(A.k.a. CALIGULA, MY SON; CALIGOLA)
Bob Guccione's extravagant attempt at extending his Playboy fortunes into the world of filmmaking make for compelling viewing in this misguided and startlingly overblown farce.
Despite huge sets, garish costume designs, an all-star cast and a bum-numbing running time of 156 minutes, CALIGULA is epic only in measurement of its miscalculations. And it's about as historically accurate as Mel Gibson's views on the Holocaust.
Sexually deviant Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) - he sleeps with his sister, you know - watches over the aged, syphilitic Cesar (Peter O'Toole) waiting for the old fool to die. Cesar takes the young Caligula under his wing and introduces him to his own penchant for sadism and perversities: babies suckling from penis-shaped teats; centurions forced to fuck openly; murder and torture willy-nilly.
Eventually, Caligula's patience pays off and the old guy dies, leaving our warped anti-hero to inherit the role of leader of Pagan Rome.
With beautiful wife Caesonia (Helen Mirren) at his side and the Roman army under his command, Caligula suddenly has all the power he has ever craved. But absolute power, combined with the tutoring of the late demented Cesar, is about to drive him absolutely bonkers.
The army watch dumfounded - as do we - while Caligula puts his horse in charge of politics, and involves himself in bestiality and even more incest. Ordering an invasion of England and arranging the public beheadings of those who rub him up the wrong way leads to the soldiers and the church conspiring to usurp Caligula, which would leave his simpleton brother as the next in line for the throne ...
The storyline is utter tosh and it can't solely be down to director Tinto Brass (ALL LADIES DO IT; THE VOYEUR) that the film is so sloppily assembled that it makes virtually no sense whatsoever. Indeed, Guccione's interference with the film's production is well-known, even going so far as to shoot additional footage with an entirely different cast once Brass' work was done.
The end result is a fabulous disaster. CALIGULA is a failure on almost every level. Bewildered actors saunter through one loosely directed scene after another; visuals are often as ugly and cold as those in SALON KITTY (the film that led to Guccione giving the CALIGULA gig to Brass, after initially considering - gasp - John Huston, Lina Wertmuller and Nicolas Roeg for the job); the added hardcore footage is awkwardly squeezed into the film.
It also can't go by unnoticed that CALIGULA makes the most laughably melodramatic use of a classical score on film, ever.
CALIGULA exists as a genuine cinematic anomaly. A big budget, lavish attempt at bringing pornography to the mainstream. A film where the famous cast (which also includes Sir John Gielgud and John Steiner) claimed afterwards to have no idea what type of film was being made. A milestone in terms of censorship and controversy, arousing the intrigue and contempt of millions upon its 1979 release. A film that, even today, marks the absolute limit of what the BBFC will pass uncut under the banner of English-speaking fiction.
So it deserves to be seen. And, for all that it is weirdly incompetent, there are many highlights that are worth revisiting: McDowell's deranged performance; the bemusing wedding ceremony where Caligula is compelled to abuse the young couple; a reasonably erotic lesbian scene; the lengthy boat-based orgy sequence which culminates with one girl taking a load in her mouth (although it looks suspiciously like egg-white - an old adult film industry trick); the finale's gory uprising.
Presented here fully uncut, CALIGULA makes its UK blu-ray debut thanks to Arrow. The film, complete with all violence and hardcore sex intact, is certainly a head trip. But it's not that extreme by today's standards: it's more messy than anything else.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen in full 1080p HD resolution. It's the best the film has looked but still not as sharp, bright or vivid as you'd hope for from HD. A lot of the film still looks somewhat soft and murky (the way it was shot, I'm sure) and colour schemes range between being muted and bold. It's not a terrible picture overall, but will disappoint those looking for a film to showcase the abilities of their swanky home cinema kit.
A quick side-by-side comparison with Image's US blu-ray reveals that this seems to have used the same HD master: both are identical presentations as far as these eyes can see.
Audio-wise, the film fares decently with English mixes in 2.0 DTS-HD and 5.1 DTS-HD.
The main menu page on the disc is a colourful animated affair, which leads into a pop-up scene-selection menu allowing access to CALIGULA via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with 48 minutes of deleted scenes presented in scratchy standard definition. Expect a lot more softcore sex scenes, set to more of Bruno Nicolai's obvious score.
31 minutes of "North American Footage" is considerably worn-looking, but pretty interesting for fans of the film. It includes more violence and nudity, plus more of McDowell mercilessly hamming it up. The audio is surprisingly clean on these rough-looking clips.
"Behind The Scenes" is precisely that: 78 minutes worth of grainy footage that offers a valuable insight into this lengthy and famously troubled production. Everything from cast and crew arriving on location at the airport, to set-building and make-up appliance is documented to more strains from the original score.
Disc one is completed by three original trailers.
Disc two is a regular DVD and offers more extras for the most masochistic of the film's fans.
These begin with "Making of Caligula", a 61-minute expose that was made at the time of the film's production. It's a good insight that anyone with an interest film has probably already seen. Particularly amusing is the air of secrecy that evidently surrounded the film while it was being made. Interestingly, original screenwriter Gore Vidal contributes to this documentary ... but later removed himself from the production and attempted to sue the filmmakers.
Another vintage 10-minute featurette, also entitled "Making Of Caligula", follows. It's more behind-the-scenes footage set to music, interspersed with earnest sound bites ("this is not pornography, this is Paganography"). The pace of this one make it an enjoyable watch.
A 24-minute interview with Steiner is interesting enough. After an inordinately long intro, we finally get to meet Steiner who looks well for his age and speaks openly about his time on the CALIGULA set, and misgivings that he had.
"Caligula's Pet" is a 28-minute interview with Lori Wagner, a Penthouse Pet whose most notable other role is in the John Wayne Bobbit clunker FRANKENPENIS.
Much better is an interview with Tinto brass himself. Entitled "The Orgy Of Power", this is a great piece where the chain-smoking director speaks fluently and openly about his experience with CALIGULA.
A couple of stills galleries and some DVD-Rom content (press kit material and biographies) round out the extras on disc two.
It's worth noting that Image's US blu-ray (also a 2-disc affair with a DVD filled with similar extras) also includes an alternate pre-release cut of the film and two audio commentaries, none of which are included here.
Arrow's packaging for the blu-ray set looks very nice indeed. The keepcase offers a choice of four different covers (including Rick Melton's excellent new artwork, as shown above - felching, anyone?!), a booklet and double-sided poster.
CALIGULA is a flawed, ridiculous and lumbering beast. But it's also a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of UK censorship and a great relic from a time when overwrought follies such as this were possible.
Well done yet again to Arrow for another fine genre blu-ray package.
In the best interests of readers though, it has to be said that (a) the US blu-ray gives you more, and (b) Arrow's 4-disc DVD release from late 2008 remains superior in extras to this release. The picture upgrade is negligible.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|Region All - PAL|
|see main review|