Tinto Brass; Bob Guccione
Teresa Ann Savoy
The movie is an inaccurate and sensationalist interpretation of the third Roman Emperor’s reign, which lasted from 37 AD – 41 AD. Also four years was the time between shooting and the film’s domestic release, a time plagued with recastings, script rewrites, and animosity between director Tinto Brass, screenwriter Gore Vidal, and producer/Penthouse founder Bob Guccione.
Brass hated Vidal’s script, and so rewrote part of it with lead Malcolm McDowell. Vidal hated the reputation the project was earning outside of the lot, and so removed his name. And Guccione hated everything Brass had done, and so fired him, shot extra footage (all pornographic), and hired a friend to edit the film (thus: footage is missing, dialogue is cut or out of sync, outtakes are used in place of better takes, and so on).
And so the stories go*. That’s part of the undeniable allure of Caligula. Also part is to see established talents like McDowell (as the wide-eyed and childish ruler), Helen Mirren (as his last wife, Caesonia), Peter O’Toole (as predecessor Tiberius), and John Gielgud (as suicidal friend Nerva) partake in what can best be summarized as the blackbird of Roman sword-and-sandal epic.
The Rome of Caligula is unlike that ever seen in popular cinema. The villains and violence are excessive and surreal: like an early scene where a guard, who is made to drink gallons of wine while his urinary tract is sealed shut, is stabbed by a sword, forcing the wine and his guts to spew on the ground. Or the pseudo-operatic slayings of Caligula, Caesonia, and their daughter, Julia Drusilla, on the marble steps of a palatial stadium.
Everything is a spectacle for the camera, and some probably get off on all of it. Me? I still have my copy of Salò.
* - a comprehensive book by William Hawes on Caligula’s production can be found HERE.
Both the Uncensored Feature (156 mins.) and Alternate Feature (153 mins.) are included. The latter cuts most of the graphic nudity and adds a few scenes, and makes for a much less disgusting film.
Audio Commentary with Malcolm McDowell: McDowell offers an honest track, owning up to his work and stating bluntly, “I didn’t hate the experience.”
Audio Commentary with Helen Mirren: Like McDowell, Mirren bravely sits down to discuss her work in Caligula, comparing it to “being on an acid trip.”
Audio Commentary with Ernest Volkman: In this phone interview, Penthouse writer Volkman, who was present during the filming, offers his insights into Caligula, which predictably lean towards a pro-Guccione stance.
Deleted & Alternate Scenes (47:59): There are 12 here, all in very rough form ( even in black and white), which only extreme Caligula enthusiasts will be curious to see.
Disc Two (standard definition):
My Roman Holiday with John Steiner (24:21): The actor (Longinus) profiles his own career in Italian film. There’s not as much focus on Caligula as you might expect, but when Steiner does get to it, he notes it as a “brilliant piece of business” on Guccione’s part and summarizes it as “a hideous experience.”
Caligula’s Pet: A Conversation with Lori Wagner (28:18): The Penthouse Pet of the Century is more open to sharing her experiences on the film, enthusiastically remembering the infamous urination scene, filming with both Tinto Brass and Bob Guccione, the uncomfortable premiere, and more.
Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power (34:26): Brass sits down to express his regret over the troubled production, which he blames Guccione’s “yes men” for more than anyone. Brass also touches on his intentions for the story and confesses to being tricked by a number of individuals into allowing the sets to be used for additional photography. The best and most useful of the included interviews.
The Making of Caligula Documentary (1:01:45): Filmed at the time of the film’s production (when it was known as “Gore Vidal’s Caligula”, this exhaustive documentary boasts behind-the-scenes footage, interviews (with Vidal, Guccione, McDowell, etc.), and a rather haunting narration.
The Making of Caligula Featurette (9:55) is more or less a condensed version of the previous documentary.
Behind-the-Scenes Footage: Divided into 15 sections, the footage includes looks at the set design, the makeup department, rehearsals, and more. Again, only for the Caligula enthusiast.
Still Galleries, divided into “Color Film Stills,” “Black & White Film Stills,” “Behind the Scenes,” and “Promotional.”
Press Kit Notes
Cast & Crew Biographies
Two Versions of Gore Vidal’s Screenplay
Three Penthouse Features
Interview with Bob Guccione
Movie Tie-In Novelization