He should be perverse and cruel like his hero: Caligula. For 36 years he was on the list of media harmful to young people. If you were a young film fan looking for scandalous films in the 90s or early 2000s, you couldn’t avoid the concoction with A Clockwork Orange star Malcolm McDowell. The turbulent production history of the film, which was released in 1979, has long since become a legend itself. It also led to the creators distancing themselves from the film about the orgiastic Roman emperor Caligula and several versions of different lengths were released, none of them the “definitive”.
He should new Caligula Ultimate Cut Change, which was presented to the public at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The new version aims to salvage the reputation of a film associated with porn scenes and behind-the-scenes chaos.
That’s why Caligula has such a miserable reputation and is still a cult
Film critic Roger Ebert referred to Caligula as “disgusting, absolutely worthless, shameful trash”. Ebert had seen a version of the historical drama in which the story is interrupted by real sex scenes. There were much greater ambitions behind the production.
Renowned writer Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay about the self-destructive scion of Rome. Cult director Tinto Brass directed and well-known stars such as Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud gathered in front of the camera. The bickering began with the writer and director, who disagreed about the creative vision. They escalated in the decision of the producer of Penthouse (yes, right, to the Penthouse) to insert unsimulated sex scenes against the will of the creatives.
Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren in Caligula
In Germany, the decadent march landed on the index and was only removed from the list of media harmful to young people in 2018. In the meantime, different versions have appeared in bootleg and other versions. Caligula’s reputation, therefore, owes both to its cinematic production history, scathing reviews and the notion that what may have been a ’70s masterpiece got lost between porn scenes. The curiosity about the Ultimate or Caligula MMXX Cut is therefore all the greater.
That’s what’s “new” about the new Caligula version
Caligula’s Ultimate Cut promises a new old version. Producer Thomas Negovan reviewed around 90 hours of original footage and sound recordings from the set and created a new cut based on Gore Vidal’s script. The running time of the restored version is 157 minutes. This version does not contain any real sex scenes, but is intended to free the story of the quasi-incestuous emperor from the sleazy drawer and encourage critical debate. Fans can look forward to never-before-seen footage from the decadent hell of Rome.
The new Caligula is praised in the French film magazine Premiere. The magazine describes this version as a cross between Fellini’s Satyricon and the HBO series Rome, but by no means a lost masterpiece:
Even if he is clean, neat and well-combed, Caligula remains a dirty object of the 70s – the emperor rapes a couple during the wedding ceremony with all the details. […] Still, you really have the feeling of discovering a new film, maybe a bit more radical but still just as monstrous.
Tinto Brass is already threatening to use his lawyer
Is it the definitive one? Hardly, since Vidal and Tinto Brass were two conflicting spirits over the project right from the start. The 90-year-old Tinto Brass has already distanced himself from the Ultimate Cut and threatened legal action in a statement, Variety reports.
Brass states that he is convinced that that this new version could not correspond to his vision. Negotiations about his participation had therefore failed in advance.
Given the history of this film, one should have guessed that even the possible “rescue” of Caligula would not come about without a legal dispute. There is still no German release date for Caligula’s Ultimate Cut.