Professor explores ‘Caligula’
UH communication professor William Hawes’ new book, Caligula and the Fight for Artistic Freedom, is a well-documented study of how the film about the sadistic Roman emperor strengthened artistic independence in filmmaking through its violent and sexually explicit scenes.
‘ ‘No film of the 1970s symbolizes the fervent effort to expand artistic freedom in the movies more than Caligula,’ Hawes said.
Caligula brought an unprecedented dimension of eroticism and violence within the scope of a traditional motion picture.
‘It’s a shocking movie in many ways because it has a fair amount of violence, nudity and outrageous acts in it,’ Hawes said.
His study provides a clear narrative through the film’s production to its distribution and explores its impact on film culture.
‘I think to quite an extent, Caligula changed the theater going public’s perception of motion pictures,’ Hawes said. ‘Ever since the 1980s, we have had a gradual inclusion of more and more nude scenes and violent scenes in movies now than we had previously. I think (Caligula) helped to open the door in that way.’
The film was privately financed by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who wanted to advance freedom in the arts, while keeping the film legal enough to be able to get domestic and international release.
Hawes’ book begins with an in-depth look at the metamorphosis of traditional cinema from silent pagan pictures through the evolution of sex and violence and its censorship in traditional films and pornography in the 1970s.
Hawes explores the complexities of filmmaking and includes a thorough look at the contributions of co-producer Franco Rossellini, screenwriter Gore Vidal and actors Peter O’Toole, Malcolm McDowell and Helen Miren, among others.
Hawes devotes the fourth chapter to the examination of the sexually explicit scenes of the uncensored original cut of the film, and he examines the numerous lawsuits and censorship decisions the film faced.
Caligula is a particularly important example of the continuing fight to protect cinema freedom, Hawes said.
‘I think the fight for artistic freedom in the film industry today is a huge struggle because broadcast television is very restricted,’ he said. ‘They ruin (movies) by cutting out every word, every scene that may be considered slightly offensive.’
Caligula contributed to the rippling effect that made it possible to have more explicit scenes in movies, and although Guccione is not credited by Hollywood, Caligula has gained acceptance as an important step in traditional theatrical movies.
Other films about this emperor’s madness are less likely to be viewed or purchased today.’
‘Caligula, on the other hand, is ‘still alive,” Hawes wrote.
This is Hawes’ seventh media-related book. He has produced over 500 television programs and taught History of Cinema and Broadcast and Film Writing since 1965.