Caligula (Image Entertainment, NR)

dvd_caligula.jpgI don’t know if Roger Ebert has a "Rule of Pornographic Importance" in his movie glossary, but he should.

 

 

 

Many questions surround the movie Caligula, which thoroughly deserves its reputation as one of the worst movies of all time. How did talents like Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud become associated with this a piece of trash? Does the released film resemble in any way the script supplied by Gore Vidal, a respected writer who reportedly tried to take his name off the credits? How did they get the horse to lie down in Caligula’s bed? Isn’t stonebreaking in the raw a needlessly hazardous enterprise, even for slaves? And for a film that leaves few varieties of sex unphotographed, where’s the guy-on-guy action which we know was part of Roman life of the period, and of Caligula’s life in particular?

To these questions may now be added one more: Of all the movies which could be brought out in Blu-Ray, why choose one in which many scenes were shot in soft focus? Blu-Ray is a high-definition DVD format which can deliver a stunningly sharp picture (for the sake of comparison, I screened a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey), but in the case of Caligula, the result is still an image which looks like it was shot through Vaseline.

There’s no need to rehash all the ways in which Caligula is bad; my colleagues at http://www.rottentomatoes.com/ gave it an average rating of 2.9/10, and I think they were too generous. But in its thoroughly remarkable badness it’s actually kind of fascinating—like watching a train wreck in slow motion with lots of pornographic clips and gratuitous bodily mutilations spliced in—and I enjoyed most of Caligula’s 156 minutes more than I thought I would. Of course, I was snarking it up the entire time with a friend who volunteered the use of his Blu-Ray system; it’s the perfect movie for at do-it-yourself Mystery Science Theatre 3000 afternoon.

That’s only if you are old enough to watch a porno movie, of course. One of the more hilarious aspects of Caligula is the carefree manner in which scenes attempting to advance the story of Caligula’s life and increasing madness are intercut with random pornographic scenes which are just that and nothing more. Maybe part of the film’s initial appeal was the opportunity to watch porn without the risk of being spotted visiting the local Pussycat Theater. Most famous is the girl-on-girl action by Lori Wagner and Anneke di Lorenzo, shot after the main film was completed when Guccione realized that for all the body parts on display his film really wasn’t very sexy. For those of you on tight schedules, Malcolm McDowell appears in the altogether about 80 minutes in, and the film’s one and only money shot comes, if you will pardon the pun, at about 140 minutes.

I don’t know if Roger Ebert has a "Rule of Pornographic Importance" in his movie glossary, but he should. The rule is as follows: You can tell the importance of a character by how soon you get to see his/her genitalia. Extras and minor characters get exposed immediately and for no purpose, while high-priced stars will keep it under cover until well into the film’s running time, and there will be some attempt to motivate the revelation in terms of the plot.

Disaster though it may be as a film, as a cultural document Caligula is fascinating. So if you have any interest in the film, you’ll appreciate the many extras provided with this edition. They include an alternate "pre-release" version of the film, audio commentaries by Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and writer Ernest Volkman, deleted and alternate scenes, trailers, photographs, behind-the-scenes footage, video interviews with director Tinto Brass and actors John Steiner and Lori Wagner, two versions of a "Making of Caligula" documentary, a 16-page liner notes booklet (in which R.J. Buffalo pleads for your help in restoring the "true" version of the film while detailing some of the many continuity errors in this one), and a wealth of text materials, including the first draft of Gore Vidal’s script. | Sarah Boslaugh

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