(Italy); 1980; Rated R (115 Minutes); Originally Certified
X (150 Minutes)
Malcolm McDowell: Caligula
Teresa Ann Savoy: Drusilla
Helen Mirren: Caesonia
Peter O'Toole: Tiberius
John Steiner: Longinus
Guido Mannari: Maco
Produced by Bob Guccione, Franco Rossellini and Jack
H. Silverman; Directed by Tinto Brass; Screenwritten
by Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui and Gore Vidal
by DAVID KEYES
there's one thing worse than moviegoers' ignoring fantastic
movies, it's filmmakers' resurrecting horrible ones. Most
of the time, we can dismiss a cinematic travesty, because
we're positive that filmmakers will learn from their mistakes,
and will not hold on to false hopes. This does not mean,
however, that filmmakers can be completely forgiven for
exposing us to such junk, especially when they have the
nerve to take those bad movies and send them back into theatrical
release, subjecting us to a terrible experience one more
time. "Caligula," a supposed accurate chronicle of dark
sexual Roman times, is such a movie, which tells the audience
something that should come as no surprise: if those who
make a disastrous motion picture dare to reissue it, they
obviously need some real psychological help.
let us not label "Caligula" a bad movie. A bad movie can
be jaw-droppingly awful and still have redeeming qualities.
Movies like this, however, lack even the simplest merits.
It is nasty, repulsive, degrading, stupid, and of all things,
invulnerable to any type of criticism. It was Roger Ebert
who perceived this point in 1980, when in his review, he
announced that our harsh criticisms will only generate curiosity
in readers, who would need to see the film for themselves
to see if it is actually bad as we make it out to be. And
as such, this reissue will only bring in curious viewers
from a whole new generation, who will be looking for their
own proof that there is, indeed, a movie worse than "Howard
The Duck." If the audience of the 1990s' is weaker in the
stomach, as some have claimed, then it shall not come as
a surprise that a particular sort of movie induces vomit.
Guccione (the co-writer/producer, and owner of the nefarious
"Penthouse" magazine) never meant to tell a story here,
but instead chose to explore a subject to heights that probably
never existed. His script is like something that result
in a dare, in which a friend challenges him to do the most
perverse thing that humanity has ever seen--create a product
of clear violence, immoral sexual tastes, necrophilia, incest,
and disgusting methods of persecution. Big names, like John
Gielgud and Peter O'Toole, watch and participate in these
events without any screen presence. They stare at the pornographic
situations like zombies, indulged in them but detached emotionally
and mentally. The camera could have pardoned at least some
of the minor inadequacies, but does not even offer decent
shots of the promising large sets and costumes. The cinematographers
are so busy on the pornography that potentially interesting
details are not emphasized.
we find it surprising, then, that the movie got an "X" in
its first release? It may seem a bit severe, but I guarantee
you, not severe enough. In a later revised addition, though,
40 minutes were cut to attain an "R" rating, not at the
discretion of the creators, but at the orders of the studio,
who knew it would be impossible to release the film in its
original format on video. Even at an "R," sadly, it is virtually
impossible to find a particle of craftsmanship, here. The
movie is far off the deep end when trying to revisit a century
of sexual sickness. Even the soundtrack, with its versatile
background noises, is disheartening.
"bad" movies are boring; others, obnoxious or stupid. "Caligula"
is plainly sick and grotesque, existing only to shock or
nauseate an audience with hideous images, stale performances,
lifeless photography, and painfully vile actions (in one
of the older versions, for example, there's a scene in which
a man is castrated and his genitalia are thrown to the dogs).
Its supporters have called the picture "an accurate portrayal
of some horrendous times," which I find hard to believe,
considering the depraved situations on display. And still,
their defense never changes, adding that "what you see is
precisely what happened."
a second, let's say that all of the situations in the movie
really did happen. If those individuals knew that their
lives would be exploited in a motion picture called "Caligula,"
would they still have done all those things?
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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