When the archives were opened, beneath the dust we discovered that the original camera negatives and location sound were in pristine condition, miraculously untouched by time.
While promoting Caligula during a 1980 Penthouse magazine interview, Guccione joked that Tinto Brass had shot enough footage to “make the original version of Ben-Hur about 50 times over.”
This prodigious collection of archival material contains countless goosebump moments. The most exciting aspect? In the rescued footage, McDowell and Mirren deliver breathtaking performances no one has seen for 40 years. Enabled by the unearthing of the original materials, and guided by the narrative of Vidal’s original shooting script and the vision of Tinto Brass, the recut Caligula can be viewed as the discovery of an entirely lost film starring two of the world’s most celebrated actors.
One unforgettable moment involves a scene in the Roman Senate. It exists in the original release, but what is most powerful happens after Guccione’s edit ends. The camera slowly pans up to Mirren as Caesonia, watching her emperor-husband unleash pandemonium upon the Senate. Caesonia looks on, pleased; she releases a coy giggle. As the scene continues, her mood shifts: with a glint in her eye she raises her chin dramatically, surveying the melee below like a satisfied goddess of chaos.
I hope you’ll be watching next autumn when this moment — and many more like it — are presented in Caligula MMXX.
Learn more about the 40th anniversary release of “Caligula” at caligulammxx.com.
You can see more on Caligula on these pages.