Scrubbed Serials Numbers:
Teresa Ann Savoy
With Emperor Tiberius on his last legs due to cockrot and general batshit craziness, it’s up to the plucky upstart Caligula (or Little Boots, as he is known to people who don’t last too long) to take up the mantle of Rome’s Next Eccentric Leader. With his ever-expanding crew that includes an ever-accommodating sister, a guard that winds up to his neck in trouble and a supportive missus, Little Boots would go on to show Rome that with great power comes an utter disregard for advisors and the people, using everything at his disposal, including the senator’s wives. But hey, when you think you’re a god, what does other people opinions matter?
Non Consequential Opinion:
There are certain films in the world that always seem to have you wondering what could’ve been if just one change had been made, either in the production phase or the editing suite.
Caligula is the emperor of this particular mountain.
On paper, Caligula should’ve been a decent historical drama. It had a great cast that mixed great actors both young and old. Had a revered screenwriter on board as well as a director familiar to the Italian style. But what it mainly had was a subject that had everything you needed to create a rich story driven movie, as long as you had an audience that want films about mental emperors with a taste for sisters and elaborate violence.
Sadly, there were some problematic issues that would haunt the film for years to come. The main producer was a known gentlemen’s magazine publisher, there were production nightmares and dramas that most films wouldn’t survive and there were extra scenes shot after dark that would go on to cause more problems than a stiffy in a church.
The film suffers greatly from its lack of defined narrative directions. What was meant to be a film about the rise and fall of the title character became was a mash up of 3 very different visions of a movie. Part of it seemed to have wanted to focus on the background politics and how Caligula would use humiliation and terror to alienate the people who would eventually cause his downfall. Another part explored was Caligula’s incestuous relationship with his sister, making it a weird romantic drama with some off-colour overtones. And there was historically important and totally necessary bonkbuster elements that had to occur at regular intervals or the film would explode.
The first two elements were caused by the reported friction between Gore Vidal and Tinto Brass. Rumour has it that the original screenplay written by Vidal heavily featured homosexual love scenes. Allegedly this was found to be objectionable and most of the Vidal screenplay was replaced with a more heterosexual slant on the whole affair that was probably to make it more fappy friendly. However, even though the film greatly reduced the man on man action, it did feature a good amount of swinging man meat. Sometime swinging in the wind, sometimes swaying in the rain, but it’s all there. Another bone of contention was how Caligula’s personality was portrayed. Vidal’s screenplay gave the impression that Caligula was an innocent corrupted by ultimate power, whereas Brass filmed it as Caligula being a born monster given the keys to the candy shop, which he goes into and takes a huge dump on some of the jars.
And lastly, there was the sex element. Real sex acts, fake sex acts and all the flesh on display you could ever ask for, even though you probably didn’t ask. There have been many different versions of this film, yet the one takeaway from all of them is that the film really doesn’t need any of the unsimulated sex scenes. They have aged badly, and they have always been more scandalous rather than sensual. Most of the scenes were crowbarred into the film in a crude manner that actually muddy the attention of the viewer. They rob the scenes of any storytelling gravitas, even in scenes where they should fit in perfectly, they just add a daze of “what the fuckness” to the whole thing. When you can’t insert a decent real blowjob into a senator’s wives bordello scene, that’s a damn good sign to just give it up.
The violence in the film was shocking and gratuitous, the film features two girls wanking and pissing on the corpse of a solider, that in an earlier scene was violently fisted by Caligula on his wedding day. The other half of the wedding present was the forced imperial deflowering of the soldier’s bride. It also featured an ingenious mass execution by a wall mower and the ending was a child’s skull crushing finale where the blades were definitely out for Emperor Little Boots and family.
Does the film deserve the kicking it got from the critics? Unfortunately, yes. And the worst thing about that statement is that it was the background backbiting and underhanded shenanigans that ruined this movie. If the movie had just been left in the hands of movie makers rather than a pornographer trying to up his revenue, then this would’ve been remembered for all the right reasons rather than the film that featured a dwarf being taken down then having his cock gobbled.
There was potentially a good film that could’ve come out of this. Even with the problems noted above, and the factual fudging of some historical events, there were some positives to this film that cannot be discredited. The non-pornographic performers were stand out in their roles, even with all the crappy afro muffed porn that seemed to infinity loop confusion, you can still come away with positive remarks for the actors and actresses that worked their arses of to make it all work. There are genuinely some memorable non-pornographic scenes that just stick with you. The sets and locations used were breath taking and really complemented the film. And the ending, although really bloody violent, had some beautifully haunting imagery that really showcased what could’ve been.
I hope that one day one of the many rumoured cuts of this film that takes out all the unnecessary shite will be released and will just leave you with a film that you can sit and follow a narrative that does the film and the viewer justice.
I can hope.