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April 24, 2016

Movie Review: Caligula (1979)

I am not a Tinto Brass fan, but I always wanted to add this film of his in my collection. The problem was the shit quality and cut editions of it floating in the market. That was until the 4-DVD Imperial Edition (Region 2 - PAL) came out and I bought it immediately.

The first disc offers the uncut version which I saw when I bought the box-set; the second disc contains an alternative version which I haven’t seen as yet, the third disc offers the theatrical version which is the one I watched for the purpose of this review, and the fourth disc is full of extras.

Now, on with the theatrical version... It doesn’t contain all the excessive violence and the explicit sex, and with so many scenes missing the whole thing doesn’t make as much sense as the uncut version does. Anyway, the whole thing about the history behind the cuts of this troubled production has been studied extensively elsewhere, so here I would like to focus on the impression the film made to me.

As you probably know from your history books, the story takes place in 37 A.D. – 41 A.D. Rome as the title card tells us. The credit sequence is accompanied by a grand soundtrack, preparing us for something special. And special indeed it is, as producer Bob Guccione’s intention was to bridge hardcore pornography with mainstream film. The result is too good for porn, and too bad (or maybe weird) for a mainstream film.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) star Malcolm McDowell plays the title’s character who believes he is god (or that he’ll become one when he dies). He has an incestuous relationship with his sister, and his dictatorship is ruthless. But how did he become the monster that he was and how did he come to power?

In the film’s best scene, he goes into Tiberius’ room and believes his father is dead, so he takes off a ring from his finger. Tiberius wakes up and then Caligola tries to kill him, yet he can’t. A friend of his enters the room and does the dirty job for him. His father tried to poison him before, but the scene was played for laughs. Tiberius is played by the late Peter O'Toole, which tells us that for the right money and with the right pitch you can get pretty much anyone into any film.

Even this version is full of naked bodies (it appears that if you were an actor or actress in late ‘70s Rome, you would most likely end up nude in this film), but my favourite thing about it is still the ending, which shows us the downfall of the empire in a ganster-like way [think of Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) with Ancient Rome costumes].

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