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based on Gore Vidal's original screenplay
Gore Vidal's Caligula

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Futura, London, 1979
price: 95p; 208 pages

The blurb on the back:

A man, a monster, an Emperor ... he murdered his grandfather, slept with his sister, made a Senator of his horse ... he terrorised Rome, made a brothel of the Senate, altered the very nature of the Empire...
A novel in the grand manner, sexy, colourful, memorable ... the 'hero' one of history's most remarkable characters, the era one of history's most decadent ...
A truly remarkable motion picture, lavish, spectacular, glittering with stars, glistening with superb settings, costumes ... the sort of movie 'they don't make any more' ...

opening lines:
A small sound, no louder than a crackle, split the blackness of the bedroom. It startled him, and he raised his tongue from her nipple and turned his head in apprehension.

Everyone loves a good Roman epic: Spartacus, Ben Hur, Barabbas, Gladiator, Caligula ... well, actually the last one is a bit of a weak link. The only big budget Roman movie to emerge between the glory days of the 1950s/60s and the Ridley Scott revival, Caligula was conceived by Gore Vidal as a study of decadence and politics. As produced by Bob Guccione, it turned out to be a study of soft porn, a toga party populated by British thespians, who should have known better, and by Penthouse Pets, who patently didn't. It was also, before you go running away with the idea that it might be fun, two and a half hours long: an absurdly inflated piece of work that could have lost an hour without anyone noticing and might have made a decently cheesy bit of pornography that encapsulated the '70s for a cult audience.

By the time it actually came out, Vidal had disowned the project but was still credited as the writer. In fact, pretty much everyone associated with the thing disowned it: I doubt that it turned up on very many CVs in the next couple of decades. So fragmented and messy was the film's creation that the spin-off novel actually got released a year before the movie itself.

For students of the film (see the website below), this makes it an invaluable guide to deleted scenes. To the rest of us, the book is no more than a curiosity. It's not actively bad - indeed it's quite passable as a novelization - but it is entirely pointless. And somewhat salacious. If I point out, for example, that in the opening sentences quoted above, the man raising his head is Caligula, and the nipple from which he raises it belongs to his sister, you may get some idea of where we're heading.

Apparently the American edition came complete with stills. Sadly, this one doesn't. So I have nothing further to share with you.

PS A correspondent, Ian Covell, tells me that there was an earlier British paperback that had photos. Sounds like a much more collectable volume, but regrettably it's not one I possess.

visit a site dedicated to Caligula


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