Penthouse’s ‘Caligula’ Restoration Unveils Never-Before-Seen Photos

LOS ANGELES — A new photo book with never-before-seen stills and BTS material from the epic erotic period 1970s superproduction “Caligula” will be released by the Century Guild as part of their collaboration with Penthouse to completely re-imagine the cult period film.

As XBIZ reported in 2020 on the occasion of the project’s kickoff at the L.A. Art Show event, there will also be an upcoming full restoration of the film. The ambitious project, dubbed “Caligula MMXX,” is being currently assembled by the Century Guild’s Thomas Negovan and director E. Elias Merhige, the enigmatic auteur behind the “Nosferatu”-inspired 2000 cult drama “Shadow of the Vampire.”

The photo book, which is being pre-sold via Kickstarter, and the upcoming restoriation were the subject of a lengthy interview with Negovan published yesterday by leading horror and cult film publication Fangoria.

The new photos taken on Rome set are the work of renowned photographer Mario Tursi, who created some of the iconic stills for a who’s-who of 1970s Italian art house directors, including Visconti, Pasolini and Cavani.

Negovan described the surprise of Penthouse’s new owners a few years ago, when they realized they had also purchased a warehouse with all the surviving material of the much beleaguered “Caligula” production.

“It was like the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he told Fangoria. “Huge stacked boxes of original camera negatives, 11,000 black and white photos, 16mm footage of everything that happened behind the scenes. The photos are a source of excitement to see the interaction of what was going on behind the scenes. I knew that with this material we could find out if Malcolm [McDowell, who plays Caligula and claimed that there was a better film to be found in the outtakes] was telling the truth. There was incredible acting in those reels. More interesting than the film itself, is the story of the making of the film. Honestly, looking at how it’s shaping up, I don’t think there’s a single frame from the original that is in our new version.”

Negovan also spoke about how the restoration team is navigating the contradictory multiple visions — screenwriter Gore Vidal’s, director Tinto Brass’ and producer (and Penthouse mogul) Bob Guccione’s — that ultimately doomed the film eventually released in 1980.

“ I think that to try and emulate Tinto Brass’ art, which was in the [theatrically released] edit, it would be trying to emulate something so stylistic and singular,” Negovan said. “It’s such a clear personal style and I felt it would be disrespectful to try to recreate it inauthentically. To me, the most respectful approach to this story was not to go the avant-garde cult film approach, which is what Tinto would do, but to acknowledge its incredibly powerful narrative that Gore Vidal etched out – to try not to impose any opinions beyond service to the intended story, because it’s not our art.”

To read the full interview with Negovan about the return of “Caligula,” visit Fangoria.

To pre-order the photo book via Kickstarter — only available until tomorrow, Wednesday June 30 at 1:30 p.m. (PDT) — click here.

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