Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 10 July 2004
1979’s Caligula is solid evidence of the intriguing nature of X. The video cover boasts the title of “the most controversial film of the 20th Century.” Despite the arrogant height of this statement, one is at a loss to cite any film that rivals such an undisputed title.
Criticizing the film, one must discern its “halves”; each conjures a different reaction. Caligula is foremost an historical drama, involving the notorious exploits of the title emperor, said to be the most infamous in Roman history. The film was penned by acclaimed screenwriter Gore Vidal and helmed by Tinto Brass; the credits are a role call for a British Shakespearean guild; John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, and Malcolm McDowell as the title character. Had Brass secured his vision, Caligula might have become less notorious and more liked.
Brass was fired before completion for editing the work in a manner straying from producer Bob Guccioni’s intent. Guccioni, editor of Penthouse magazine, took over. Without hesitation it can be said that the two visions in charge of the film not only deviated from one another, they conflict to the point that any portion of the film is noticeably helmed by one of two people: an artist and a pervert. The differentiation is obvious.
The film became a notorious failure. To compensate for its budget (near 15 million), tickets for Caligula’s initial release were an inordinate eight dollars. For these and numerous other reasons, Caligula boasts a sort of notoriety known to few films. It was a lavish accident: the marriage of legitimate film and smut.