Caligula, Bob Guccione’s extraordinary historical epic of sex, violence and all round excess, if one of my favourite films. With no sense of irony, I think it’s a masterpiece – not only a glorious example of filmmaking that doesn’t give a damn about who it upsets, but one that is constantly interesting, visual astonishing, and provocative. But Caligula is also a troubled film, in terms of the production, with both screenwriter Gore Vidal and director Tinto Brass taking their names off the project (there’s actually no director credit), assorted different cuts, global censorship projects and everyone else involved lining up to disown the project after Guccione added around six minutes of hardcore footage featuring Penthouse Pets to the movie (though actually, the footage is skilfully added and doesn’t hurt the movie at all – and most of the explicit footage in the film was filmed by Brass, with the full knowledge of the cast). Caligula actually made a lot of money, and now has a much better reputation now than it had in 1980, but it’s still seen as a byword in self indulgence, bad taste and cinematic follies. Some people just have no taste.
Guccione certainly promoted the film furiously, with a special edition of Penthouse, a novelisation and a soundtrack album on the newly created Penthouse Records label. This LP perhaps reflects the production difficulties around the film production nicely, as it mixes an original score by Bruno Nicolai, using the pseudonym Paul Clemente, with classical music extracts including and excerpt from the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from the ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian, which unfortunately – as far as British viewers at the time were concerned – was also the theme music used for the BBC TV series The Onedin Line.
This same piece also formed the basis of a curious edition to the soundtrack LP, the reasoning for which has never quite been explained. The LP came with a twelve inch single that featured a vocal version of the piece, titled We Are One, with writing actually attributed to soundtrack producer Toni Briggs and sung by Lydia Van Huston, credited here simply as ‘Lydia’. It’s a curious effort – a gentle ballad with lyrics that are essentially a hymn to incest, with lyrics like “we are one, and the same, created by the same father”. Quite why anyone thought that Caligula needed a “love theme” is anyone’s guess, especially as the song does not appear anywhere on the actual movie. But it makes perfect sense compared to the flipside of the twelve inch, which is a dance version of the same song. It’s identical to the original for about thirty seconds before suddenly kicking into an utterly ludicrous disco number that, even in 1980, must’ve felt a bit dated. There’s funky bass, noodling guitar, out of tune keyboards and no sign of Lydia until two more minutes have passed. It all feels staggeringly inappropriate, though I imagine Caligula himself might have approved of Studio 54.
Both songs were recorded at Motown Studios, using the original score as the base for the standard version, and session musicians for the dance version. Both tracks were clearly designed as promotional material rather than any sort of enhancement of the movie – and both songs were also issued as stand-alone seven inch, with the dance version as the A side. It wasn’t a hit, and doesn’t seem to have been packing out the dance floor. The very existence of this record is baffling and hilarious. But oddly, it also feels like exactly the sort of eccentric idea that fits in perfectly with the gleeful excess and unrestrained indulgence of Caligula.