Tell me about Caligula

Every now and then I hear a reference to Bob Guccione’s movie “Caligula”. Sometimes I hear it mocked and maligned, sometimes I hear is spoken of as a cult classic alongside works like “A Clockwork Orange”. Sometimes I hear it called porn, sometimes high art.

So what is it? How explicit are the sex scenes? How accurate is it historically? Do you recommend it or is it dreck and I shouldn’t waste me time?

It’s a bad film that deserves to be mocked, and it’s a cult classic. It’s porn and it’s high art. I don’t know how historically accurate it is. Caligula wasn’t a nice person, and he’s not nice in the film. There’s plenty of explicit sex.

Would I recommend it? Tough to say. As a whole, I liked it. I think it works pretty well as a film, though sometimes it goes over the top. If you don’t mind the explicit sex, then I don’t think it would be a waste of time. But I think you’d be better off watching I, Claudius. If you want to see explicit sex, remember this is an old film that isn’t just someone setting up a video camera and going at it. It may seem old-fashioned.

The thing I like Caligula for the most is the ‘Little Boots’ scene, which reminded me of a certain President.

It’s dreck. Surprisingly, given the actors involved - Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole. It was Bob Guccione’s attempt to make a porn film that was also a legitimate drama - a porno with a plot, if you will. The sex is hardcore and explicit, the violence equally so. The acting is decent, as you might expect, but the script is weak and the plot not very compelling, except as a stereotypical ruler’s-descent-into-madness story. I would judge it a porn film, because the sex scenes really don’t add much to the plot or the characterization, and they are just as bizarre and extravagant as any porn flick - a living wall of sex, a parade of women borne into a banquet with pearls perched on their vulvas, a graphic fisting. Don’t waste your time, unless you have a urgent desire to see Helen Mirren nude.

It’s the only movie I’ve ever walked out on. Since it’s been 30 years, I don’t remember how much of it I watched, but my recollection of what got me up and out of the theater was some kind of scythelike machine that was cutting off people’s heads.

That was one of the things that was over-the-top. :wink:

I liked it at the time though, since I’m a fan of splatter films.

Not only is it dreck but it is boring dreck. Historically it’s reasonably accurate although in dealing with Gaius Caligula, we don’t have Tacitus’s complete account and as The Master noted, the farther Roman historians were from Caligula, the worst they described him.http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2102/was-the-roman-emperor-caligula-as-crazy-as-they-say
I didn’t walk out of the theater when I saw it (more accurately I didn’t rewind the VHS tape) but I don’t want to see it again. It was especially disappointing since it came a few short years after the 1976 BBC miniseries of “I, Claudius” where John Hurt was memorable as the monster who makes me realize that Dubya and Obama aren’t so bad.

One interesting thing is Guccione refused to give reviewers free passes to see it and he charged twice the regular ticket prices at the time. He specifically wanted to know he got their money when he read their scathing reviews.

I don’t recommend you see it but it’s your money and time, although you won’t get either back if you do.

John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole filmed most of their scenes before they were apprised there was going to be hardcore sex involved. Then it was only Peter who continued filming with those scenes, but John’s scenes were already done and in the can. Gielgud was reputed to have said he would have not done the film had he known.

It was considered over-the-top for group sex scenes when it was filmed, but might be considered fairly mild in comparison with modern porn (except for those involving Malcolm McDowell, who reveled in his fist-ramming-the-bridegroom scene).

If you consider yourself a student of cinema, you should see it – just for the historical aspect and looking at it in context to the era in which it was created.

Don’t underestimate the value of this. Helen is magnificent now, and was even better then. :smiley:

It’s not a great film, and some of the violence is pretty nasty, but I still like it a lot. As long as you’re not taking it seriously, I think it’s a fun, ridiculous film. The acting for the most part is good enough, and McDowell and O’Toole are fun to watch, but what I really like about it is the set design - it’s absolutely gorgeous.

As for the sex; It’s explicit. Some scenes more than others.

If you’re upset with anything more than bare boobs, watch I, Claudius instead - it’s a much calmer and more in depth series and certainly worth watching. If you’re not bothered by some penetration shots and violence, watch both - if only for the contrast.

The cinemasnob did a two part snarky review of Caligula that may help you decide. (Warning: Rude and obnoxious language and censored shots of nudity)
http://thecinemasnob.com/2010/08/16/caligula-part-i.aspx
http://thecinemasnob.com/2010/08/25/caligula-part-ii.aspx

If you want to see naked Helen Mirren, there are a lot better films than this – she has prided herself on her cinematic nudity and has shown herself frequently in many, many films.

Get Savage Messiah, the Ken Russell film or the Michael Powell film, Age of Consent, where she romps naked as the muse to artist, James Mason.

Mirren is the only actress who has done nude scenes in six seperate decades.

Now that’s just wrong.

In this thread about the death of Bob Guccione Diogenes gave this mini movie review of Caligula.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=582624&highlight=penthouse

I saw it years ago, maybe 92 or 93. To be honest, I thought it sucked, though the sets and costumes were great. I can say that I do not remember Gielgud doing a sex scene - I vaguely remember him committing suicide by slitting his wrists in the bath. Did he also come back in a hallucination as well? I can say I would rather not bother rewatching it however. Actually, I am not entirely certain where to find a copy.

On the other side - there was another movie called Caligula out at roughly the same time, I believe it was an italian movie. It was just as soft pornish and strange. I remember we rented that one first, and discovered upon watching it, it was not the Guccione version.

Strangely enough, that doesn’t really narrow it down. There were at least 4 Italian rip-offs of Caligula around that time.

No help to you, but there is a copy sitting on my DVD rack as we speak. :stuck_out_tongue:

Gielgud did not do any sex scenes. Neither did O’Toole. Their roles were intended to be serious and lend credence to the film and were rather literary.

I still think it’s brilliant. It’s one of my favorite movies along with A Clockwork Orange, Amadeus and The Big Lebowski. I pretty much list the reasons in my quoted mini-review above. I find it fascinating, and think Malcolm McDowell is terrific in the role. Some of the porn is pretty mediocre, but I love that they went all out, no hold barred with showing the decadence, brutality and sex.

It’s also fairly historically accurate, by the way, at least in the broad outlines, and some of the scenes are quite accurate renderngs of incidents described by Suetonius and Josephus.

The fact that it offends so many people is another reason to like it.

O’Toole, as Tiberius, is shown carousing with his “minnows” in Capri, though nothing explicit is shown in that scene.

That’s very interesting. I said I didn’t know how accurate it was. This helps.