Synopsis: Before Rome. Before Gladiator. The most controversial film of all time as you’ve never experienced it before! Combining lavish spectacle and top award-winning stars, this landmark production was shrouded in secrecy since its first day of filming.
From the moment he ascends to the throne as Emperor, Caligula en a reign like no other as power and corruption transform him into a deranged beast whose deeds still live on as some of the most depraved in history.
eyelights: its cast. its ambition. its naked indulgences. its more consistent tone. its better editing.
eyesores: its length. it’s less sexy.
‘Caligula’ has a really complicated history. Disowned by its original author, Gore Vidal, then by its director, it has been released in various permutations, including an R-rated theatrical version and an extended Unrated version. But there’s also the mythical original cut, before Bob Guccione and Giancarlo Lui added their pornographic scenes to the final version.
The pre-release version isn’t the original version: there’s an Italian print called ‘Io Caligula’ which contains far more of Tinto Brass’s original vision than this one does. However, for some legal reason that escapes me, the Italian version of the film is not allowed to be seen outside that country. And thus we are stuck with an abbreviated and improperly edited film.
Having said this, the pre-release version is far superior to the Unrated one. In yet another confirmation that editing is everything, just moving a few parts around and taking out the last-minute excesses of the version we all know, changes and improves the tone and structure. It actually feels like a much more coherent picture, though it remains ultimately flawed.
Here are a few observations from my viewing of the pre-release version:
- The picture begins with a totally different opening. Instead of seeing Caligula and Drusilla frolic carefree in the woods, Caligula is in bed with Drusilla and wakes up from nightmares. Drusilla comforts him. This establishes from the start that they’re related – unlike the original, which keeps it ambiguous for a short bit. This scene was also in the theatrical version, just in a different place.
- For some reason, it felt as though Tiberius’ death scene was cut differently. I’ve found no info to that effect, but it appeared that way to me.
- Caligula’s swearing in as Emperor of Rome included different takes, including some long shots.
- The scene showing Ennia bathing in semen as men masturbate around her is cut slightly here, being less explicit.
- The theatrical version’s opening scene is now relegated in its proper place, at 56 minutes in. It makes more sense because it was intended to show how free Caligula and Drusilla were now that he’d become all-powerful – they no longer had to hide their incestuous relationship. It’s also slightly extended, showing some of their slaves playing in the woods nearby.
- The scene in the woods is followed by an extended version of the scene in which Drusilla convinces Caligula to marry a priestess for propriety’s sake. He needs just bit more convincing here, which made sense.
- When Caligula and Drusilla go visit the priestesses, there are alternate long shots of the women bathing. It’s less explicit.
- After Caligula’s delirium, which concludes with Drusilla and Caesonia bedding him, together, there is no lesbian sex scene. As much as it’s an enjoyable bit on its own, it has no place in the picture and the transition was always nonsensical.
- At a banquet, after getting rid of his half-brother on the most tenuous charges, Caligula hits Drusilla when she opposes him. When Caesonia warns him that Drusilla’s confrontation is treasonous, he ignores her and has her dance for him instead – even though she’s very pregnant. It’s an interesting scene because it shows the dynamic between the characters, how Drusilla is supportive but firm with her brother, whereas Caesonia will always back her spouse no matter what. It’s a key sequence that I can only surmise was cut out because Caesonia’s pregnant belly was painfully fake.
- The Imperial Bordello scene at the end has a ton of different inserts and it’s cut differently. It’s far less explicit, becoming more of an extended montage, like a big flesh party, with dancing Nubian girls and girls on swings. I like both but this one feels more appropriately festive, less gratuitous.
If there’s anything to take out of the so-called “Alternate, pre-release version” of ‘Caligula’ is that editing equals movie magic. That has been shown very clearly in ‘The Cutting Edge‘, but this is a perfect example of how much power an editor can wield. Personally, I recommend this version of any other commercially available one; in this form, ‘Caligula’ is almost good.
Ahem… quite unlike its titular character.
Post scriptum: For more information on some of the changes, please visit the following websites:
Date of viewing: July 10+11, 2016