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A screen orgy A screen orgy
by Thanos Kalamidas
Issue 12
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Information
Film
Caligula
Tinto Brass
1979
The first time I saw the film I was still a student and despite all the promotion at the time I really believed that I was going to see a historic film. Naïve? Perhaps but Roman history has always been an obsession for me and in the same period there was a classic television series called I Claudius - one of my all-time favorites as a TV series and a book. By the way, the original title of the film is Io, Caligula reminding of Robert Graves' book.

The best thing was that I went to watch the film with my then girlfriend and since she was familiar with my historic obsessions I had to try hard and persuade her to come. And that was till the first scenes of the film, while Caligula meets his uncle, Emperor Tiberius. Malcolm McDowell meeting Peter O'Toole had the same effect on me as Jack Nicholson; you have the sense that this man is not playing mad, he is mad. Dangerously mad!

The Roman emperor is described by the books as the tough and raw general who became to keen for the temptations in the last years of his life. What you see on the screen is an orgy. An orgy that covers all kind of sizes, dimensions and colors.

Caligula was mad and this is a fact, mad with a strong libido that manipulated his actions; his very own sister was his lover, actually she was the only woman he was somehow devoted. When he became emperor, the man led Rome into a huge brothel in a constant orgy. One sexual scene follows the other but please don't think that this is a porno film or anything like that.

The story follows history to the letter, Malcolm McDowell as Caligula is superb, Peter O'Toole a fantastic Emperor Tiberius Caesar, Lori Wagner is Agrippina and Sir John Gielgud is Nerva, the last democrat according to Julius Caesar.

I think that film taught me the difference between a sex film and an artistic film with sex. The scene with the two women in bed might arouse a lot of fantasies to male readers but it is totally artistic and after one point what you notice is two beautiful bodies. I mean it is like two living statues that praise the beauty of the woman's body.

The scene when Caligula rapes the bride and the groom in a wedding ceremony is exactly that. It is a disgusting rape scene, even though the director leads you in detail you just have to close your eyes. There is no sex there, there is pure violence.

The sex scenes are balanced with the story and the text inside the film. A scene I really liked was the suicide scene with Nerva, where Sir John Gielgud is inside a huge glass bath bleeding slowly and explaining the reasons that led him to that decision.

I have to admit that I haven't seen any other work from Tinto Brass, the Italian director of the film, but the name of Franco Rossellini behind the dialogue is known and even if that's his only known film it is enough to put him in the history of cinema.

The marketing department of the production did, in my opinion, the only damage to the film, promoting the sex scenes and attracting a controversial audience, leading the film into controversy itself; and this is the point about this film, if you manage to look behind this you will watch a very good film worth adding to any DVD collection…well, as long you keep it away from underage kids!

By the way, my girlfriend went to watch the film again two days later and this time with…her mother! They both found it fantastic!!!
   
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