Crossing the Line – CaligulaPosted: September 9, 2008
Yes this column is very late, I realize this. As the staff has undergone a bit of creative burnout trying to keep up with the weekly film viewing and writing schedule, I’ve decided to switch Crossing the Line from a weekly column to a “whenever we get it done” column. We still have a large backlog of material to review, we’ll just take a bit longer to look at it.
That said, here’s Tinto Brass’ 1979 porn epic about a guy that sleeps with his horse in a totally platonic way and with his sister in a manner that is much less platonic. Caligula.
Tagline: What would you have done if you had been given absolute power of life and death over everybody else in the whole world?
Synopsis: Gaius Caesar Germanicus (or Caligula) oversees the murder of his aging uncle, the mad and corruptly decadent Emperor Tiberius so that he may take the throne. Thus begins a long series of sexual excesses, depravity, rape, murder, insanity, and debasement. Caligula proves to be so mad both with power and in the traditional sense, that his advisors have him and his family killed, giving over the throne to the half wit Claudius.
Interesting Fact: After raping Proculus’ wife, Caligula was meant to sodomize Proculus himself. Malcolm McDowell refused to do it, and Tinto Brass instead suggested the off-screen fisting which is seen in the movie.
Objectionable material: Fisting, nudity, murder, urination, money shots, explicit sex, implicit sex, incest, rape, orgies, bashing a child’s head against the floor, historical inaccuracies out the wing wong, syphilis, homosexuality, suicide, regicide, crucifixion, a depiction of the Roman legionnaires as a bunch of naked guys hacking at reeds, prostitution, Malcolm McDowell with a beard
Disturbing Quote: I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a God.
Screaming Girl: When I was a child my parents weren’t really all that strict about what I watched. My mother was a journalist and my father worked at a liberal arts college so they weren’t so keen on censorship. However there was a list of movies that my sisters and I were not allowed to watch for no other reason than that they were against my parents beliefs. I don’t come from a religious family, I come from a political family so the movies that were forbidden were James Bond movies (because of the obvious objectification and degradation of women) and Charelton Heston movies (because my father, despite owning guns of his own was a rabid anti-NRAer and a big believer in gun control).
Surprisingly because of our parents willingness to let us watch basically whatever we wanted my sisters and I always followed the rules except for once when I didn’t realize Planet of the Apes was a Charelton Heston movie until the end credits. Therefore it was no surprise that when my mother walked in on me watching the opening credits of Caligula when I was 13 I obeyed when she told me to change the channel and not watch the movie. Though she was slightly laughing under her breath.
When I was 15 years old and studying for my Ancient History exam (if by studying I mean watching movies set in the time period and pretending that they are accurate) I decided to walk up to the local video store and rent the movie my mother didn’t want me to watch 2 years earlier. I had seen it while wandering around with some friends and made a mental note to come back for it. By the time I had gotten there the movie was gone and I had to wait almost 8 years to finally see it.
MBRFT and I had been joking about buying the directors cut of Caligula for about a year or more before the controversial movie night was even thought of and it had come to an almost a tug-of-war over who was going to buy it. Well I ended up buying it and I can now say that I own a big budget porn flick.
But back to my parents. Though my parents are divorced they agree on most everything. They both agree I shouldn’t have watched the movie at 13 or 15 and when I finally told them that I bought and watched the movie they both responded with a laugh and “God I haven’t seen that movie since…” My mother of course found the movie controversial because of the objectification and degradation of women. My Father found the movie controversial because of the historical inaccuracies.
I found the movie controversial because it claimed to have an actual diphalia (two penises) in it, and because they killed a child by picking her up by her feet and slamming her into the stairs. I didn’t see the diphalia and the truth of the matter is that it could have been a really good movie without the hour of hard core sex added into it. Other than that it’s just yet another movie for me to add to my future list of movies my kids won’t be allowed to watch, which will be hard to do because I own it.
Mind Fuckability Scale: The Romans are weird.
MBRFT: I’ve sat through Caligula in its entirety twice now and I still only fleetingly remember moments from it. I know at one point I was watching a bloated and pretentious historical epic and then at some point it became a bloated and pretentious hard-core porno flick. And bloated and pretentious are not words you want associated with a porno film. After the budget and creative disputes surrounding Twentieth-Century Fox’s “Cleopatra” brought a major movie studio to the brink of destruction in the 60’s, Bob Guccione and friends decided they could succeed where others failed miserably and went to work on a lengthy and lavish sword-and-sandal epic of their own. And just to further fuck with fate, they shot it in the same Roman studios. But “Caligula” had something “Cleopatra” didn’t: gratuitous sexual content.
So, do extraneous scenes of “sex orgies, masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, anal fisting, male and female homosexuality, cross-dressing and transvestism, sibling incest, rape, male and female urination” (thank you, Wikipedia*) help make the 156 minute runtime go by any quicker? Nope. This movie’s still no more interesting than a Latin textbook. The titular character, played by Malcolm McDowell (once again proving he will do any film that allows him to show his penis), is notorious as one of history’s most eccentric and sadistic rulers as well as a proponent of equine rights. However, he compares to his syphilitic pre-cursor Tiberius like a fresh-faced JFK facing Nixon in the televised 1960 Presidential Debates (I paid more attention in History class than Latin). The intended message of the film seems to be that Caligula was a crazy out-of-control bastard, but considering the massive orgy of unbridled sex and power he’s exposed to before he takes the throne, he seems to be only following the conveniently appropriate expression “When in Rome.” But it’s meaningless to analyze the character, since the filmmakers basically abandoned whatever artistic merits the film had when they cut hard-core porno into it without telling the major actors.
It’s funny that every subsequent release of the film on home video keeps adding additional scenes, when you could probably edit this beast down into a fairly coherent hour and a half and still keep all the noteworthy gross-out moments. If you really want to see “sex orgies, masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, anal fisting, male and female homosexuality, cross-dressing and transvestism, sibling incest, rape, male and female urination,” then go on the internet. It’s the new Rome.
*I’ll leave those hotlinks in there for anyone who wants further reading.
PsychoLarry: Caligula is what you get when you cross Gore Vidal’s overbearing pompous liberal ideas about power and corruption and Penthouse magazine’s desire for blow jobs and tits. It’s not just Caligula gaining the throne and saying to himself “Hey, this absolute power sure makes me want to have sex with my sister and fist this soldier in the ass, look at me, I’m a hyperbolic analogy for the modern Chief Executive!”, you also get Caligula gaining power and saying “Now that I’ve made all the Senator’s wives official state prostitutes, let’s make sure the audience gets to see in extreme close up what prostitution entails!” Caligula doesn’t just rape women on their wedding day then execute their husbands for the treason of being loyal citizens, he also sleeps with his sister and wife at the same time while two lesbians watch from a peephole! It’s like the best of both worlds, if one of those worlds is made up of Gore Vidal’s massive ego.
The pacing of the film works sort of like this: Plodding horrifically overacted scene about politics that bears little resemblance to actual historical events – plodding horrifically overacted scene about politics with a bunch of naked people in the background – hard core sex scene! – plodding horrifically overacted scene about politics (possibly with naked people). If this column has taught me anything, it’s that nudity can be very boring when it is a constant thing, and sometimes just silly, like when they decide to throw in a naked man with a visible erection walking around on stilts.
As dull as much of the movie is despite the random acts of sex thrown in and the nearly constant nudity, and as insulting as it is to anyone with a grasp of history, I will give Caligula one major point: It has a 5 story, 150ft. wide red lawnmower of death (around :19 in the trailer). I fully support any giant wall of death for use in state executions. I think if Texas killed their convicts with a massive doom wall headclipper instead of lethal injection everyone would be much happier for it. Outside of the convicts obviously.
If you’re looking for a porn film, this is a 210 minute movie that happens to have some boobs and exactly one money shot. If you’re looking for a historical epic, this is a movie with a man getting anal fisted. Really you can do a lot better for yourself on either front.
– I can’t tell you when the next Crossing the Line will be out, or what it will discuss, but boy howdy I bet it will be the best one yet, next to all those other really great ones!