Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Caligola"(1979)d/Tinto Brass

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What do you get when you blend a screenplay by Gore Vidal with top tier actors Malcolm McDowell,Peter O'Toole,Helen Mirren,Sir John Gielgud,Teresa Ann Savoy,sign on Tinto "Salon Kitty" Brass to direct,and get Penthouse magazine's Bob Guccione to produce?If you said "The most epic,gaudy,glorious,luxuriously monumental and overbudgeted clusterfuck ever committed to the silver screen",you'd be about halfway there,kiddies.Something like nine cuts of this film are floating around out there,some packed with hardcore sex footage shot after the fact by Bob Guccione and Giancarlo Lui after the Guch sent Brass packing,allegedly over his casting of actual criminals as the Roman senate,and fat old broads in the sex scenes,instead of showcasing Bob's Penthouse Pets,that you may or may not have seen through all the vaseline on the camera lens in his famous stroke mag back in the seventies.Other cuts showcase no sex whatsoever,and are padded with replacement footage shot by Brass,or even different shots and angles repeated over and over again.To say this production was problematic is like saying former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett may have ingested a few psilocybin mushrooms in his day.Vidal made some barbed comments about directors being parasites,and after rewriting the script several times,got the sack,with Brass and McDowell ending up doing rewrites.Maria "Last Tango in Paris" Schneider was scheduled to play Gaius' sister Drusilla,but the explicit sex and nudity forced her to resign from the production,being replaced with Savoy,a Brass veteran,who'd worked with him on Salon Kitty.When an actress who was in Last Tango thinks you've got TOO much sex in your film,well,that says something doesn't it?
A rigorous shooting schedule forced many scenes to play out in half-finished sets,in front of silk curtains,matte paintings,and entirely different locations,which gives the film an overwhelming air of "WTF?".Brass,Vidal,and Pet Anneka Di Lorenzo all entered litigation over the hot mess,afterwards,and the final product was overwhelmingly dumped on by most of the major critics as a flop,depraved,trash,a pile of shit,or all of the above.Though,all of the venom may be well-placed,I'm here to tell you tonight that this vastly misunderstood film is in reality,a flawed diamond in the rough.Fantastic performances by the cast are to be found within from McDowell,Mirren,O'Toole,and Gielgud,and some pretty some dazzling sexual performances in the inserts by Guccione's stable of on-camera fuckers,enough inventive gore set pieces to satisfy any horror fanatic;the film succeeds on dual levels then,as a piece of well-acted period drama,or as a three tissue bit of lotion based self-abuse,on any given Wednesday night.Disjointed,perhaps,but utterly fascinating,I say.
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Tiberius(Peter O'Toole)wants his ring back,Little Boots.You might wanna keep that mirror away from him though...
Gaius Caligula(McDowell)is called away to the isle of Capri by his reclusive grandfather,the aging emperor,Tiberius(O'Toole),who has become more concerned with sexual depravity and torture than governing Rome.His advisor,Nerva(Gielgud),soon commits suicide,faced with the prospect of Rome falling prey to a viper like Caligula.After showing his grandson the extent of his perversions;sexual freaks and slaves copulating on display and children of both sexes at the whim of the herpetes-faced ruler,he tries to jokingly poison Gaius in front of his own step-brother Gemellus.Tiberius has a stroke,and with the help of Macro,the head of the Praetorian guard,"Little Boots" speeds up the process by assassinating him.When Caligula is publicly proclaimed emperor,he demands that his sister,Drusilla(Savoy)be treated as his equal,drawing skeptical looks from the senate.Drusilla then convinces her brother/lover to dispose of Macro,staging a mock trial where Gemellus identifies the general as the man who killed Tiberius.Macro is publicly beheaded by a huge moving wall with stone reliefs and people posing upon it,that has sharpened,spinning blades underneath it,as the imperial family and a huge crowd of Romans laughs and throws fruit and vegetables at the condemned heads,buried up to the necks in the ground.He then places the effeminate senator Chaerea in charge of the Praetorians.Drusilla then suggests that Gaius marry one of the priestesses of Isis,but Caesar,angered that his own sister will not marry him,instead weds Caesonia(Mirren),one of the most infamous sluts in all of Rome,on the grounds that she bears him a male heir.During the first years of his reign,Caligula is wildly popular with the people of Rome,but his eccentric nature begins to grow seeds of dissent.He can barely hide his disgust for the senate,constantly hurling insults at them,then deflowering a young Praetorian's wife on their wedding night,before fisting her husband,Proculus,in the name of making their marriage "holy"(!).He then orders the execution of his step-brother,accusing him of treason for taking a poison antidote before coming to dinner.As if there could be an antidote for Caesar!
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...apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order AND a state-of-the-art beheading machine,what have the Romans done for us??!!
Caesonia informs Caligula that she is pregnant,but the ruler is overcome by a potentially deadly fever that his darling,Drusilla helps him to recover from.When Caesonia goes into labour,Caligula hastily marries her,and when the child is born female,he refuses to acknowledge that it is a girl(!!)and names her after Drusilla,who collapses with fever at the very same moment.When she dies,Gaius hysterically mourns his lost love before disappearing into the streets of Rome,disguised as a beggar.He is thrown into a filthy jail,but when he is finally recognized by a mute jailor as Caesar,he emerges with a bloody vendetta against the senate,humiliating the very fabric of the empire he rules over.He kills Proculus and has his genitals fed to the Praetorians' mastiffs(!!!),he creates an imperial bordello which employs the wives of high ranking officials and senators as common prostitutes(!!!),he confiscates the properties of rich families,names his horse,Incitatus,as a member of the senate(!!!!),and wages a war against papyrus cane on the shores of Britain,before declaring himself a national hero and a god.Chaerea and eggheaded advisor,Longinus plot the emperor's death,and while rehearsing a play with Caesonia,they overtake Caligula,also killing his wife and smashing his daughter's head against a wall.He utters,dying from multiple stabbings,"I live!".They tumble the bodies down the front steps,washing the blood from the stone,before raising Caligula's half-wit,club-footed uncle,Claudius,as the new emperor of Rome.
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The always delicious Helen Mirren as the lascivious Caesonia.
As an avid Roman historian(whose favorite Emperor was Gaius,of course),I can tell you that a lot of the material is based on conjecture,as only two real sources exist that tell of Caligula's reign,those of Suetonius and Tacitus.Any conclusions on the young,troubled ruler drawn on those incomplete,fragmented sources can only be judged as such.Most artifacts and books from the era were quickly destroyed after his assassination,and anything that came afterwards,was probably highly negatively biased against him.And even if we hypothetically assume that all of the exagerrated exploits were true,don't they really just cast a fascinating and memorable light upon him?Imagine from your earliest memories watching your family kill each other all around you,then suddenly being thrust into a position where you ruled the entire known world.The power that you wield would almost certainly eventually break you.Hell,there've been all sorts of exagerrated,inflamatory accusations made about your Wopifex over the years,and we all know they haven't driven me to the brink of madness just yet.Preposterous!Hahahaha!Laugh.LAUGH!!!Caesar says....finish your dinner.
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"...Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a god."
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3 comments:

doc said...

"...and some pretty dazzling sexual performances in the inserts by Guccione's stable of on-camera fuckers,"
Heh, nice.
I must watch this agin for the wonderous head chop machine.

Doc

beedubelhue said...

Good stuff!



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They tumble the bodies down the front steps,washing the blood from the stone,before raising Caligula's half-wit,club-footed uncle,Claudius,as the new emperor of Rome.

 
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