The Making of Gore Vidal’s Caligula (1979)

“I am God!” Caligula proclaims

Movie critic Robert Ebert walked out on the premiere of Caligula and wrote: “Caligula (1979) is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash”. One of the naughtiest films about Roman history ever made, the movie was adapted from a screenplay by Gore Vidal, and directed by Tinto Brass. It focuses on the murderous reign of mad roman emperor Caligula, who allegedly committed incest with his sisters and endulged in lavish orgies.  The film features major  stars like Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Hellen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell.  At the time it was the most expensive independent film ever made, with fortunes spent on 3592 costumes, in addition to wigs and 64 sets.

Often referred to as “15 million dollar porn”, the producer was Bob Guccione from Penthouse Magazine. When Vidal heard about the explicit sex scenes he went to great lengths to have his name removed from the credits. Guccione orginally intended to be the first of a trilogy on the abuse of power, but that was not to be. When the movie was importet to the US, the footage was confiscated, and several lawsuits followed.  The story about the making of the film, is a fascinating account of conflicting ambitions and censorship.

A documentary on the making of the 1979 movie is available online.

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