Three-Disc Imperial Edition
Non prudes -- 3 ½ out 5 stars
Prudes – 1 out of 5 stars for historical value, a blindfold and a big honkin’ warning to stay clear!
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
TOGA! TOGA! TOGA!
“Caligula” is an X-rated unflinching look at the decadence in ancient Rome. Well, you might flinch so much while watching it you’ll get Tourette’s. It’s a wonder these half nekkid horn dogs had time to behead one another – Let me rephrase that – give each other a hard time, oh never mind. “Caligula” has it all -- heterofeely, homofeely and generally a lot of cop-a-feely going on. There’s more penetration here than a three linebacker blitz into the Giants’ backfield – and just about everybody here gets their backfield in motion in one fashion or another. And now they’ve gone and released a 3 DVD Imperial version with an extensive essay by author R.J. Buffalo on the making and “unmaking” (read censoring) of the original film. (You can also take a shot at what the “R.J.” stands for – my guess is roving Jacuzzi.).
With the release of “Caligula: The Imperial Edition,” you can spend 8 plus hours immersing yourself in the sexual cesspool that was Rome B.S.L. (Before Sophia Loren). Screen writer Gore Vidal wanted to show the orgy of power. Director Tinto Brass wanted to show the power of the orgy. You don’t have to guess very hard to figure out who Bob Guccione, (the owner of Penthouse and the film’s financial backer), sided with.
Filmed in 1981, the uncut “Caligula” is still too far ahead of its time. I’m not easily offended; in fact most people know me as “The Depraved One,” Beelzebub, or by my adult film star name, Lance Ploughright. I’ve done things that make Jenna Jameson say “Yuck!,” but there are scenes that came from the dark recesses of Bob Guccione’s toupee splattered on the screen that made even this hearty hedonist turn away. If you’re the slightest bit offended by full frontal nudity – both female and male – you haven’t got a prayer here. The opening scene in which Caligula chases his topless sister around for some hookey dookey under a tree is kindergarten material compared to the major league rollin', tumbling,’ beheading and eviscerating that follows. There’s an orgy scene that leaves nothing to the imagination –Yes, there’s real X-rated Plato’s Retreat acrobatic sex on view here. It didn’t bother this libidinous lothario much – I was the president of my fraternity – so I could have written a few more shockers into the hump-my-leg-please plot. It was the executions, rape and torture scenes that gave me the urge to regurge. For example…Caligula carries a grudge for Proculus, a war hero who’s marrying Livia, whose status as one of the few beautiful virgins in Rome has piqued Caligula’s carnal interest. Caligula crashes their wedding, saying he has a “gift” for the bride and groom. Some gift. He deflowers the bride, happy to prove she’s a virgin as advertised. (I’ll never look at my kitchen table the same way again.) Then he defiles Proculus…And now we all know where the term proctologist came from. There are other scenes that give bad taste a good name, such as when Caligula executes a senator with a mallet that so comically huge he looks like he bought it at a yard sale from Gallagher. Then there’s Macro’s execution, in which one of the movie’s stronger characters is buried in sand up to his neck and beheaded by what looks like a giant weed whacker. At least a scene in which Caligula is awakened while sleeping in the same bed as his horse doesn’t ride off down the road to bestiality (“Watch those hands, Wilbur!”) Yet in the end, if you have a slightly bent sense of irony and yearn for something really different, you’ll find yourself rewinding the whole jaw-dropping sexual circus over again.
The plot is based on the writings of the historian Suetonius, who lived 80 years after Caligula was turned into a pin cushion at the tender age of 29 by the Praetorian Guard. In a conch shell, the movie’s about Caligula’s life as an adult. Caligula ruled for a scant four years, but to the thousands persecuted, exiled, tortured and defiled, it must have felt like a lifetime. To say Caligula had a few problems, is like saying Alexander the Great had a good travel agent. Caligula didn’t have the best role model – his adopted grandfather, Tiberius, lived to the very ripe age of 78, nearly three times the life expectancy of the average Plebian ducking sodomy, slavery, and swords in ancient Rome. By most historical accounts, Tiberius was a creative pervert – combine that with his ever increasing paranoia and an island retreat stocked with nubile women, eunuchs and boys, and its slap and tickle time 24-7 for the Emperor. The real life Tiberius poisoned most of Caligula’s family, including his beloved father, Germanicus, a military hero – and those Tiberius didn’t kill, he imprisoned or banished. In the tradition of keeping one’s enemies close, Tiberius had Caligula brought to his court on the island of Capri, where he was virtually a well fed prisoner. Tiberius, to say the least, knew how to keep a man down (disemboweling usually worked). It was Tiberius who perpetuated the name “Caligula,” meaning “Little Boots,” a moniker the future ruler earned as a child when he danced for his father’s troops. (Caligula’s real name was Gaius.) Caligula waited six years to become Emperor, and Suetonius hints he might have had to linger longer if Macro hadn’t lent a helping hand (actually both of them) in choking the last stanky breaths out of Tiberius.
Caligula’s glaring and shocking weakness was his love for his sister, Drusilla. I’m not talking sibling admiration here – Caligula’s obsession with his sister defined the term incest with a capital “I”. In the movie, Caligula makes the beast with two backs with just one of his sisters – the real life Caligula freely coupled with his other sisters, Julia and Agrippina (who must have been catching a double feature at the Acropolis because they aren’t in the film). Candy is dandy, and incest is best if your sister looks like the innocent and insatiable Teresa Ann Savoy (who plays Drusilla), but even as far back in the days when a tablet was a piece of stone instead of a pill, sleeping with your sister was viewed as a base, immoral act, one that wouldn’t exactly instill confidence in a ruler. Caligula’s most perplexing attribute was his own demeanor. The first half of his four year reign was prosperous, and Caligula was popular amongst the people of Rome (partially because he wasn’t Tiberius). In the third year of his reign he fell ill with a fever, recovered physically, but was completely off his chariot after that. If one believes the plot of the movie, Caligula blew his figs when the same fever that had left him at Pluto’s door (Pluto the God of death, not the cartoon dog), killed Drusilla. It’s also possible that Caligula suffered from any number of afflictions – epilepsy, syphilis or migraines (as the character of Caligula in “I, Claudius” suffered from). It might have even been a brain tumor that squeezed the last drop of compassion out of Caligula’s noggin and caused him to turn into Bob Guccione.
What’s stupefying about “Caligula” isn’t it’s creative stones – even twenty six years later parts of it will send you to the vomitorium. No, what’s surprising is the number of first-rate English actors who appear in this X-rated rutting rampage. Peter O’Toole, as Tiberius, is a logical fit. O’Toole is as much a sexual scallywag as his character, although I doubt the fondness for little boys thing. He’s made up to look like a leper -- grey, ashen, with chunks of flesh missing from his face, as if his years of inner depravity have taken its toll on the outside of his body.
Tiberius: Serve the state Caligula, although they are beasts.
Caligula: But they love you, Lord.
Tiberius: They fear me…And that is much better.
O’Toole plays Tiberius in typical over the top Shakespearian fashion, and his gagging death scene with Macro (played by studly and stoic Guido Mannari) has more ham in it than an Italian hero. What’s puzzling is how Guccione lured celebrated acting thespian (that’s thespian, buddy) Sir John Gielgud into taking on the role of Nerva, Tiberius’ trusted friend and conscience. Granted, Sir John makes a bloody early exit, but any visions of an Oscar nomination must’ve have been shattered the first time he saw the dwarfs, hermaphrodites, whips and sexual aids the size (and shape) of the Washington monument. When the dwarf demonstrated how to use the monumental toy on the hermaphrodite after whipping him/her, Sir John must’ve said “Check, please” and demanded a rewrite for his character before exiting for a seat on his psychiatrist’s couch. A young Helen Mirren plays Caesonia, a several times divorced trollop who sees Caligula as her wine and cheese gravy train. Mirren has been quoted as having few sexual hang ups, which probably prepared her for the scene in which she’s literally hung up – while her character gives birth. I saw Ms. Mirren in all her wrinkled glory in “Shadowboxer,” in which she played both Cuba Gooding’s step mom and lover. In “Caligula” you get to see Mirren dancing for a horse with a fake belly slapped onto her own to make her look pregnant. There’s a special place in the seventh circle of hell for the choreographer of that sexless strut. Since Mirren’s competing with a dozen Penthouse Pets and deviants who act like pets for screen time, she gets a pass in the past looks department. Besides, it’s her acting that’s beautiful. Amidst all the naked, sweaty, writhing decadence, Mirren accomplishes her mission to portray Caesonia as an opportunist hoping to survive.
Raised in a hippie commune, baby-faced Teresa Ann Savoy (Drusilla) seems to have no problem spending 2/3 of the picture unclothed, and neither do I. (Sorry, horny guy thing). She’s not one for conveying her mystifying hold over her brother in expressions (I don’t recall looking at her face very much anyway), but gets her point across by raising her voice, and, of course, through her actions on the bedroom divan. She’s right for the part, and it’s not just because she’s birthday suiting it most of the time – okay, maybe it is. The key player is Malcolm McDowell. Eight years removed from his riveting role as Alex, leader of the Droogs in the controversial “A Clockwork Orange,” McDowell plays the even more notorious title character. McDowell must have spent a lot of time taking Peter O’Toole pills, because his portrayal of Caligula is a spittle spraying, virgin splaying beaut.
One of the more intriguing characters is Macro, Praetorian prefect (head of the bodyguards). Despite having his voice dubbed, Guido Mannari cuts a bold figure as Macro – his sharp profile and proud visage belongs on a coin. If you want to check out what Guido really sounds like, take a look at “The Making of Caligula” which is on CD #3. In real life Guido sounded a bit like Bela Lugosi, and with nearly all the other characters talking as if they went to Henry Higgins’ finishing school, steely-eyed Guido became a well paid prop.
Since Guccione wanted the sets and the surroundings to look as authentic as possible, “Caligula” was shot in Italy, not far from where “Little Boots” turned the marble red with blood. As a result, there are a lot of Italian actors with names like Giancarlo Badassi, who is anything but a badassi – he plays Claudius, Caligula’s reluctant successor. Derek Jacobi, who assayed the role in “I Claudius,” portrayed him as stammering, staggering genius trapped in a twisted body. Looking like a grey-haired version of Dom Deluise, Badassi plays Claudius as a frightened bystander in the guise of a half-witted ninny. John Steiner plays Longinus, Caligula’s frustrated minister of finance. With a name like that you can bet he took a lot of ribbing from Little Boots. Donato Placido takes on the thankless role of Proculus, and I can only hope he was given a few extra ducats for all indignities he suffered through.
I repeat -- If you have a full frontal problem or a back booty problem, this movie’s obviously not for you. Slathering swine hoping to satisfy their weekly carnal lust quotient need to know that many of the bodies on display here aren’t perfect – this is the 80s pre-silicone, bikini waxing and Viagra – even the Penthouse Pets pressed into service look, well, almost typically human.
If you want to see the definitive “Caligula,” check out John Hurt’s portrayal of Little Boots in “I, Claudius.” Hurt appears in little more than a third of the shows thirteen episodes, but is a strutting, scene stealing loon, projecting mirth one moment and perpetrating death the next. McDowell is marvelous; Hurt is magnificent.
The Emperor’s New Clothes…The Extras
Disc 2 of the Imperial version contains an alternate pre-release version of the film, and audio commentary from Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren. There’s also an orgy of deleted and alternate scenes, including “Tiberius’ Grotto,” which shows that some of the freaky extras weren’t as limber during the first take as they were in the final one. There’s also photographic proof that sex with geese ain’t all that it’s quacked up to be. The scenes from “Satyrs, Nymphs & Little Fishes,” further demonstrate that men should never have their butts filmed, especially if it involves flipping over repeatedly in a chlorine saturated pool.
Disc 3 includes a 62-minute and an alternate 10-minute version of “The Making of Caligula;” “My Roman Holiday” with John Steiner, who played the unfortunately-named Longinus; a captioned interview, “Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power,” featuring the film’s director, a hedonist who doesn’t lack for self-confidence; the feature “Caligula’s Pet: A Conversation With Lori Wagner;” and behind the scenes footage, still galleries, press kit notes, and cast and crew biographies. Shifting through this could very well make you as coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs as the title character.
A splendidly preserved Lori Wagner, PENTHOUSE PET OF THE CENTURY (no, not this one), dishes out fascinating stories about the filming. She lovingly calls Bob Guccione “The Italian Stallion from hell,” and makes no bones that “Caligula” stagnated, rather than started her career. She has no love for Malcolm McDowell, whom she describes as “horrible” because he stayed in character the whole time. Wagner was aware Guccione brought her on board to make “Caligula” more visually appealing, because up until the Pets were imported there was nothing sexy about the film. Wags was under the impression she’d have a speaking role in the film and was disappointed that she wound up little more than an extra – for nine months! Wagner takes the viewer through her hard times, sorry, tough times, including the flack she endured for her scene with fellow Pet Anneka DeLorenzo, which she claims was faked …Coulda fooled me (and did)… Maybe she’s a good actress after all.
John Steiner takes the audience through his 20-year career of making films in Italy: “I was extremely well paid, I had a great deal of fun, and I had no responsibility.” He also has virtually nothing nice to say about “Caligula.” He makes so many venomous comments about the production I’m surprised he wasn’t exiled to the Isle of Capri. Among the nicer things he has to say about the film: “It was a hideous experience. I didn’t enjoy it, but I was able to buy a house. I hated the people who worked on it. I think everybody got f***ed over.” Of actress Teresa Ann Savoy, he says, “She had a strange face. She was English, and could have been a wonderful porn star. She had a virginal beauty, something mysterious and dirty underneath it. I didn’t think she was very talented, though.” Steiner is refreshingly blunt and critical when he talks about “Caligula,” but just as grateful and pleased with the rest of his life.
The still shots of the naked extras have that “What the hell am I doing here?” look to them. “The Making of Caligula” (shot at the same time as the film) features a pompous Gore Vidal, outlining his “vision” for the film. After listening to his self-important blather, you might actually be glad his version of the film was never made. Bob Guccione, sporting more gold medallions than Mr. T, is equally self-absorbed, but at least he knows it.
Perhaps Helen Mirren (of all people) sums up “Caligula” best: “It’s an irresistible mixture of art and genitals.”