What is Historical About This Flop?
The British Board of Film Classification is having a perplexing summer. After delighting Warner Bros, but surprising most film- goers, by awarding Batman a 12A certificate, it has now decided to allow the release of an uncut version on DVD of a seventies cause celbre, Caligula.
With Batman it decided that the violence was in the main off- screen, never mind that it was described on screen in graphic detail for the 12-year-olds. In the case of Caligula, it has decided that the film is of “historical interest”.
Caligula certainly has a history. Extra sex scenes were shot, after the filming was completed, by its producer, the Penthouse owner Bob Guccione. Malcolm McDowell, who played the title role, has spoken of how he was directed to look in admiration at his horse, but when the film came out he was looking at two lesbians making love.
Caligula is an interesting example of the memory playing tricks, and a movie attaining the status of cult classic when in fact it was a dismal flop at the time of its release.
The BBFC said: “Given that Caligula is a film of historical interest, we felt we could pass it uncut.”
But what exactly does that mean? If adults should be free to choose their own entertainment within the law, then what does it matter if the film is of historical interest or not? And what does historical interest mean in terms of films? A discredited flop whose cast and scriptwriter were appalled by the final product? What film renowned for excessive sex, violence and bestiality is not of “historical interest”?
Adults should indeed be free to choose their own entertainment within the law. And the BBFC would do best to leave it at that, and not dream up spurious rationales.
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