What is Caligula the Movie?

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Caligula is a 1979 film directed by Tinto Brass (with additional scenes filmed by Bob Guccione and Giancarlo Lui) about the Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar Germanicus also known as “Caligula”. Caligula was written by Gore Vidal, though the script underwent several re-writes after Tinto Brass and Malcolm McDowell found Gore Vidal’s interpretation of the infamous Emperor to be unsatisfactory, and co-financed by Penthouse magazine. The producers were Bob Guccione and Franco Rosselini. The film was budgeted at about 20 million dollars. The production advertised itself as “the most controversial film in history. Only one movie dares to show the perversion behind Imperial Rome…”.

It stars Malcolm McDowell as the Emperor and chronicles his rise and fall as the brief ruler of the Roman Empire. The film focuses heavily on Caligula’s infamously deranged sexual practices, as well as those of his contemporaries.

Caligula was unrated when shown in theaters in certain jurisdictions because it contained several scenes with sexually and violently explicit content, including orgies, masturbation, fellatio, anal fisting, beheading prisoners using a lawn-mower-type device (which is unlikely to have existed in reality), and slamming an infant onto stone steps like a ragged doll. It was highly controversial, and considered by some objectors to be pornographic. It would certainly have received an X rating from the MPAA. It was censored in several countries, an original runtime of 156 minutes (which, itself, was cut down from the Cannes 210 minute version, which may still exist somewhere as a bootleg) was reduced to 105 minutes, when Guccione eventually authorized an R-rated cut, which earned the film wider distribution. Though the controversy over the film’s content drew large crowds, virtually none of the most excessive scenes were included in the R version.

This version was the generally accepted “toned down” edit, shown all across the world. However, the R rated version released on DVD is not the same; the Guccione/Baragli R version used alternate angles to smooth out some of the editing, the DVD version did not, it simply cut out the graphic portions rather awkwardly and is 3 minutes shorter than the first R-rated version, clocking in at 102 minutes.

Both the new R-rated version and a 156-minute cut have been released to DVD. The original, 210-minute version is not available.

The film was heavily panned by critics. Roger Ebert gave it zero stars, describing it as “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash.” Both Peter O’Toole and Malcolm McDowell have since expressed regret in participating in the film. The director Tinto Brass disowned the film altogether, since the film was taken out of his hands and given to Bob Guccione’s close friend Giancarlo Lui to complete the editing. Gore Vidal, the writer, also disowned the film, but that happened much earlier than the incident with Brass and for an entirely different reason. Gore and Tinto had major creative differences over the subject matter, and though both had strong ideas concerning Caligula’s reasons and motivations behind the madness, neither could find a common ground. The majority of those behind the film backed Tinto Brass, which infuriated Gore Vidal, who left the project bad mouthing the entire production.

It was followed by an unofficial sequel, called Caligula II – Messalina, Messalina. (via Wikipedia)

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