Directed by: Alexander Tuschinski
Written by: Alexander Tuschinski
Starring: Alexander Tuschinski, Kelly Holland, Bonifacio Tonto
Documentary Film Review by: Chris Olson
Electric with myth, legend, and hearsay, short documentary Mission: Caligula is the exciting story behind filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski’s devotion and ongoing plan to restore a version of the notorious seventies film Caligula. However, unlike most movie restoration projects, this is not for aesthetic or technical reasons, instead the version which Tuschinski plans to painstakingly piece together is going to be more aligned to that of the original filmmaker, Tinto Brass, who was famously dismissed from the film during production.
Starring iconic performers such as Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, and Malcolm McDowell, Caligula is famous not only for its front of camera talent, but the drama and theatrics that occurred off screen. Not only was Brass dismissed during production, the author of the original screenplay, Gore Vidal, also sued to have his name removed from the film as the version Brass was making was too far removed from his vision. In the end, the production team, headed by Bob Guccione, finished the film by ruthlessly cutting and chopping the footage as well as shooting more and extending scenes (many of which were pornographic).
Fast forward almost four decades and the film is still a controversial one. In Mission: Caligula we are able to chart the journey of Tuschinski in this epic tale. He originally became fascinated with Brass’ filmmaking and did his university thesis on Caligula, thereby lighting a fire under him to pursue this artistic rebirth. He tracked down the new owner of Caligula, Kelly Holland (who is the CEO of Penthouse) at Cannes Film Festival and joined forces with her to track down more of the film’s original footage and materials, a journey which spanned multiple continents. We also hear from Brass’ son Bonifacio Tonto, who gives a fascinating insight into the life on set of Caligula and the work of his parents.
What’s so inspiring about Mission: Caligula is the relentless passion of Tuschinski and his undeniably entrancing quest. In a world where many mainstream blockbuster films are diagnosed with studio tampering and often feel like they have failed to live up to our expectations given the talent supposedly involved, it is remarkable to see a new generation filmmaker go so enthusiastically in search of another’s vision and devote so much of his time and energy to resurrecting a piece simply on the grounds of artistic merit.
In terms of a documentary, there are a few small issues. The number of talking heads is a little low and some of the sound quality could be improved, but there is an anarchic energy to Tuschinski (present in his previous films) that utterly emanates from the screen and grips you like…well not like a sledgehammer to the head (a sequence in Caligula) but sometimes similar. The whole piece feels like a glorious treasure hunt for film fans and is a must watch for any Brass devotee.
Now, we just need to set Tuschinski on the path of all the other movies ruined by studios. Who has the number for those Suicide Squad guys?
Watch the official movie trailer below…