“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.”
The short political career of Rome’s most notorious emperor, whose nickname of “Little Boots” sounds far more insidious and provocative as the eponymous Latin title: Caligula. As portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, it is a production as tragic as it is absurd, as shocking as it is risible. And quite sensibly regarded as one of the worst big-budget movies ever made. But it also holds fort within the hearts of those that treasure it as divine guilty pleasure. It is high art of the deepest trash, a decadent, and outrageous spectacle unlike anything of its sort, before or since.
Bob Guccione, editor-in-chief of Penthouse Magazine, joined forces with Italy’s Felix Cinematografica to depict the rise and fall of Gaius Germanicus, Roman emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Gore Vidal penned a screenplay, and Penthouse’s involvement meant the extravagant budget soared to $17 million. In 1976 this was an enormous amount (Star Wars cost only $9m), and it was destined to become the most expensive and controversial blue movie ever made. Shakespearean actors John Gielgood, who plays senator Nerva, and Peter O’Toole, who plays emperor Tiberius, were appalled when they witnessed the movie (albeit the 156-minute hardcore version), finally released at the end of 1979. It was vulgar and wretched beyond the pale. Malcolm McDowell just smirked, and Helen Mirren, who plays the sly Caesonia, simply rolled her eyes.
All manner of sexual perversion and moral depravity is depicted in the movie, although to be fair to Roman excess, bestiality and coprophagia are kept at bay. Guccione made sure his voluptuous Pets were featured prominently, most notably Lori Wagner and Playmate of the Year Anneka Di Lorenzo (who died mysteriously in 2011), as Agrippina and Messalina. Their lesbian tryst is one of the movie’s two erotic highlights. The other standout sequence is the climactic orgy aboard the Imperial Bordello. Valerie Ray Clark and Anneka Di Lorenzo provide an exemplary demonstration of fellatio upon well-endowed Italian stud Lucky Fellows.
Caligula is very much an acquired salty taste; championed by a few, loathed by many. At its core is a fascinating example of too many cooks spoiling the broth, a melting pot of pantomime theatrics, lurid sensuality, and hammy histrionic performances (with the exception of Mirren and, perhaps, John Steiner as Longinus), but surrounding it is a glorious display of muff au naturale! Pour yourself a goblet of red wine, hell pour yourself a gourd, recline back in the sofa, or better still amidst a pile of cushions, and allow yourself to be engulfed by the sprawling pagan tragedy that is Caligula.
Caligula Film Review by Bryn Tilly of www.cultprojections.com