The Movie: A True Story
                                             The Films Origins

Roberto Rossellini (the father of Isabella Rossellini!) wrote the original treatment for Caligula about 1972. His nephew, Franco Rossellini, took the treatment to Gore Vidal with the idea of making the movie together, with Franco as the producer and Gore as the writer. Gore Vidal was a renowned novelist, essayist, playwright, and historian. The two needed money, and Gore instinctively thought of Bob Guccione's name!  Gore was a regular contributor to Penthouse Magazine writing insightful articles on many issues of the day. Bob was the genius behind Penthouse, founding the magazine in London, England, and moving it to New York City, publishing the first U.S. issue in September 1969.
Bob Guccione and Penthouse had invested in movies before, with "Chinatown" (1974, directed by Roman Polanski), "The Longest Yard" (1974, directed by Robert Aldrich), and "The day of the Locust" (Directed by John Schlesinger, and released on May 7 1975). With Caligula, Bob wanted to have a more hands on role in the actual making of the film. Bob fronted the total original budget of 17.5 million. With interest, this had swelled to 22 million by the time of the film's first release in 1979!
So Bob Guccione was brought into the project, and it became "his" film. He had a vision of having old Rome brought to life with all the sexual deviance and bizarre violence that modern cinema could muster. By the end of 1974 both Gore Vidal and Franco Rossellini agreed that Bob was a partner and could include graphic sex and violence in the film. Bob's vision was clear, he wanted a legitimet film with hard core content. (A Blue movie with Stars) Bob also wanted to shock his audience, make them think, and take them to the next level in movie going.

Bob paid Gore Vidal $200,000 to write a script based on Roberto Rossellini's original treatment. As well, Vidal was also entitled to a 10% cut from the profits of the film. In the spring of 1975 Bob picked Tinto Brass to direct the movie. Although Bob didn't know Tinto very well, Tinto had proved through his film "Madame Kitty" (Salon Kitty) that he and Bob shared a vision of sex in the cinema. "Salon Kitty" was exactly what Bob had in mind for Caligula. Soon into the shooting, Gore and Brass had a falling out. Then in June 1976 Gore quit the project over the script issue, and insisted his name be taken off the credits. Bob let Gore go, but without his 10% profit cut. Gore launched a law suit sometime over 1977 to have his name removed, he was unsuccessful.
Set construction began in June 1975, with Academy Award winning art director Danilo Donati at the helm. Danilo was a four time Academy award winning designer, and frequent Fellini collaborator, who created the lavish sets, 64 in all, as well as the detailed costumes. The Emperor himself had 26 costume changes alone, and 3,592 costumes were designed in all! Much research went into the designing of the costumes.

The film was to be shot at Dear Studios in Rome, the same place where Cleopatra had been shot in the early 1960's. Additional exterior footage was shot nearby. The sets were closed to the press.

Casting began in 1976, and actors of the calibre and stature of Sir John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole flew to Rome. Gielgud was originally offered the part of Tiberius, but knocked it back because the script was too pornographic. Peter O'Toole took the part of Tiberius, and Gielgud's agent talked him into taking the lesser part of Tiberius's friend, Senator Nerva. Gielgud talked about the making of Caligula in his autobiography, "An Actor and His Time". After refusing to participate the first time, Gore Vidal sent Gielgud a rather rude letter!

Malcolm McDowell, a hot actor at the time, took the title role of Caligula, and is on screen about 90% of the films 156 minute running time. 

Teresa Ann Savoy was a last minute replacment for Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris) who got cold feet. Teresa was a great choice, and was the second actor from "Salon Kitty" to join the cast of Caligula. John Steiner, who plays Longinus, was also in Salon Kitty. Shakespearian actress Helen Mirren took the role of Caesonia, and famous Italian soccer player Guido Mannari protrayed Macro.

The rest of the cast was filled out with scores of foreign actors and of course thirteen Penthouse Pets. There has been no recorded complete cast list for Caligula, but if there was, it would be huge, I'm sure over 2,500 people contributed to the movie!
Security at Dear Studios was paramount. Bob wanted complete secrecy, and armed gaurds were posted around the clock. As well, there was a complete press black-out, except for a small select few, mostly the European press. Many North American press members tried out for parts in the movie, but they were found out in time! The complete press black-out was a smart gesture of Bob Guccione's part. This kept people guessing to what was going on. Rumours flew, and some of them were pretty wild. It was said that girls were screwing dogs and horses, orgies with hundreds of people, animals killed on camera, children being sexually molested, etc.

According to Piernico Solinas, Franco Rosselini had alot of say in the making of the movie. It was Rossillini who was creating the tension with Tinto Brass and Danilo Donati. Apparently Franco would instruct Tinto to shoot scenes even when the sets wern't quite ready, in order to meet the production schedule. Solinas paints Rossillini as the real villian of the Production. Rossillini and Guccione were joint producers, but it seems Bob may have had his hands full in other areas, while Rossillini called the shots. Solinas also accused Rossillini of mismanaging production money.It seems there was a serious clash of too many strong personalities on the set. 

Shooting ran from August 5th to December 24th 1976, by then, Tinto Brass had shot 120 miles of film. But now, according to Bob Guccione, Tinto's true nature had shown through. Bob says he had fought him on many fronts. Brass had a sick sence of humour, and instead of using Bob's beautiful penthouse pets in some of the sex scenes, he used fat ugly old woman. It's just that Tinto and Bob had different ideas on who should be used where. Much to Danilo Donati's chagrin, Brass also used the sets as little as possible. (Solinas asserts this was because the sets were being used before they were finished) Brass seemed to excel in alienating people who should have been on his team! There were 2 groups formed, Tinto and his production members, and the actors with Bob Guccione.

A real live birth also took place on the set! Seven pregnant women were kept on standby, ready to be filmed as Caesonia giving birth to Julia Drusilla.

The actors too, were tough on the Production team as well. Peter O'Toole rarely showed up on time, and if he did he was strung out on something! Malcolm McDowell, although a great actor, was a tightwad, and billed every penny he spent to the movie, as well hung out with Tinto because he was easy to manipulate. Sir John Gielgud didn't think the film would even get finished, but had no problem collecting his fee. After 18 long and interesting months of production, Tinto declared the film was done.

Looking at the rush's, Bob knew he had to reshoot some of the sex scenes, and add more to keep the film visually stimulating. But he also knew he had to take control of the project, it was his investment, not Tinto's.

So in the early days of January 1977, Bob snuck back into Dear Studios with cinematographer Giancarlo Lui,
13 Penthouse Pets, and a skeleton crew to reshoot. Over the next several days they shot the more explict and sensual scenes of the film. The highpoint of that shooting was the scene featuring Lori Wagner and Anneka di Lorenzo. The sexy scenes would be later weaved into Tinto's work.

As well, Bob cast about 30 people that had appeared in Tinto's work for continuity purposes. The small crew lit, staged, directed and photgraphed everything themselves. Bob had never even used a 35 mm motion picture camera before! The two major scenes that were shot were the Lesbian Tryst scene, and the Imperial Bordello scene, as well as other incidental scenes, like Lori and Anneka admiring the horse head statues as they walk to thier bedroom.

But really, the scenes that Bob shot weren't really any more hard core than what Tinto had already shot, keep in mind there is some graphic sex in Tiberius' Capri Grotto, the scene of the guys masterbating on Ennia, Caligula and Agrippina urinating, the cutting off of Proculus's penis, Livia's rape, and the fantasy scene were Caligula imagines a girl taking a spiked pole and running it over her labia. 
Finally, after 5 days of intense filming, Bob and Giancarlo were done, and they left the set. Because of the nature of the movie, the 120 miles of negative were snuck out of Italy and into Twickenham Studios in England.

According to Asst. Editor and interpreter for the Italians, Stuart Urban, Tinto Brass and his team were sacked by the end of February 1977. Stuart says that they came to work one day, and the editing suites had been hurled out into the snow! It was later said that Tinto was partly fired because Guccione and Lui didn't understand his vision of the picture, he was thinking long term, and they wanted more sex up front. As soon as Tinto realized he had been fired, he launched a lawsuit against Bob Guccione. So Bob counter sued Tinto, who was also suing Gore Vidal, who was suing everybody else!

It was under these conditions that editing of the film continued over 1977  at Twickenham studios in London. Hugh Russell Lloyd came on board as an editor. The 61 year old Welshman had edited over 35 pictures, and knew his craft. However, by the end of 1977 Lloyd was gone, and was replaced by possibly Bob Guccione. It was thought that Lloyd was fired because he (like Tinto) didn't want to include the extra footage that Bob and Giancarlo had shot. The editing process was finally finished by May 1978. As well, all the sound was re-recorded. But that wasn't the end. Technicolor, who were doing the printing of the negative, threatened to throw Guccione out because of the furor that was going on. Guccione was also afraid Technicolor would tip off the police about some of the movie's content. Then the British unions got wind of the movie and started to make noise, telling union members not to work on the movie because it was pornographic. So Guccione had to act. The police actually tried to confiscate the negative, and then Technicolor refused to print the positive.

Bob promptly had the half finished film smuggled to Paris, the negative was hidden in wrongly labelled film cans to trick the authorities. In Paris, (not Rome) editing was completed with Stuart Urban, who had been approached by Guccione to help edit. Some prints were made in Paris. From here the edited negative was flown to New York City, where prints were made. Peter O'Toole started bad mouthing the film before it was even released.

The lawsuits finally came to a conclusion, and the movie finally premiered! The first showing of Caligula was in May 1979 at the Festival de Cannes. This version was longer than the one put on general release. This version may have including the deleted scenes such as the treasury and the sacrificial scenes, among a couple of others. Officially, the film premiered  in Italy in the fall of 1979. To no one's surprise the police shut it down after showing for several days saying the film was too hard core, even though the producers had gone through all the proper legal channels.

In the USA, Guccione refused to submit the film to the M.P.A., because he knew they would rate the movie X, and that would mean Caligula would be written off with the customary effluvium of the porn market. Instead Bob gave it an M.A. rating, meaning it was for Mature Audiences only. Bob also set the ticket price of the movie at $7.50, when most movies were $5. He figured people should be willing to pay to see a film that cost $22 million and four years to make. He didn't even give Press Passes, he made them pay for thier tickets!

In a brillaint business move, Bob took over the Trans-Lux East theatre in New York City, and totally renovated it to show Caligula. The theatre was renamed "The Penthouse East".                                                                            
Bob Guccione has always loathed the press, especially movie reveiwers, as they just seem to cut movies up without any thought. Bob figured if they were going to cut his movie up, he was going to get $7.50 out of the bastards!

Rex Reed's review in the New York Times was the most vicious of all, but in 18 days, the film still grossed $225,105.00. And that was at one theatre, The Penthouse East! Afterwards, the film went on general release, and all over the world, Caligula broke attendance records.

Personally, the only real problem I have with the movie is that it doesn't really build any character development. The characters all seemed pre-determined, and don't stray much. You don't really feel for the characters, you just witness the story. The only character I really felt for was the "Giant", played by Osiride Pevarello, he seemed to really care for Caligula. However my favorite actor was John Steiner as Longinus. Although his character did not develope, he was very good at the part of a humble servant with an ulterior motive. Of the female actors, I thought that Teresa Ann Savoy was brilliant. I think the direction would have helped the character development. Tinto Brass's camera work seems messy, with all it's all long shots or close ups! But I understand now that this was part of his multi-camera technique, and the actual zooms were not supposed to be used in the final edit, the zooms were to get us to another angle to use. Now it makes sence. The editors, Baragli, Lloyd and Urban, as well as Lui, had no idea what Tinto's vision was.

The cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti is top notch. The special effects are very realistic, Franco Celli and Marcello Coccia did an awesome job. The make up work done by Giuseppe Banchelli was fantastic! He did alot of research at the British Museum in London to get Tiberius just right! Also very memorable is the original music by Paul Clemente, as well as the use of the Classical music.  The best aspect of the production had to be the costumes and sets. The costumes involved an array of accessories such as sandals, leg ties, belts, buckles, swords, spears, jewelry and very intricate wigs for the women. To help him with this task, Donati gathered specialists in their particular fields, such as the leather worker from Sienna, Tuscany, who had to shape and nail 2,000 pairs of sandals and military boots. A goldsmith had to fashion rings, earings, necklaces, and tiaras in the traditional Roman style of the period. A celebrated Hungarian sculptor was employed to make the urns, goblets, plates, braziers and statues. Roman colors like white, fawn, purple were dyed into delicate fabrics, some that no longer exsist! Much research was done! Jole Cecchinni had more than 1,000 pounds of human hair that he used to create the exotic wigs used in the film. The sets looked lush and realistic. The pool used in Tiberius' Capri Grotto was filled with 1,346 gallons of pure mineral water, and had to be changed twice daily to keep it's clarity. The water was also heated, in the pool, the bath in which Nerva commits suicide, and the rain that falls on Caligula during his bout with worrying about Gemellus killing him. Again, the only serious drawback was Tinto Brass not using the sets and props as much as he could have.

The film opened in New York City on February 1st 1980. After it's initial cinema run Caligula was given a huge launch on video, where again it turned a massive profit. Bob reaped a reported One Hundred Million dollars from the film, and makes Caligula one of the most successful independent ever. Bob's profits allowed him to build the Penthouse Casino in Las Vegas!

The only drawback about the video was that it was issued in an extremly butchered form, about an hour shorter! There were some restored scenes in the 1989 10th Anniversary VHS edition.

The arrival of the DVD ensured that Caligula would live on, and 12 minutes of previously cut footage was added for the special DVD release.

As well, in September 1999 the 20th Anniversary of the film was celebrated with special showings in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver, Cambridge, and other major cities. This special edition of the movie was digitally remastered and Dolby stereo enhanced.

Twenty one years have passed since Caligula opened, and it's notoriety has little decreased. It's a wonderful film with a great message, and people just don't take the time to understand it. They get caught up in the sex and violence and see little else. The story of Caligula is amazing! To think that at age 24 1/2 one man had such unlimited power. How are we to say we would do anything different put in the same position. Think about that!

(Tomas Amarynceus Achilles St. Aquinas-April 2001)
CALIGULA may very well be the most controversial film in history. Only one movie dares to show the perversion behind Imperial Rome, and that movie is Caligula, the epic story of Rome's "Mad" Emperor. All the details of his bizzare reign are revealed right here: his unholy sexual passion for his sister, his marraige to Rome's most infamous prostitute, his fiendishly inventive means of disposing those who would oppose him.
The combined talents of cinematic giants Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, Sir John Gielgud and Shakespearean actress Helen Mirren, along with an acclaimed international cast and a bevy of beautiful Penthouse Pets, make this unique historical drama a masterwork of the screen.
Not for the squeamish, not for the prudish, Caligula will shock and arouse you as it reveals the deviance and decadence beneath the surface of the grandeur that once was Rome. The most controversial film of the 20th century is now the most controversial film of the 21st century.
                                                    (From the liner notes of the 1999 DVD Release "Caligula")
Back to Main Page
This essay was originally written in 2001, and may not totally reflect how the webmaster thinks today. Just keep an open mind when reading, thanks!