DVD REVIEW: Caligula-The Blu-Ray Imperial Edition

Caligula, The Blu-Ray Imperial Edition
(Image Entertainment)

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In a class by itself, Caligula, the famed 1979 film portraying the historic debauchery and depravity of the young Roman Caesar who was at first hailed and later hated, is a film that crosses the line between the world of respectable film and pornography. The film is a bizarre collaboration between known stars like Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren along with a well-respected writer in Gore Vidal partnering with Bob Guccione of Penthouse for funding. The film, which is famous for it’s over the top sex and disastrous production, is a stylized, Felliniesque look at ancient Rome’s history and despite its many cinematic downfalls, it does give an interesting glimpse into what ancient Rome was like.

This new edition of the film is quite fascinating if for no other reason that it tells the story of how the film came about with details of the tribulations of the long 3 year process which ended in Gore Vidal leaving the project, director Tinto Brass being pulled, Bob Guccione’s famous extra hardcore footage, and the parade of ensuing lawsuits that plagued the film. After the release, much of the cast distanced themselves from the project but in watching the behind the scenes commentary it’s understandable why they were lured to the film in its early stages.

Historically speaking, much of the film is actually quite accurate which is at times hard to believe but fascinating. The story of Caligula’s tortured life and anarchist madness as ruler of Rome is remarkable and one of the issues with the film is that the craziness is given no context by which to understand it. The film does take liberties and the different people attached to the film each have their own look and feel so the editing leaves us with a fragmented porno with a story more than a film.

The edition also features an unrated, uncensored version of the film and being that the original version is littered with nudity, blood, and violence, that’s saying something. Beyond the incest, urination, and decapitations there are a number of truly cringe-worth scenes included, which will no doubt stay with you such as castrations, homosexual fisting, and rape.

Needless to say, this film is not your average walk in the park and doesn’t really stand on any cinematic virtues but it is a wonder in its own right. The film is an unquestionable financial success despite its artistic failures but it does have its own “John Water’s” brand of clownish decadent charm. Oscar Wilde might’ve loved it and if you ever wanted to see the guy from Clockwork Orange take a leak and have sex with his sister it’s worth checking out.

Tim Needles

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