04/12/2006

CALIGULA (Classic porn!)



Probably the most hated film ever made, Caligula can be accused of a number of 'crimes', not least of which is its thorough exploitation of its audience's most prurient fascinations, particularly with those parts of the body (and things done with them) that are shown least often in films outside of hardcore pornography. It's this comparison that has so ruefully harmed Caligula's twenty-year-old reputation.


It's entirely arguable in its defence, of course, that the activities of the Romans depicted in the film have a hitherto unimagined historical accuracy that at least makes the film a brave one. However, it's no easier to believe that a more weighty didactic purpose was Penthouse-affiliated producer Bob Guccione's intention here than it is to prevent any comment on the film to take the shape of a moral debate, as this review has already failed to do. From a more detachedly cinematic point of view, it is certainly plagued by some bad film-making techniques.


The many fine actors' apparent willingness to tarnish their reputations (possibly under the impression that the film would be some sprawling Spartacus-style historical epic without lots genitalia, as suggested above) has never been conclusively explained. They spout dialogue that is pretty and poetic but has little worth beyond that in terms of meaning or story development. The camera movement sometimes resembles that of a home video enthusiast on holiday who's just discovered the zoom button, and the acting is quite deliciously overplayed. On the other side, the film has a bizarre operatic quality to it, that means you really don't want to take your eyes off it in case you miss a further visual extremity.

This is simply the logical conclusion of those huge, star-studded and equally 'terrible' historical epics of the fifties and sixties, from Solomon & Sheba to Cleopatra, to this - why not bracket them all together? If the censor of the time had allowed it, surely Gina Lollobrigida and Elizabeth Taylor would have had their less cerebral talents as ritually exposed as the various Penthouse pets that populate Caligula. I think the critics are being petty and pious in their unilateral condemnation of this visually imaginative and, at the very least, excessively dramatic piece of … whatever you want to call it.

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