New Documentary 'Mission: Caligula' Screens in L.A. on Monday

New Documentary 'Mission: Caligula' Screens in L.A. on Monday
Rhett Pardon

LOS ANGELES — "Mission: Caligula," a new documentary by Alexander Tuschinski featuring never-before-seen footage from the film “Caligula,” will have its world premiere at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival on Monday.

The screening will include discussion about the documentary from Kelly Holland, CEO of Penthouse Global Media, who was involved in the project, and Tuschinski, the film’s director.

"Mission: Caligula" reveals Tinto Brass’ newly discovered workprint of "Caligula" that was presumed lost for more than 40 years and has a quasi-mythological status among film fans.

The documentary, with a runtime of 40 minutes, also features new interviews with Holland and Bonifacio Brass, the son of Tinto Brass, who tells never-before-heard anecdotes from the set.

Penthouse Global Media, the rights holder of “Caligula,” will later this year produce a new cut of the film, having Tuschinski complete the workprint and edit the remainder of the film following the original style and structure as Brass filmed it in the 1970s.

"Caligula" was produced by Penthouse in the 1970s, and originally directed by Brass, who wanted the film to be a political satire.

Brass in the 1970s was an avantgarde filmmaker with a very unique style, whose films were considered experimental and groundbreaking, and received critical praise.

Brass was dismissed during editing by producer Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, and the film was afterwards newly edited from scratch without Brass’ participation as a drama containing pornographic scenes.

Brass subsequently sued to have his name removed, and no version of the film until now resembles his intentions or style, Tuschinski said.

For years, the raw footage of “Caligula” was presumed lost, making proper reconstruction of the film that Brass wanted to make impossible, Tuschinski said.

His research helped Penthouse’s Holland to locate the footage in 2016.

Holland said that the footage “is one of the most unlikely and incredible finds in the history of film. The footage was forgotten in an archive that somehow, over the years, Penthouse lost track of. Had we not found it in time thanks to Alex’s research, it might have been lost forever.”

More more than 100 hours of 35mm film survived from the found footage, along with more than 10,000 production stills and many versions of the soundtrack and Brass’ workprint of the first 84 minutes.

The workprint was found cut into almost a thousand pieces, presumably by Guccione’s editors after Brass left. Penthouse sent those to Germany, where Tuschinski pieced them back together — and it revealed a very different first half of the film.

Tuschinski has been writing scholarly works on Brass' early films and has been called the foremost scholastic authority on Brass in the world today.

"Tinto Brass’ ideas for ‘Caligula’ were very different from any released version,” Tuschinski said. “Any version of the film you find today is based on the cut that was done by the producer’s editors without consulting Tinto’s ideas. There is a common misconception that the producers only changed 'Caligula’ by adding hardcore pornography. This is entirely incorrect.

“Tinto would have used different takes, shots, edited more elegantly, would have used entirely different music, and entire subplots, dialogues and scenes were changed or deleted,” he said. “The way it was envisioned, 'Caligula' would have been a highly provocative political satire on the nature of power, which had a deep message as well as a surprising structure.

“If you only know any released version, you could impossibly guess what the film as envisioned by Tinto Brass would have been. Tinto’s film ends in outright slapstick scenes, features surrealistic scenes, nudity that is shocking but not placative,” he said.

“I believe it is impossible to overestimate the differences of this new version. It will, in my opinion, be regarded as a very important artistic milestone of Italian cinema of the 1970s. To find the CEO of Penthouse sympathetic to the project, to recreating a film based on Tinto’s ideas and style, was an incredible surprise.”

"Mission: Caligula" will screen at Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival on Monday at 4 p.m. at Regal Cinemas LA Live, 1000 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles 90015. Tickets can be bought online here or at the festival box office.