Caligula (film): Wikis


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Directed by Tinto Brass (later disowned)
Giancarlo Lui (additional scenes)
Bob Guccione (additional scenes)
Produced by Bob Guccione
Franco Rossellini
Written by Gore Vidal (later disowned)
Malcolm McDowell
Massolino D'Amico
Tinto Brass
Ted Whitehead
(the latter four are all uncredited)
Starring Malcolm McDowell
John Gielgud
Peter O'Toole
Helen Mirren
Teresa Ann Savoy
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Aram Khachaturyan
Bruno Nicolai (under the pseudonym of "Paul Clemente")
Distributed by Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (Italy)
Independent Artists (USA)
Release date(s) August 14, 1979 Italy
February 1, 1980 USA
Running time 210 Mins
156 Mins (NTSC Speed)/150 Mins (PAL Speed)
(Unrated Version)
150 Mins
(Original Italian Release)
149 Mins
(UK 18 Version)
123 Mins
(Recut Italian Release)
105 Mins
(1981 R-rated Version)
102 Mins
(1999 R-rated version)
152 Mins
(2007 partial director's cut restoration)
Language English, Italian
Budget $17,500,000 (initial) $22,000,000 (final)

Caligula is a 1979 film directed by Tinto Brass, with additional scenes filmed by Giancarlo Lui and Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. The film concerns the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar Germanicus, better known as Caligula. Caligula was written by Gore Vidal and co-financed by Penthouse magazine, and produced by Guccione and Franco Rossellini. It stars Malcolm McDowell as the Emperor. Caligula was the first major motion picture to feature eminent film actors (John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren) in a film with explicit sex scenes.[1]



Caligula, the young heir to throne of the syphilis-ridden, half-mad Emperor Tiberius, thinks he has received a bad omen after a blackbird flies into his room early one morning. Shortly afterward, Macro, the head of the Praetorian Guards, appears to tell the young man that his grandfather (Tiberius) demands for him to report at once to the Isle of Capri, where he has been residing for a number of years with close friend Nerva, Claudius a dim-witted relative, and Caligula's younger stepbrother Gemellus, Tiberius' favourite. Fearing assassination, Caligula is afraid to leave, but his beloved sister Drusilla convinces him to go.

At Capri, Caligula finds his grandfather has become depraved, showing signs of advanced venereal diseases, and embittered with Rome and politics. Tiberius enjoys watching degrading sexual shows, often including children and various freaks of nature. Caligula observes with a mixture of fascination and horror. Tensions rise when Tiberius jokingly tries to poison Caligula in front of Gemellus. After Nerva commits suicide on the prospect of Caligula's rule, Tiberius collapses from a stroke, leaving Macro and Caligula planning a way to hasten the latter's ascent to the throne.

Late one night, Macro escorts all the spectators out of Tiberius' bedchamber to allow Caligula the opportunity to murder his grandfather, but when he fails, Macro finishes the deed himself by strangling Tiberius with a scarf. Caligula triumphantly removes the imperial signet from Tiberius' finger and suddenly realizes that Gemellus has witnessed the murder. Tiberius is buried with honours and Caligula is proclaimed the new Emperor, who in turn proclaims Drusilla his equal, to the apparent disgust of the senate. Afterward, Drusilla, fearful of Macro's influence, convinces Caligula to get rid of him. Caligula obliges by setting up a mock trial, in which Gemellus is intimidated into testifying that Macro alone murdered Tiberius. With the powerful Macro gone, Caligula pronounces the docile Senator Chaerea as the new head of the Praetorian Guard. Drusilla endeavors to find Caligula a wife amongst the priestesses of the goddess Isis, the mystery cult they secretly practice. Caligula only wants to marry Drusilla, but when she refuses, he spitefully marries Caesonia, a known courtesan, but only after she bears him an heir.

Caligula proves to be a popular, yet eccentric ruler, cutting taxes and overturning all the oppressive laws that Tiberius enacted. The senate begins to dislike the young emperor for his eccentricities and various insults directed towards them. Darker aspects of his personality begin to emerge as well; he rapes a bride and groom on their wedding day due to a minor fit of jealousy and orders the execution of Gemellus merely to provoke a reaction from Drusilla.

After he discovers Caesonia is pregnant, Caligula suffers severe fever, but Drusilla nurses him back to health. Right after he fully recovers, Caesonia bears Caligula a daughter, Julia Drusilla, and Caligula marries her on the spot. During the celebration, Drusilla collapses in Caligula's arms from the same fever he'd suffered. Soon afterward, Caligula receives another ill omen in the guise of a black bird. He rushes to Drusilla's side and watches her die. Caligula experiences a nervous breakdown, smashes a statue of Isis and drags Drusilla's body around the palace while screaming hysterically. Now in a deep depression, Caligula walks the Roman streets, disguised as a beggar. After a brief stay in a city jail, Caligula becomes determined to destroy the senatorial class, who he has come to loathe. His reign becomes a series of humiliations against the foundations of Rome; senators' wives are forced to work in the service of the state as prostitutes, estates are confiscated, the old religion is desecrated, and he initiates an absurd war on Britain to humiliate the army. It is obvious to the senators and the military that Caligula must be assassinated.

Caligula wanders into his bedroom where a nervous Caesonia awaits him. The black bird makes a final appearance, but only Caesonia is frightened of it. The next morning, after rehearsing an Egyptian play, Caligula and his family are attacked as they leave the stadium in a blitz headed by Chearea. His wife and daughter are brutally murdered and Chaerea himself stabs Caligula in the stomach, to which he defiantly whimpers "I live!"

As Caligula and his family's bodies are thrown down the marble steps and their blood is washed off the marble floor, Claudius is proclaimed the new Emperor.


Vidal developed a Caligula screen-play from Roberto Rossellini's unproduced television mini-series. Franco Rossellini (nephew of Roberto) and Vidal's original intent was to create a modestly budgeted historical drama. When the pair could not obtain financing, Vidal contacted media mogul and Penthouse founder and publisher Bob Guccione. Guccione agreed to finance the project on two conditions: that the film would be transformed into a flamboyant, luxurious spectacle akin to Hollywood's sword and sandal epics of the 1950s and 1960s, and that extra sex and nudity would be added to the script in order to promote Guccione's magazine. Vidal and Rossellini agreed and the project was launched.

Federico Fellini's art director Danilo Donati was hired to build the expensive and complex sets and costumes. Renowned acting talent, including Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and Sir John Gielgud were cast. Maria Schneider was originally cast as Caligula's doomed sister Drusilla, but later dropped out and was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy. After Guccione was unable to come to an agreement with more established directors John Huston and Lina Wertmuller,[2] Tinto Brass, a relatively young Italian director, was selected by Guccione to direct the film. Guccione was impressed by Brass' previous work, the 1976 controversial film Salon Kitty, which fused explicit sex with a big budget historical drama. Caligula production was housed in Dear Studios, Rome, where the infamous Cleopatra was filmed thirteen years earlier. Shooting commenced in September 1976, with plans for a 1977 release.

From the start, Caligula was plagued by difficulties. According to Guccione in a 1980 Penthouse magazine interview, Vidal (whom Guccione called a "prodigious talent")[2] started trouble with a Time magazine interview in which he called directors parasites living off writers, and that the director need only follow the directions as provided by the author of the screenplay. According to Guccione, an enraged Brass responded to Vidal's comments by throwing Vidal out of the studio. Guccione was forced to side with Brass (whom he called "a megalomaniac") because "Gore's work was basically done and Tinto's work was about to begin."[2]

Casting and logistical issues were problems. Uncomfortable with the sex and nudity in the script, the female lead Schneider quickly resigned from the film.[3] It was soon apparent to the filmmakers that the aggressive shooting schedule developed by the inexperienced Rossellini and Guccione was unrealistic for a film of such scope. Donati had to scrap some of his more elaborate original ideas for the sets and replace them with such surreal imagery as bizarre matte paintings, blacked-out areas, silk backdrops and curtains. This resulted in significant script changes, with Brass and the actors improvising scenes written to take place in entirely different locations, and sometimes shooting entirely new scenes (such as the frolicking scene that opens the film) in order to show progress while the incomplete or redone sets were unavailable. The production was plagued by delays due to disagreements between Brass and Donati over Brass not using Donati's completed sets,[2] as well as Brass and Guccione disagreeing over the sexual content of the film.

Brass was similarly unhappy with Vidal's script. "It was the work of an aging arteriosclerotic. Vidal redid it five times, but it was still absurd."[3] With the help of McDowell, Brass rewrote some of the screenplay.

Malcolm McDowell as Caligula

By the time the principal photography on Caligula had completed, Vidal (having a previous issue with his involvement in the infamous Myra Breckinridge) was concerned about being associated with such an out-of-control production. Fearing the film would turn out incoherent, Vidal distanced himself from the project. Of Vidal, Brass concluded, "If I ever really get mad at Gore Vidal, I'll publish his script."[4]

As the film entered post-production, Guccione took control of the film footage, fired Brass for running up huge costs (Guccione claims Brass shot enough film to "make the original version of Ben-Hur about 50 times over")[2], casting actual criminals as Roman senators,[5] and using what Guccione considered "fat, ugly, and wrinkled old women"[2] in the sex scenes instead of his Penthouse Pets. Guccione hired friend Giancarlo Lui to reedit the film. Lui was instructed to refashion the film into something more in keeping with what Vidal had first scripted, while delivering the sexual content demanded by Guccione. In their most controversial move, the pair shot extra scenes of hardcore sexual material[5] which would be used to replace scenes shot by Brass.

With much footage improvised and rewritten from the original draft of the film, Lui further scrambled, re-cut, and deleted scenes altogether. Many of the disturbing sexual images shot by Brass were removed, replaced by approximately six minutes of hardcore sex shot by Guccione and Lui. In the end, the final cut of the film had strayed far afield from what Brass had intended. Ironically, perhaps, it bore little resemblance to what Vidal had scripted as well.

In the unpleasant aftermath, both Brass and Vidal launched independent tirades against the film and lawsuits against Guccione, delaying the release of Caligula. Vidal, who was paid $200,000 for his script, agreed to drop his contractual claim for 10% of the film profits in exchange for having his name removed from the title of the film (original billing was to have been Gore Vidal's Caligula).[2] In 1981, Anneka Di Lorenzo, who played Messalina, sued Guccione, claiming that he damaged her career by using hardcore sexual scenes in the final cut of Caligula without her knowledge, thereby associating her with a pornographic film. After a protracted litigation, in 1990 a New York state court awarded her $60,000 in compensatory damages and $4,000,000 in punitive damages. On appeal, the punitive damages were determined to be not recoverable and the court vacated the award.[6]

In late 1979, three years after production began, Caligula made its debut.

Critical reception

The film was panned by critics; Roger Ebert gave it zero stars, describing it as "sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash." Perhaps the most scathing comment to ever appear in one of Ebert's reviews is attributed to a third party: "'This movie', said the lady in front of me at the drinking fountain, 'is the worst piece of shit I have ever seen!'" This was one of the few films Ebert ever walked out of; "two hours into its 170 [sic] minute length.`'[7] Reviewer Leonard Maltin said the film was little more than "chutzpah and six minutes of not-bad hardcore footage."[8] Newsweek magazine called Caligula "a two-and-one-half-hour cavalcade of depravity that seems to have been photographed through a tub of Vaseline."[5]

Looking at it from a contemporary perspective, film critic Alex Jackson offers a somewhat more sympathetic and analytical perspective:

The picture is aggressively, hatefully, nonsensically shocking. However, the sort of ironic distance that you can use to get through (and even enjoy) the films of Takashi Miike works for a short while in Caligula, but it doesn't carry through all the way. The film is just too bleak and too cruel. At slightly over two and a half hours, the film moves surprisingly fast and actually gets better the more you soak in the atmosphere. But there isn't really any perspective to it. I never really felt that I related to any of these people, nor did I really care about them. It's a profoundly inhuman movie that exists primarily as a concept.

Does the film compare with Fellini Satyricon? No, that film betrayed some sort of warmth. Does it compare with Salo? No, that film betrayed some sort of humanism. Does the film compare with The Devils? No, that film betrayed some sort of sense of humor. Does it compare with Larry Clark's Kids or Bully? No, those films betrayed something akin to humanism, warmth, humor and even eroticism; the teens in them were sloppy with sex and violence. Can you pick up the problem? The greatness and, I think you could argue, the drawback of those films (and they are all great pictures, superior to Caligula, mind you) is that there was some kind of perspective behind them.[9]

Multiple versions and video releases

Caligula was shown in various versions.

  • The U.K. version, running 149 minutes. Aside from removing eight minutes of explicit footage, the censors substituted some replacement shots, derived from Brass' principal shoot, as well as some remainder footage from Guccione's reshoots. It seems that the alternate footage was inserted carelessly, resulting in glaring continuity errors (especially obvious during the Rape of Prolucus and Livia and the Temple of Isis scenes.) This version is out-of-print, and was eventually replaced by the uncut version, which was finally granted classification in July 2008, 29 years after its initial release.[10]
  • The rumored and infamous 210-minute unreleased version, shown in a private screening in Cannes, France (though not as part of the film festival). It might have been Russell Lloyd's (one of the original editors, before Giancarlo Lui took over the postproduction) rough cut with a few reels of hardcore sex shot by Bob Guccione added in. No official copy of this version is believed to exist.
  • Guccione eventually authorized an R-rated cut released in 1981, 105 minutes long, which earned the film a wider distribution. In this version the hardcore, bloody and violent footage was either trimmed or replaced with yet another set of alternate shots and angles.
  • In 1984, Franco Rossellini, unhappy with Guccione's final edit of the film, re-edited an extended, pre-release print of Caligula, which may or may not have been the infamous 210 minute version. This new edition of the film, re-titled as Io, Caligola clocked in at 133 minutes and contained various minor scenes and shots not present in any other versions of the film, but the Italian censors had it cut down to only 86 minutes; after a public backlash, the film was restored to 123 minutes. The missing ten minutes are no doubt responsible for a few jump cuts that occur throughout the film. This version has been released on DVD, albeit available only in Italy.
  • When Io, Caligola was released on video, the distributor put back in some of the hardcore material shot by Guccione (it was deleted by Franco Rossellini) in order to boost the sales. This version is available on DVD.
  • A second R-rated version was released in 1999. It was released straight to DVD and contained no alternate angles. Various shots simply repeated themselves (instead of using the different takes of scenes seen in the R-rated theatrical release), resulting in continuity problems. Otherwise, this version is based on the 1981 censored release. This DVD version ran a total of 102 minutes and was released with a red cover.
  • In 1999, the FilmFour channel, frustrated by the lack of any extended version of the film available in the UK (only the low quality 1981 censored version was still in print), released their own cut of Caligula, running approximately 143 minutes (the missing 13 minutes can be mostly attributed to the PAL overspeeding and time compression.) It was essentially the same as the 156 minute version, with most of Guccione's explicit sexual material removed, including a lesbian tryst and a handful of sexual inserts during the imperial bordello sequence.
  • A 150 minute Italian cut; it was basically a shortened version of the U.S. edition. It was eventually pulled out of release in favor of Franco Rossellini's re-edited version, but a briefly released VHS tape exists, though it is now out-of print. Raro Video announced that it would release a re-mastered edition of this cut on December 5, 2006, along with an interview by Tinto Brass, in which he would discuss for the first time where the editing of the film went wrong. This release never came to fruition as Raro Video's distributor backed out, and the company replaced it with a remastered print of Franco Rossellini's edit.
  • The uncut Twentieth Anniversary Edition DVD was refused classification in November 2005 by Australia's OFLC; effectively banning the film in its uncensored form (although a 102-minute version was passed with an R-rating in 2004). The OFLC deemed the film too sexually explicit to fall within the R18+ classification (despite sexually explicit mainstream films such as 9 Songs receiving this rating). The film could not be accommodated in the X classification (for explicit sex) as it contains depictions of violence (although a 143-minute version of the film had, in fact, been granted an X rating for video release in 1984, when the X rating had only just been introduced and still permitted depictions of violence; the 156-minute version was passed with an X rating in January 1985).[11] Although the film's sexual content was permissible in the X category, the OFLC's classification guidelines unambiguously state "No depiction of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence, or coercion is allowed in the category".[12]
  • In October, 2007 Image Entertainment released a 3-disc special edition known as the Imperial Edition. It features two cuts of the film, the 156-minute print and a new edit created from an alternate pre-release version which re-arranges some scenes and does not include most of the explicit sexual inserts added by Guccione (a few shots were left in by mistake and various outtakes from Brass' shoot and a handful of 16 mm behind-the-scenes footage were used to fill in for the deleted material.) Both versions have been digitally remastered. Commentary tracks featuring McDowell and Mirren are included on the non-hardcore, pre-release version, and the DVD includes interviews with Tinto Brass, who discusses the film's hectic production & botched editing; and Penthouse Pet Lori Wagner, who discusses the addition of the hardcore footage, including the lesbian sex scene in which she participated. DVD-ROM content includes Gore Vidal's original screenplay. Other extras include more than two hours of deleted and alternate footage. The DVD set was to carry a fourth disc with the film's complete musical soundtrack, but Penthouse later pulled the soundtrack, along with any mention of the music (and the people behind it) in the behind the scenes featurettes. The 156-minute and 102-minute versions will be released separately in new collectible packaging.[13] The booklet included with the 3-disc set includes a discussion of the many different versions of the film, and states that a significant amount of footage remains unaccounted for; the notes include a plea to viewers to contact Image if they are in possession of any footage not included in the DVD set.
  • The Imperial Edition was released in the UK (Region 2) in September 2008 by Arrow Films. This edition contains four discs, three being retained from the Region 1 Imperial Edition, including a newly discovered half hour of deleted and alternate footage not present in the US release, and a fourth disc claiming to feature the 1981 R-rated version, but it ended up being the 1999 version.
  • A Japanese special edition was released, containing the newly discovered deleted footage, but without the R-rated release.
  • The Imperial Edition was released on Blu-ray on Jan 06, 2009 in the US and Canada.

Cultural references

  • In 2005, a fake trailer for Gore Vidal's Caligula was produced by artist Francesco Vezzoli for an alleged remake as a promotion for Versace's new line of accessories. It was a parody, "ostensibly [promoting] a film about a mad Roman emperor who sleeps with his sister, executes his critics and presides over a crowd of ambisexual extras dressed only in the occasional accessory." The trailer features Courtney Love as Caligula, Benicio del Toro as Macro, as well as Helen Mirren (making a guest cameo) as Tiberius. Milla Jovovich and Gerard Butler appear as Drusilla and Chaerea respectively. Vidal appears as himself.[14] The trailer screened worldwide, including a showing at New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art's 2006 Whitney Biennial.[15]
  • During the 2006 Mark Foley scandal, the American satirical television program The Daily Show aired a brief snippet of an orgy scene from Caligula, represented by a correspondent as security camera footage from congressional page dormitories. Deadpanning, host Jon Stewart then identified the video as "Bob Guccione's Caligula."
  • Matthew Sweet used dialogue from the movie on his album Altered Beast in 1993. Swedish melodic death metal band Arch Enemy used the same Caligula dialog in the title track of their 2007 album Rise of the Tyrant.[16]:
    Caligula: I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night.
    Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a god.
    I shall wait for the unanimous decision of the Senate, Claudius...

    Claudius: All those who say aye, say aye.
    Caligula: Aye... Aye!
    Senators: Aye! Aye! Aye!...
    Chaerea: He's a god now...[17]
  • In the animated television show Home Movies the character Brendon Small asks his father if they can watch Caligula in the season 2 episode "Pizza Club".[18]
  • British band New Order's song "Murder" included a snippet from the film in which the emperor cries out: "Crawl! Crawl! Crawl! I hate them!"
  • Deathgrind band Cephalic Carnage wrote a song about Caligula called "Anthro Emesis" on their Lucid Interval album and recounted his perverse activities. On their most recent album, Xenosapien, the song "Let Them Hate So Long As They Fear" is based on Caligula's line in the film, "Let them hate me, so long as they fear me".
  • In one episode of Seinfeld, George attempts to eat a sandwich and watch television while having sex with his latest girlfriend, and begins to fetishize cold cuts. Jerry, attuned to this, refers to George as "Caligula."
  • In another episode of "[Seinfeld]" Jerry believes he was molested by the dentist and refers to him as a "Caligulite".
  • In Scott Pendergast's 2008 film Kabluey, a troublemaking child is shown watching the title screen of Caligula.
  • British musician Little Boots took her stage name from the film ("little boots" is the translation of "Caligula").
  • The Smiths song, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" contains the lyrics "What she asked of me at the end of the day Caligula would have blushed"


See also


External links

Simple English

Caligula is a 1979 historical film directed by Tinto Brass. It is about the life of a Roman Emperor called Caligula. It stars Malcolm McDowell as Caligula.


  • Malcolm McDowell as Caligula
  • Teresa Ann Savoy as Drusilla
  • Guido Mannari as Macro
  • John Gielgud as Nerva (son of Marcus Cocceius Nerva (consul 36 BC))
  • Peter O'Toole as Tiberius
  • Giancarlo Badessi as Claudius
  • Bruno Brive as Tiberius Gemellus
  • Paolo Bonacelli as Cassius Chaerea
  • John Steiner as Longinus
  • Helen Mirren as Caesonia
  • Mirella D'Angelo as Livia

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