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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Caligula Review - by Joshua Handler

Caligula (Uncut and Unrated) Review
1979, 156 minutes
Not Rated (if rated, NC-17)

This review is part of a series of extreme pieces of cinema that I believe are either essential or interesting.

Caligula fits the "interesting" part of the statement above.  It is one film that I watched in multiple parts.  That was probably the best way to view it because it is truly terrible.  Caligula is one of the top 10 worst films I have ever seen, but it is absolutely worth viewing because it is a landmark film.  If there ever was a film that walked the line between art and porn, this is the one.  Caligula follows the life of the notorious Roman emperor, Caligula, who committed every crime and had every perversion.

Caligula has a fascinating back story behind it.  I will not tell the whole thing, but I will tell you that this started as a project directed by Tinto Brass and written by Gore Vidal that starred Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and Peter O'Toole that was financed by Penthouse's Bob Guccione.  Production got out of control and Guccione eventually fired Brass and hired his friend Giancarlo Lui to shoot hardcore pornographic footage to splice into the movie.  By the time the film premiered, most of the original people involved with the production distanced themselves from it.

When released, Caligula was slammed by critics.  If you ever look up lists of the most controversial films ever made, this one is bound to be on there.  On top of the terrible quality of the production, the imagery is disturbingly violent and distastefully sexual (if you want a tastefully (or at least smartly) sexual film, click on this link to my review of In the Realm of the Senses:

Now, I will attempt to review this garbage.  First off, the acting is atrocious.  Even with some of the finest actors ever to act on the silver screen, the acting is beyond bad.  The sets are terrible (some of them look like they are out of a school play) and the camerawork has some random zooms and weird angles.  Also, the inserted shots of naked bodies gets very distracting.

The sex scenes are another huge problem.  They are long and explicit and come out of nowhere.  I am not one to call a movie out on sex (as you may have noticed from some of the other sexually graphic films in this series), but there must (somewhat) be a purpose.  The sex here is abundant and just distasteful.

The story is a little history (how accurate it is, I don't know) mixed in with a lot of trash.  Imagine that for 156 minutes.  It is painful to sit through because it is boring which is one word that should not describe a film about such a colorful subject.  The debauchery becomes so redundant that it just becomes boring.

Though everything is awful about this film, the reason why it is included in this series is because it is like Pink Flamingos in that it was a landmark film.  It used A-list actors in what is essentially a near-porno and caused controversy like no other.  It (as mentioned earlier) walks the line between art and porn.  However, where Pink Flamingos is different and better is that it knows that it is terrible and is hilarious because of it, whereas Caligula tries to be good, but fails miserably.  All of that said, it is worth seeing if only for the curiosity factor.

Overall, Caligula is a mess.  A pure mess.  It is long, nasty, and notorious, but worth seeing to say that you have seen it and because it is an important film.


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