell’s name about a decade previously. Indeed, Alex would probably choose to be Caligula in his wildest fantasy!
The film has some other great names in its cast: Peter O’Toole as the decaying, treacherous Tiberius, fighting the arms of death that threaten to enfold him any minute, John Gielgud in stark contrast as his wise and good mentor and Helen Mirren, cast as Caligula's wife, and marvellously referred to at one point as 'the most lascivious slut in Rome’.
The film is a visual feast: moodily atmospheric, its rich hues and imaginative sets provide the perfect backdrop to the main action. The plot bears only a passing resemblance to what little historians actually know of the real Caligula, yet all artistic license employed is not only believable, but seemingly quite likely, and serves to enhance the story, which is engaging, if not intoxicating, from beginning to end.
It is true that ‘Caligula’ created huge controversy over its scenes of violence and orgiastic sex – however the full version has never been shown and what we have today is violence which is comparatively mild by modern standards, and eroticism that is often quite sensual.
It seems a shame, given the quality and depth of this excellent production, that some of those involved in it chose to disown it shortly afterwards. Tinto Brass successfully petitioned to have his name removed from the credits…a sad day when an artist feels it necessary to deny his own work – especially when that work is a true masterpiece that anyone ought to be proud to have on their resumé.
So far I have only watched the full uncut version of this set.
Malcolm McDowell is terrifyingly insane in this film. If the real Caligula was one tenth as barking mad as he is portrayed here, you have to pity him. The poisonous relationship between an increasingly mad Caesar and his bullied and degraded Senate is played out perfectly. There is no-one he doesn't manage to alienate as he moves closer to declaring himself a God. Except, perhaps, the horse with whom he shares a bed after his sister dies.
Much is said about the pornographic elements of this film and not without very good reason. However, the real story is of Caligula's relationship with his sister and his descent further into total madness after her death, when all of his control had gone. It is dealt with touchingly at times and the performances of McDowell and the lovely Teresa Ann Savoy simply get lost in the mix when weighed up against all the controversy the film attrated.
You do have to wonder if Rome actually was one big seething orgy all the time. I doubt it. The sex scenes in the uncut version beggar belief. Everthing is done in practically every position. It's a wonder that anyone ever had the energy to get up and walk about, never mind conquer the world.
Not one for the kids to teach them history.
on 10 November 2002
An excellent film this...pity that it has been mutilated by about 40 minutes, particularly when the longer version has already been on tv. Admittedly the longer version verges on incoherence but it helps to build on the excesses hinted at here. What you're left with is a sanitised version of a bizarre classic. Little hint for the producers of this DVD. Why couldn't you have put the rest of the film as extras so people had the choice of whether they needed to see the rest. As it stands, the extras on this DVD are pretty slim pickings. In summary and excellent film done very little justice on a poorly thought out disc.
on 17 October 2010
This is the sort of film they should show on Christmas Day when all the family are gathered round the telly, just after the Queen's Christmas message. It moves rapidly through incest, rape, murder, sodomy, mutilation, suicide etc. You name it, Caligula has it - everything apart from a shred of historical accuracy. But if you're fed up with Mary Poppins and the Great Escape, this is the movie for you. The other good thing is you can watch porn while pretending it's a bit of culture.