Vidal was likewise infuriated by the developments surrounding Caligula, and also sued to have his credit removed. “My name is being used to give prestige to a pornographic film which could be denounced for obscenity,” he complained, adding that “‘Caligula’ is Latin for ‘turkey.’”
In the end, the film’s script was credited as being “adapted from a screenplay by Gore Vidal,” and Brass’s credit was changed to “principal photography by.” Only Guccione stood by the finished product, placing his name above the title as “Bob Guccione presents” and crediting himself with “additional scenes by.” Guccione oversaw a series of editors on the movie, with no one accepting final responsibility; in the end, the film bore the simple credit of “edited by the production.”
The finished version of Caligula premiered in the U.S. on February 15, 1980. Critics immediately picked up on the troubled production. Roger Ebert called it “worthless,” yet admitted that as he exited the theater, hundreds of people were lined up, waiting to see the film. Even with the $7.50 ticket price (double the cost of a regular movie ticket), attendance was so high and screenings so frequent that the film reels quickly needed to be replaced from wear. “History is filled with their nameless gravestones,” Guccione said of the critics, “while the names of the men and women they spent their lives attacking live on.”
Malcolm McDowell, for his part, stands behind his performance in the film, commenting, “I’m proud of the work I did in Caligula. There’s no question about that.” But he also says the Guccione-edited release was “an absolutely outrageous betrayal and quite unprecedented.”
Caligula has anchored one of the most enduring speculative discussions in cinematic history: What could the film have been if completed by other hands? Now, a monumental development will provide an answer to this long-standing question about a different final shape for this controversial creation. For the film’s 40th anniversary, Penthouse has opened the vaults containing the original camera negatives — long believed to have been lost — and a new edit conforming to Gore Vidal’s script is being produced by author and filmmaker Thomas Negovan and director E. Elias Merhige.
This new 40th anniversary version, titled Caligula MMXX, is Penthouse’s first feature-film production since the original Caligula premiered, and will be unveiled in a limited theatrical release in the fall of 2020.
“The story of Penthouse’s Caligula is legendary,” says Negovan. “It occupies a unique place in movie history as being widely considered both the worst film in history and also very possibly the finest film never completed. Of course the opportunity to help bring into the world what we’ve all imagined this film could be was a priceless honor. The immaculate footage we’ve uncovered confirms McDowell’s statement of pride: scene after scene reveals an incredibly dedicated and gripping performance.
“With 96 hours of footage and so many disparate opinions clashing and boiling over during the actual filming process,” Negovan continues, “this isn’t just a film restoration project, it’s an archeological dig. It’s been thrilling beyond words to see so many scenes that had long been thought lost forever — hours and hours of absolutely magical performances by Helen Mirren, Sir John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, and John Steiner, all unseen since they were performed on set over four decades ago. This resurrection of a lost masterpiece will be the most important film event of the year.”
It’s a thrilling turn of events, this new life for a boundary-breaking, fiercely debated film. Stay tuned for more information on its autumn debut.
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