Caligula (1979) Part Three

The third and last part of the vicissitudes of Tinto Brass’ Caligula. After the trouble with the Board of censors, the seizure and the verdict of obscenity, another chapter was added…


With an amnesty dated December 18, 1981 the crime of obscenity was declared “judicially extinguished” for the Italian law (the equivalent of a legislative pardon). Therefore, Rossellini could have access to the 160,000 metres of negative stored at the Technicolor lab in Rome.

Since the positive copies were still under seizure after the ruling on the part of the Bologna judge, and the trial was still ongoing, the producer decided to prepare a new and different edit, so as to at least partly recover the economic loss caused by the seizure. The license of distribution to PAC was revoked, and a new deal was signed between Felix Cinematografica and Gaumont: the result was Io, Caligola, which was submitted to the Board of censors on November 30, 1983.

The request for a screening certificate was accompanied by a letter penned by Rossellini himself, who explained in detail the reasons and the peculiarities of the new edit, about 40 minutes shorter than the one which had been submitted in 1979:

«The applicant [Felix Cin.] has produced in ’76 the motion picture Caligula […]. Over the last five years this film has been programmed in the following countries: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Great Britain, Japan, Germany […] and as of today it has reached a total gross of about 80 million dollars. It is absolutely the Italian film that has achieved the highest foreign earnings.

io, caligolaFollowing the request dated July 9, 1979, this Ministry granted the certificate on July 10 […] but once the distribution had started in the province of Forlì, the film was seized and then released from seizure. Upon observation of said authority, Mr. Franco Rossellini […] set out to perform a very delicate work so as to eliminate, with modification such as to avoid that the story and the artistic expressions of the film be unbalanced, any sign of obscenity on the released copy of the film. Unexpectedly, the distribution company for the Italian territory, PAC, started to exploit the film in its previously seized version, against the producer’s will, so that the film was again put under seizure for the offense of obscenity […] and while the criminal judgment is pending, the seizure of the positive copies of the film has been maintained, in the version released by PAC, which is the one authorized by the Ministry.

Felix Cinematografica, the owner and exclusive holder of the rights for all the negative and positive material ever used in the version put under seizure […], has produced a separate edition and a completely different cut from the previous one, regarding diversity, originality and editing […] in which all the elements of the film have been innovated. Namely:

 The title

2) Re-editing (by [Enzo] Micarelli)

Musical score for the new edition (by Renzo Rossellini)

Re-editing of the musical score

Recording of the sound effects

Re-editing of the special effects.

The film must be therefore considered a “quid novi” [something new] with respect to the seized one.»

Of course, Rossellini omitted to say that in many foreign countries Caligula had aroused the same indignant reactions as in Italy. For instance, in the United States, the vice-general attorney in the county of Fulton (State of Georgia), Mc Cauliff, demanded its seizure and the destruction of the copies, sided by the “Morality in Media Inc.”, the national association against obscenity in the movies.

On January 4, 1984, however, the 5th section of the Board sent a telegram to the cabinet of the Minister. Summarizing the vicissitudes of the film, the commissioners asked whether it would be possible to accept Rossellini’s request or not:

«Given the complexity of the matter, the review of the case is returned to this Office of Cabinet, and we are waiting to know whether the examination of a second edition of the film is admitted, assuming that the competent Commission will verify that the material is different from the one that is the object of the seizure order.»

Soon after, the Legislative Office of the Ministry of Spectcle gave a positive response:

«I believe that there is no legal obstacle to the submission of the film in order to obtain a censorship visa. Either the film is to be considered a reworking or, more so, a new work […]. It will be the exclusive task of the designated Commission to decide whether to verify or not the correspondence of its content to the film Caligula».

The news that the application for a new certificate had been accepted bothered both PAC and Penthouse. Both companies, through lawyer Gianni Massaro, tried in vain to block the film’s release.

«I formally inform you that my clients,» wrote Massaro on January 20, 1984, «have never agreed, nor do they agree now, to any manipulation of the original version and the residual footage of Caligula, nor to the creation of another version of the film which, apparently, has been prepared and submitted in the most absolute secrecy by Felix Cinematografica in order to obtain a certificate […]. Therefore, my clients oppose and are reserving to take any action against the submission to the Board in order to obtain a new censorship visa for any new edition of the film Caligula, which in its original version is still subject to the criminal court’s judgment.»

caligola tinto brass

The companies’ appeal was ignored, and on March 16, 1984, Io, Caligola was reviewed by the 7th Section of the Board. The Commission, however, claimed to be incapable to decide whether the copy submitted for review was different from the one under seizure.

On March 23, the same Commission viewed the film again and compared it with the “old” version. The judgment was the following:

«Having viewed the film Caligula (original version), having noted that some scenes (namely those considered determinant by the Court of Appeal of Bologna on April 28, 1982, in order to detect the offense) are not included in the film Io, Caligola […], procedes to vote on the preliminary matter of the correspondence of the latter motion picture to the the film Caligula […]. By the majority, the Commission considers that the examined film does not correspond to the original version (Caligola), and therefore its examination in order to grant a screening certificate is not precluded.»

Some members opposed to the granting of the certificate: Dr. Maccagatta and scriptwriter Giovanni Simonelli, pointed out that the new version «basically repeats in its essence and details the previous film, whose ethos [Greek for “character”] remains unchanged, and undoubtedly inspired the ruling of the Court of Appeal of Bologna».

The censorship visa was therefore conditioned to the cut of several scenes and shots, for a total of 177,40 metres (approximately 6 minutes and 25 seconds). Below is the list of the cuts as reported in the minutes of the session:

1st reel:
Pool scene, Senator’s penis;
Pool scene, Tiberius dressed in red among his courtiers;
Pool scene, woman turning in the water;
Pool scene, Tiberius dressed in white speaking to Caligola;
Pool scene, Tiberius dressing;
Pool scene, the embrace between Tiberius and Caligula after the dressing;
Tiberius and Caligula walk among the courtiers engaged on sexual activity;
Orgy scene of the courtiers;
Second orgy scene of the courtiers.

2° Reel:
Caligula and Tiberius among monstruous human beings; a horse-man and other monsters, including the three-eyed woman;
The nude body of a killed woman laid on the ground and other scenes of people nude in the ground, impaled or crucified;
Men washing themselves with mud;
Naked woman washing the floor;
Various tortures.

 3° Reel:
Scene of Caligula urinating.

 4° Reel:
Caligula sodomizas Cesonia, his bride-to-be;
Scene of the cutting head game in the stadium;
Close-up of a head being severed;
Long shot of a head being severed;
Lidia and Proculo’s wedding: scene of the two newlyweds being raped by Caligula.

 6° Reel:
The dogs eat the murdered Proculo’s penis;
The baby’s head comes out of Cesonia’s body as she gives birth;
Caligula kisses the body of his deceased sister.

7° Reel:
Bordello scene on the galleon: a black man dancing, a naked woman seen from behind engaged in sexual acts.

On March 29, 1984, Io, Caligola was granted the censorship visa, and two days later it was released theatrically.

The film was heavily advertised, with more than 80 copies distributed simultaneously and ads on newspapers promising strong emotions for the moviegoers. But the trick was soon exposed: «Don’t pay attention to advertising», film critic Michele Anselmi wrote in L’Unità, «this Io, Caligola is not “the movie you wanted to see and you have never seen.” It is only a shameless scam concocted by Franco Rossellini, producer and owner of the forbiden film on the “mad” Roman emperor which came out on the Italian screens in 1979 for just two days and a half, due to the usual complaint for obscenity […]. Mind you, it is always a pleasure to witness the defeat of the bigots who seek to safeguard the so-called “common sense of modesty”, but in the case of Caligula tings are somewhat different. Because the film that has been released last Saturday all over Italy […] with a slighly different (there is an added Io) and distributed by the exhausted Gaumont is not exactly the Caligula we know, and which caused a scandal and was consequently banished. The current edition is missing exactly 40 minutes […]. Of course the ads do not talk about the cuts.»

In the same article, Anselmi described the reaction on the part of the moviegoers: some yawned, others giggled; and he underlined how the film, devoid of the scenes that made it infamous, had become a sort of empty box, lacking mordant and interest.

Nevertheless, on April 3, 1984, the Investigating Magistrate of Forlì, Mario Angeletti, ordered it to be seized nationally because of its «obvious obscenity as a whole, with reiterations of images of sexual acts, also unnatural, and gruesome and violent scenes.»

Probably the film’s title was enough for the Magistrate to issue the order.

Franco Rossellini claimed to be «indignant», and swore he would never make a film in Italy ever again.

Who could blame him?

 3/End.

Special thanks to Peter Jilmstad

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