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* Banned uncut in many parts of the world due to the sexually explicit material and violence, most prints of this film were heavily cut. The cut version is an emasculated non-entity of interest only as a footnote to the censorship process.
* Director Tinto Brass was removed from the editing process and additional sexually explicit scenes were shot at night by producer Bob Guccione and Giancarlo Lui for later insertion into the film
* Brass refused to yield right of final cut and the film spent several years in litigation before he was finally paid off and Guccione took over for the editing process
* Actress Maria Schneider (famous for Last Tango in Paris (Uncut Version) [Blu-ray]) was originally cast as Caligula's sister Drusilla but famously stormed off the production shouting "I am an actress, not a prostitute" and she was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy
* Actor Malcolm McDowell was unhappy with the final film and went on television at the time of its eventual release urging audiences not to see the film - the only actor from the film not to have any ill-will towards it and to support it publicly was Helen Mirren
*Banned outright in Australia as "obscene" and "offensive to a reasonable adult" under the contemporary Australian film classification system. This has been banned in Australia uncut for almost 25 years now - the longest continuous ban on an uncut movie in Australian history.
"sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty... this film is not only garbage on an artistic level, but that it is also garbage on the crude and base level where it no doubt hopes to find its audience. (It) is not good art, It is not good cinema, and it is not good porn.All I can say is that the makers of (this film) have long since lost touch with any possible common erotic denominator, and that they suggest by the contents of this film that they are jaded, perverse and cruel human beings. In the two hours of this film that I saw, there were no scenes of joy, natural pleasure, or good sensual cheer. There was, instead , a nauseating excursion into base and sad fantasies."
(Ebert, R. . "Caligula". Chicago Sun-Times. Sept. 22nd, 1980. retrieved on 9/12/2011 from HERE)
"Caligula is a mainstream film with graphic sex, not a typical adult film and that should be taken into consideration before purchasing or renting. If you are looking for a film to get stimulated by or get off on, this is not the film to do it."
(Flash . "Caligula". Adult DVD Talk. Feb. 22nd, 2002. rerieved on 9/12/2011 from HERE)
THE CUTTING EDGE: DIFFERING FILM | DVD EDITS
d. Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui; pr. Bob Guccione, Franco Rossellini; scr. Gore Vidal; ph. Silvano Ippoliti; m. Bruno Nicolai (as Paul Clemente); ed. Nino Baragli; cast. Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Teresa Ann Savoy, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, Adriana Asti, Guido Manari, Paolo Bonacelli, Leopoldo Trieste, Lori Wagner (156 mins)
The Desire to Transform Pornography into Art
Caligula was touted by producer Bob Guccione as a bold new work of art.
With a name cast it was to date the largest investment in the so-called “adult” movie. Initially planned mid-decade, it responded to a time when pornography was being seen by mainstream critics and “respectable” audiences, some of whom even responded positively. This brief legitimization of the American porno film as a distinct genre also coincided with a move in Italian cinema of the period towards depictions of often sadistic excess, with Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] and Salon Kitty garnering much controversy. When Guccione struck a deal with author Gore Vidal to script Caligula it seemed that he would indeed have a prestigious work. However, soon Vidal and director Tinto Brass fought repeatedly over the central characterization and Guccione had to arbitrate. Guccione also had a more explicit vision in mind than Brass and would return with the crew (and director Giancarlo Lui) to film additional scenes for later insertion into the completed film. When Vidal saw what the project was turning into, he insisted that his name be removed from the credits. Likewise, Brass disapproved of Guccione’s alterations (the addition of hardcore footage) and refused to yield his right to final cut. The film spent years in dispute, with Brass finally paid off. When the highly anticipated film was duly released, far from transforming American cinema, it became the most excoriated film ever made.
Synopsis (contains spoilers)
Caligula is set in pagan Rome 37-41AD.
Caligula (Malcolm McDowell), incestuously in love with his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), is summoned by Tiberius Caesar (Peter O’Toole) to Capri. There, Caligula is shown all manner of decadence by the syphilitic ruler and fears for his own safety. Caligula longs to be Emperor and aids in Tiberius’ death at the hands of a powerful army leader. Now Caesar, Caligula sets about eliminating his enemies (and former loyal friends) and then systematically attacking all that wealthy Roman society held dear. At Drusilla’s urging, he intends to marry, but seeks to do so with a promiscuous woman, Caesonia (Helen Mirren), whom his sister dislikes. He is devastated when his sister is taken ill with fever and subsequently dies. He leaves the throne and wanders the decadent streets until arrested and imprisoned. When his identity is uncovered by a mute prison guard, he returns to the Imperial Palace a demented man, proclaiming himself a God and intent to defile Rome by making a lavish Imperial Bordello to be stocked with the senators’ wives and daughters. He also plans to invade Britain and subsequently arranges for a bizarre excursion by the army under his command. He has gone too far in his attacks on Roman order (and even morality) and suspects that there exist those who are plotting against him, although he almost may be looking forward to this.
Madness and the Sexual Anarchy of Base Humanity
No other film has been as intent to revel in the absolute baseness of the human condition as Caligula. Yet, the filmmakers’ disagreements have resulted in a surprisingly ambiguous and baroquely textured work.
For Brass, it seems a study in the old maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely; for Vidal (and McDowell) Caligula is a revolutionary, a provocateur doing what he can to get a reaction from a complacent Senate and attack the propriety (and hypocrisy) of the wealthy social classes; and Guccione is concerned with the sexual excesses of a pre-Christian morality, though some of his pornographic inserts are unnecessary. The problem is that whilst Guccione seems in praise of such sexual immorality, Brass sees it as a symptom of a decaying humanity and of the corrupt language of power. Guccione thus would celebrate human baseness whereas Brass is contemptuous of it, both attracted and repelled by the grotesque desires innate in power. The tension makes for an unsettling ambiguity that is only tentatively resolved. The bizarre tableaux of perversions makes the film perhaps the most sincere catalogue of sexual anarchy to be found in mainstream cinema and in that it is defiantly provocative. One can see in the emphasis on nudity, sadism and gory violence a desire to shock the audience, as much as the central character seeks to shock the Senate – to provoke them into a reaction.
Caligula is driven mad by absolute power, retreating into a hedonistic sexual anarchy that he sees as a demonstration of this supremacy, but he is in essence a provocateur.
.Power and sadism are here innately bound and the more Caligula becomes obsessed with being the master of his own destiny so too he seeks to be the master of all destinies. If he can achieve this, in his mind he will be a God. It is through atrocity that he convinces himself of his status as a living divinity. His acts of sexual mania are perhaps calculatedly designed to impose his will, for in excess without opposition he sees absolute power, although he is full of contempt for the so-called best people in Rome who fear and obey. He loathes the Senate’s hypocrisy and is determined to undo and challenge every tenet of society, politics and morality, even contemptuous of those who would otherwise condone his actions. He rapes the newlyweds Proculus and Livia because they represent the purity of an idealized Rome, the metaphorical hymen he desires to destroy. Drusilla can temper his manic obsessions a little, but without her he loses control and in a visionary zeal seeks to turn the Roman world he rules over into a pornographic inferno, intent to undermine the very greatness of the Empire. As monstrous as he is, there is thus a revolutionary side to his madness: a theme developed most intriguingly, if disturbingly, throughout the film.
Visualizing Pagan Rome in Explicit Detail
Although visually Caligula is a provocative, even stunning achievement, the widescreen letterbox transfer is lacking in definition and clarity. The source print is repeatedly grainy and backgrounds often suffer.
The fiery flow of moods and textures is evident in Brass’ emphasis on manic zooms, dreamy editing rhythms, symmetrical compositions and in the notion of the grotesque sexual tableaux – for some shots, he arranges people within sumptuous sets as if it were a stage production. The misty light of the pre-credits sequence is progressively dark, bloody and ominous as Brass makes physicality seem ugly and repulsive. The colors of the Roman tunics, togas and uniforms are vivid and make for a consistent look as the obscenities descend into a series of bizarre defilements, peaking in the monstrous death machine that dominates Caligula’s courtly entertainment. Set design is truly lavish, ornate and exquisitely rendered. The evolving textures extend to the amorphous orgy scenes, the final brothel sequence being one of the most ornate and effectively edited uses of pornographic imagery anywhere, an ironic cap to the catalogue of depravities. However, it constantly stresses gory explicitness and if taken as eroticism (by Guccione) is far more intense and ambiguous than Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray], for instance, because of the aspect of celebration. Caligula is visually unique, although it is a shame that the transfer is not clearer.
Pleasure, Pain and an Audioscape of Hell on Earth
The sound transfer is a fully re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1, the excellent score making remarkable use of classical music and original compositions though critics pounced on this offbeat scoring as inept.
While clarity levels remain efficient some upper level hiss may be noticeable. Spatial fullness is well maintained and the strikingly disconcerting use of the off-screen sounds of pain and pleasure during the Tiberius sequences make for an aural journey into Hell on Earth. Like the visuals, aural design is dreamlike and hallucinogenic throughout, the ominous, unusual sounds having an almost David Lynchian quality to them – especially the horrifying noise of Caligula’s death machine. Quiet moments serve as preludes to acts of madness, with tone of voice an indicator of the descent into sadistic psychosis. With a fine sense of overheard noises and voices the sound is fullest in the numerous tableaux scenes and is frequently rich in accumulated detail, especially in the open mélange of sounds in the street scenes, where the depths of Roman civilization are revealed. There is no nobility in this film, except in John Gielgud, who in suicide has the ultimate solution to this madness of circumstance. His voice is the sole note of dignity left in this production, and intentionally so, making his fate an ironic triumph of sorts. This is a surprisingly layered sound mix and well maintained on this transfer.
DVD Fans in for Treat with Collector's Edition Special Features Package
Special features include filmographies and audio selection but the centerpiece is a lengthy “Making Of” documentary which covers the varied contributions of the filmmakers as well as their lengthy and bitter infighting.
It has some rare behind-the-scenes footage, covers the actors’ impressions of their characters and the film, how it was shrouded in secrecy and went through a lengthy research process. Guccione expresses his wish for the film to be a kind of “liberated art” and cinema event, whilst McDowell confirms that he sees the character as “the ultimate anarchist” and radical challenge to society. It covers how Brass came to the project, his reputation as a sexual madman and his interest in the theme of the immorality of power. He confirms that he sees Caligula more as a victim of power than a true revolutionary (unlike Vidal and McDowell). Described is the attention to pre-Christian morality and the filming of a real orgy. Although this 20th Anniversary DVD is advertised as the “Complete, Unedited and Unrated Edition” there is a scene in the documentary that is not in the film. Nevertheless, this DVD does contain the intended release and should be preferred over the butchered R-rated versions in circulation.
Included in the original snapper-case DVD release was a promotional DVD of conventional Penthouse erotica titled “The Pet Store”: an anthology of short segments exploring various nude models / performers.
USA DVD PURCHASE INFORMATION: Caligula (Three-Disc Imperial Edition)
UK DVD PURCHASE INFORMATION: Caligula  (Imperial Edition) [DVD]
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(UPDATED: January 13, 2013 18:20 )