Penthouse's Cult Film 'Caligula' Is Reborn at the L.A. Art Show

Penthouse's Cult Film 'Caligula' Is Reborn at the L.A. Art Show

LOS ANGELES — Last night, during the opening night event of the L.A. Art Show — one of the most prestigious and well-attended events in the Los Angeles art world's social calendar — legacy blue-chip brand Penthouse and specialist art gallery/curatorial consultancy the Century Guild breathed new life into one of the adult industry's most controversial cult films: the Bob Guccione-produced 1980 classic "Caligula."

In an impeccably designed booth, mimicking the classical terra-cotta red of one of the original posters, the Century Guild's curatorial team led by Thomas Negovan displayed never-before-seen photographs from the "Caligula" set, showing stars Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and Peter O'Toole, director Tinto Brass and others.

The images were taken on Guccione's behalf by famed Italian stills photographer Mario Tursi, a favorite of director Luchino Visconti, who also shot on set for arthouse giants like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Martin Scorsese, Elio Petri and Jean-Jacques Annaud.

The Penthouse team — led by COO Moose and longtime brand rep and Production and Pet Manager Sam Phillips — were in attendance supporting the partnership with the Century Guild. The L.A. Art Show event was the kickoff and appetizer to the much-anticipated upcoming full restoration of the film. The ambitious project, dubbed "Caligula MMXX," is being assembled by Negovan and director E. Elias Merhige, the enigmatic auteur behind the "Nosferatu"-inspired 2000 cult drama "Shadow of the Vampire," starring John Malkovich and Willem Defoe.

Representing Penthouse were three stunning recent Pets, who happen to be noted adult performers: Charlotte Stokely (Pet of the Month, May 2017), Lacy Lennon (Pet of the Month, November 2019) and Addie Andrews (Pet of the Month, June 2019). The pulchritudinous trio were styled in period-perfect Roman gowns, sandals and hairdos, and they merged seamlessly with the black-and-white Tursi images portraying the debauched reign of Emperor Caligula (played by the great Malcolm McDowell at his deranged, post-"Clockwork Orange" best).

Stokely, Lennon and Andrews mingled with the art fair crowd handing out limited edition souvenirs produced by Penthouse and the Century Guild for the occasion: metal reproductions of the Caligula coin that has always been the centerpiece of the film's marketing art.

"I really enjoyed my time sharing knowledge of Caligula with the art viewers," Lennon told XBIZ. "A lot of people tend to have a generalized idea as to what performers do, but every person who walked by was in complete surprise. We got so many positive reactions and I think our presence brought such an energetic vibe to the event."

Lennon said that many who approached her below the large booth sign emblazoned with the infamous emperor's name "had no clue exactly what 'Caligula' was."

"I enjoyed explaining it with one word: porn," says the effervescent redhead, clad in a diaphanous gown similar to the ones worn by Helen Mirren in 1980. "It was so funny to see everyone turn red and have mini rundowns on how 'porn absolutely is still art'! Caligula has so many historical properties that many of today's performers have never even heard much of the title, seen the movie, or even know Caligula was a real person."

Lennon is excited for the upcoming Negovan-Merhige restoration of the film.

"I hope that myself and my other two Penthouse Pet sisters inspired as many as we could to check out this one-of-a-kind pornographic film. They don't make them like they used to!" she concluded.

A New Chapter to the Saga of "Caligula"

Negovan, dapper in a light-blue suit, told XBIZ the Century Guild was "honored to be working with Penthouse to add a new chapter to the saga of 'Caligula.'"

"The original film is legendary because of spectacle, but with the discovery of 96 hours of raw footage, the 'Caligula MMXX' release is finally going to allow the film to be seen as a tour de force of performance and narrative," Negovan said.

For the curator, renowned in Chicago and Los Angeles as a champion of unusual art — with an emphasis on eroticism, the occult and the Central European Symbolist and Expressionist movements in 1880-1930 Europe — "finding the mountain of photographs taken on the set of the film was stepping into a time machine."

"All these intimate, personal moments from the making of the film that no eyes had witnessed since they occurred over forty years ago," said Negovan. "Exhibiting a selection of images at L.A. Art in conjunction with Penthouse this weekend is a way for us to take you on that trip with use. Anyone curious about 'Caligula,' or what it must have been like on that bizarre set, needs to come see these photos."

As for Penthouse, the company that originally produced the film during founder Bob Guccione's heyday, their Global Licensing director Caroline Kirkendoll, who was there with John Kirkendall, told XBIZ she was "thrilled to be working with Tom and Century Guild on the restoration of this iconic film."

"The L.A. Art Show is the perfect venue to debut the project," said Kirkendoll. "Many of these masterful photographs have never been seen by the public and we're truly excited to bring people behind the scenes of 'Caligula' with this exhibit."

A Historic Night for Penthouse

Sam Phillips, Penthouse Pet for June 1993 and a model, writer and broadcaster long aligned with the "Golden Key" brand, was enthusiastic about a project so tied to the legacy of Guccione.

"Tonight was very historic for us," Phillips told XBIZ. "And emotional. And full circle. On the 40th anniversary of the release of 'Caligula' here we are at the esteemed L.A. Art Show with an exclusive showing of the Mario Tursi photos."

"It wasn't long ago that we found the lost footage, sound, stills and original scripts for 'Caligula' and archivist Thomas Negovan set to work with his team to recreate the Gore Vidal version that never was completed."

One of the reasons the film was so controversial was that acclaimed writer (and Classical Greece and Rome expert) Gore Vidal disowned the final film, after some investors demanded more explicit porn to be edited into the carefully plotted narrative, faithfully based on the writings of Roman author Suetonius.

Suetonius described Caligula's reign as an orgy of violence and corruption, presided over by a completely unstable leader prone to sudden mood swings and tyrannical stunts. Caligula's shenanigans illustrated in the Penthouse Productions film include appointing his horse as Senator, building a brothel and forcing the wives of rival Senators to work there, executing people on a whim with elaborate torture devices, disappearing from the palace without warning, and, most infamously, crashing a friend's wedding night to deflower the young bride before fisting the groom.

"To be able to bring the version originally imagined by Gore Vidal and Tinto Brass from the vaults back into the spotlight," said Phillips, "especially during this political climate is something we are all very proud of at Penthouse."

To see the exhibit Century Guild and Penthouse Present "Caligula": The Mario Tursi Photographs, visit the L.A. Art Show, February 5-9 at the L.A. Convention Center South Hall.

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