The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: Caligula
The first time I ever saw porno (just kidding mom, this is a made up story about jokes) was in junior high school. It was at a sleepover at my friend Matt’s house, and our other friend, Dorian, brought a VHS from his collection. His collection! It’s important for sixth grader’s to have extra-curricular hobbies I guess. I wonder whatever happened to Dorian. I mean, like, I wonder what jail he is in now? Anyway, the movie was called Girls of the USA, but the label had shortened it to GUSA, and to this day whenever I think of porno (just kidding mom, hahaha, I don’t even think about anything!), the name GUSA (pronounced Goose-a) still seems to me like the One True Porn Title. At some point, we lost the video in Matt’s basement? I don’t know how that happened. I also don’t know if they ever found the tape, because eventually I had to go home. I couldn’t just live in Matt’s basement forever solving the GUSA Emergency. Anyway, the point is that watching Caligula as an adult was similar to my first porn watching experience as a child. Like, very uncomfortable, surprisingly boring, constantly wondering when it would be over, and although I did not lose the DVD in Matt’s basement after watching it, I wish I had. I wish I had lost every copy in existence.
It should be noted that there is at least one NSFW image after the jump:
Caligula is about Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who ruled Rome for 37-41 C.E. Very little is known for sure about him, and what few historical accounts of him exist are often in conflict with each other. So what better way to teach people about this historical figure than with an INSANE PORNO? Perfect, now you don’t have to go to college*. Basically, his great uncle, Tiberius, was the tyrannical emperor of Rome who had syphilis and lived on the island of Capri. Then he died, maybe by murder, but in the movie definitely by murder, and Caligula (whose name means Little Boots! He’s like a one man Fleet Foxes cover band!) became emperor. For the next two and a half hours he proceeded to fuck and kill everything. Often he would kill people during or right after he was done fucking them. At one point he got sick. But then he got better. And if anything, he only fucked and killed everything more. He really loved fucking his sister, but then she died, so he focused a lot of his attention on killing again. But also fucking, it’s not like he ever stopped fucking. Eventually, after a ton of fucking and killing, he was assassinated. The end.
I suppose this could have been an interesting commentary on the old adage that power corrupts, but absolute power gives you a boner (I am pretty sure I got that right), except that it just isn’t? Like, just because you tack on a bible quote about corruption at the beginning of a movie doesn’t mean the movie actually has anything to say about corruption. “People who become rulers of the Western World should try and keep their heads on straight or else they will edit a fifteen minute long graphic sex scene out of nowhere in the middle of everything.” Right, got it. Lesson learned. I will put it in my Important Notes to Self in the Event of World Domination Notebook.
I did learn the historical fact that Rome was where erotic cakes originated:
And this makes me laugh so much:
I’m pretty sure this movie won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects.
But everything else seemed like pretty much bullshit. Roger Ebert, in his original 1979 review, summed things up pretty nicely:
“Caligula” is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length. That was on Saturday night, as a line of hundreds of people stretched down Lincoln Ave., waiting to pay $7.50 apiece to become eyewitnesses to shame.
I wanted to tell them … what did I want to tell them? What I’m telling you now. That this film is not only garbage on an artistic level, but that it is also garbage on the crude and base level where it no doubt hopes to find its audience. “Caligula” is not good art, It is not good cinema, and it is not good porn.
And this from the guy who wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls! (Which is great, but you see my point! Ebert knows where the line in the trash is drawn.)
That last part is really important. Because this could have at least been really good porn! It’s basically the Funny People of 1979. Like how Funny People‘s comedy wasn’t funny enough and it’s drama wasn’t dramatic enough? Here, the history isn’t historical enough and the porn isn’t give you a boner enough. Gross. Sorry. But true. It’s like Mel Gibson said in Signs: everything gives you a boner for a reason.
What’s most amazing about Caligula, and is of course the only reason that anyone is even talking about it anymore, is how many otherwise seemingly talented people were involved in its creation. Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren were all successful actors when this came out. And a screenplay written by Gore Vidal? It’s like, uh, what? When financing fell through, Vidal turned to Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who basically said “Sure, I’ll pay for your movie as long as you put one thousand more blowjobs into it.” The best part is that it wasn’t until later, in disagreements with the director, that Gore Vidal tried to distance himself from the project? The whole “let’s make this a little bit about history but mostly about blowjobs as an advertisement for my filthy magazine” part didn’t bother him. It was the director who trashed his lights.
Whatever, have you seen Gore Vidal’s Italian villa? He ain’t care.
I think that my experience of watching Caligula is encapsulated in the fact that I turned it off 10 minutes before it ended. Oh, I went back later, rested and refreshed with a steely reserve and finished the movie, but at the two hour and twenty minute mark I was like OK, THAT IS ENOUGH FOR NOW. Bad news bears.
In Two Weeks: Rachel Getting Married. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.
*I was going to point out last week with Beowulf that you didn’t have to go to college, but it works here as well. Congratulations, now we are all geniuses.