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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 15: Caligula (1979): Rome Goes All The Way
One of the tamer scenes in Caligula’s penthouse.
If in the 50s Rome was the center of political oppression, by the 60s and 70s, the ancient empire was more celebrated as the capital of sexual decadence. The bawdy Rome of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum evolved into the X-ratedRome of the Penthouse boss Bob Guccione-produced Caligula. Gore Vidal, who’d worked on Ben-Hur, had crafted a script about the famous emperor, and approached the infamous skin-mag publisher for funding. Vidal brought a script, his literary name, and his connection to Hollywood talent like Malcolm MacDowell and John Geilgud; Guccione brought cash and his demands that there be more sex in the film. Visually inspired by the excess of Satyricon, the cast included MacDowell as Caligula, Peter O’Tolle as Tiberius, John Geilgud as Nerva, and Helen Mirren as Caesonia, Caligula’s wife. The film co-stars, in the words Jim McBride of MrSkin.com., “112 breasts, 41 butts and 46 mounds of pubic fluff.” Mirren (who contributed her share of parts to McBride’s inventory) credits the movie for allowing her to buy her first house. Historian Gais Suetonius Paulinus (69-130 A.D.), the Kitty Kelly of Ancient Rome, documented the sexual depravity of Caligula and other Roman rulers, describing scenes that were even too much for Guccione. Speaking of the Emperor Tiberius, he writes, “He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe.”