Neglected Virtues: Caligula (1979)
Publication date: 01/12/2017
Caligula was touted by producer Bob Guccione as a bold new work of art. With a name cast it was to date the largest investment in the so-called “adult” movie. Initially planned mid-decade, it responded to a time when pornography was being seen by mainstream critics and “respectable” audiences, some of whom even responded positively. This brief legitimization of the American porno film as a distinct genre also coincided with a move in Italian cinema of the period towards depictions of often sadistic excess, with Salo and Salon Kitty garnering much controversy. When Guccione struck a deal with author Gore Vidal to script Caligula it seemed that he would indeed have a prestigious work. However, soon Vidal and director Tinto Brass fought repeatedly over the central characterization and Guccione had to arbitrate. Guccione also had a more explicit vision in mind than Brass and would return with the crew (and director Giancarlo Lui) to film additional scenes for later insertion into the completed film. When Vidal saw what the project was turning into, he insisted that his name be removed from the credits. Likewise, Brass disapproved of Guccione’s alterations (the addition of hardcore footage) and refused to yield his right to final cut. The film spent years in dispute, with Brass finally paid off. When the highly anticipated film was duly released, far from transforming American cinema, it became the most excoriated film ever made.
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