Monday 28 February 2022

Poem: 'Who'll Be The Next In Line?'



Is this the end of the queue? 
Is this where we wait? It is? Thank you. 
I can’t even see the head of the queue. 
Can you? No. Me neither. 
Seem to spend our lives queuing. 
We pretend to be patient, don’t we? 
We try to endure the inconvenience. 
But it is annoying. In fact, it’s maddening. 
Did we move then? One pace forward? 
No…? Just wishful thinking. HaHa! 
It’s getting late. How long has it been now? 
There’s more people joining up behind us. 
An endless queue, one that goes on forever. 
Maybe I’ll sit down, take the weight off. 
Text-message home… oh, no wifi here. 
Time passes. Slips by, and we’re still here, 
an hour later, a day, a week, a month…? 
Don’t want to move in case I lose my place. 
Are you sure we’re in the correct queue? 
It’d be terrible to find we’re in the wrong line! 
Hungry, thirsty, tired… and I need the toilet. 
Strange, how all these patient people, 
barely shuffle forward, heads bowed. 
Does this queue even have an end? 
Are we here for eternity? HaHa! 
I just got this crazy unsettling thought… 
what if we’re all dead, and this is 
some kind of bureaucratic afterlife? 
Wait, did we move then, one pace forward, 
No…? Just wishful thinking… 

Published in: 
(USA – March 2018) ISBN 978-1986-907484 
Collected into: 
Alien Buddha Press (USA – March 2018)

Friday 25 February 2022





(Gary Brooker: 
29 May 1945 – 19 February 2022)

CD reviews of: 
 (Esoteric Recordings) 

John Lennon had his psychedelic Rolls Royce fitted with a record player, so throughout the Summer of Love he could play “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” repeatedly to anyone who’d listen. The lilting surreal Bach-based single skipped the light fandango everywhere. Its massive success turning such cartwheels that it wasn’t until January 1968, following a line-up and label change, that the former-Paramounts managed this underrated debut album adorned in florid monochrome Aubrey Beardsley-style art, now re-mastered with bonus tie-in singles. Yet it contains literary-ambitious Gary Brooker-Keith Reid keyboard-led stand-outs such as “Conquistador” – a 1972 hit in its own right with live orchestration, and the beguiling “She Wandered Through The Garden Fence”. Despite its single “Quite Rightly So” barely registering chart-wise, the second LP (December 1968) is an even more dazzlingly flawless set. The vinyl second side structured into the esoteric seventeen-minute suite “In Held Twas In I”, shifting from vaudeville through balladry into heavy Rock adorned with stately pseudo-classical twiddly bits. Their distinctively English qualities of wit, intelligence and confidently obscure poetic lyrics stand up to repeated listening, while the group were vindicated by ‘Salad Days’ of recording and touring successfully until 1977. 

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 no.53 
September-October (UK – September 2015)


and ‘HOME’ 
(Esoteric Recordings, October 2015) 

I could pen a dissertation about ‘A Salty Dog’, in fact, I probably will. About how, when other Prog-Rock units were cranking up their tedious virtuoso soloing into mind-numbing improvisations, Procol Harum simply lift a quill from romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s narrative epic about a damned voyage to ‘parts unknown to man’ where ships come home to die. I bought the single after hearing it on the radio – maybe Peel? and although it barely rippled the charts, subsequent long-tail sales and critical reappraisals have deservedly elevated it to classic status. For the title track of this, their third album, they abandon the playful obscurantism of skipping light fandangos for a song rifted with literate wit and puns, laced with spectral pizzicato strings as stately and doom-laden as the Ancient Mariner’s accursed vessel itself. From ‘all hands on deck, we’ve run afloat’ – ships don’t run afloat, they run aground, accompanied by a ‘piped aboard’ instrumentation, through ‘how far can sailors fly?’, to close with the legal document testimony ‘you’ll witness my own hand’. In a show of bravura, Brooker-Reid even flourish the oldest cliché-rhyme in the songwriter’s arsenal, ‘many moons and many Junes’ with casual assurance. Mournful gulls wail, waves lap, the Captain weeps as they ‘fire the gun’ and the mast burns, and it’s all spine-shiveringly unique. The nautical theme, suggested by the pastiche ‘Players Navy Cut’ cover-art, continues with “Wreck Of The Hesperus”, then there’s the stand-out “The Devil Came From Kansas”. 

As part of a trilogy of lavishly packaged digital reissues – alongside a 3CD ‘Shine On Brightly’ (1968), and fourth LP ‘Home’ (1970), each definitive edition is expanded with a bonus CD of outtakes and radio sessions, lyric-poster and memorabilia. Procol Harum may be an acquired taste, but every now and then they’re a taste very much worth acquiring. 

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 no.54 
(Nov-Dec) (UK – November 2015)

Interview: SUZI QUATRO




Suzi Quatro has a new album – ‘No Control’
 and a stadium tour with David Essex. 
 But she’s not about to take that 
 ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ 
 reality-TV route just yet… 

Everyone knows Suzi Q. 

She gets recognised on the street. ‘Oh yes. That happens all the time. But funnily enough I had to decide when this all started, and I made up my mind, was I going to hide behind sunglasses all my life, or was I going to be normal? So, I don’t wear those sunglasses, and mostly it’s fine. Of course there are jerks. There are always jerks. But it’s just how you treat it.’ 

There were wild women in Rock before Suzi Q. Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson. Honey Lantree was drummer with the Honeycombs and Megan Davies played bass with the Applejacks. After Suzi there was Gaye Advert and a deluge of Riot Grrrls. But there’s never been anyone quite like Suzi Q. 

She has two homes. One in Hamburg. But today ‘I’m at my home in Essex’ doing a mind-numbing series of non-stop interviews. And she’s not wearing the all-over black leather? She laughs, ‘No. I’m sorry to ruin your fantasy.’ 

Is putting on that leather stage-outfit a way of assuming the ‘Suzi Quatro’ persona, as David Bowie used to become Ziggy Stardust on stage? ‘For me, I can only speak for me. There is a separation. If you read my book ‘Unzipped’ (2007), I write it in two voices. But nothing is manufactured, they’re both me. Both are totally me. Nothing about me is phony. I pride myself on being a real person. It depends to a degree on what I’m wearing. When I’m playing live I like to go watch the other bands from the side of the stage. Then I go and put on a little make-up. I’m not really a make-up girl. But then I’m ready to be ‘Suzi Quatro’.’ 

Doesn’t it get hot inside all that leather? ‘It is really hot. But it’s a timeless image. I chose it, it suits me and I’m happy with it. I’m comfortable in my skin, leather though it may be. I’m sixty-four, I’m still up there shaking my ass, in a leather suit, how ridiculous is that, when you think about it?’

Her ‘No Control’ tour bears all the hallmarks of a Seventies Golden Oldies package, with David Essex, Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, and Suzi’s former chart-mates Smokie. Do those nostalgia-audiences accept the new songs, or do they just want the old hits? ‘Well, this is my second time headlining an arena tour. We had such a good time last time. There has to be space for four acts. So I’ll do the single off the album – “No Soul/ No Control”, and a few others. But you will get to hear your favourites.’ 

After all, there’s shared history at work here. Surely she must have met David Essex backstage at ‘Top Of The Pops’? ‘Yes. Many times. We did a TV show together in Spain too. He’s a good guy.’ And she had “Stumblin’ In” – a big duo hit with Chris Norman, who was then lead voice with Smokie. ‘There have been line-up changes with Smokie, of course. But this Smokie has been together for twenty years. And they’re good.’ 

She talks quickfire fast and confidently, but on-message too. ‘I’m a communicator, that’s actually who I am. I don’t do smalltalk.’ When it seems I’m not enquiring enough about the new album, she prompts me. There’s nice Punk lettering on the ‘No Control’ cover-art. But it’s unmistakably Suzi from the Power-Pop title-song guitar play-in, the defiant ‘you can’t take away my soul’ chanted over crashing pile-driver drums. ‘The message is ‘don’t let go of yourself for anyone’, this is my personal mantra, all you have in this world – is you.’ 

‘Yes, this album is me’ she insists. ‘It’s true to what I am, and true to my story. It’s good if it feels uncomfortable, that means that it’s truthful. It’s now. I’ve gone around the block, and I’ve come home again. I’m back now. I’ve gone full circle. This is me now, this album has a contemporary sound, wouldn’t you agree?’ 

I hedge. It’s difficult to say what ‘contemporary’ consists of. I’d hazard more at timeless. She seems happy with that. 

The album was largely written with son Richard Tuckey, while sitting on the garden patio with acoustic guitars during the long balmy English summer of 2018, with an iPad recording app and lots of song-lyrics on paper. ‘It was just strange. It was an accident’ she ponders, as though she’s still working it out herself. ‘This album happened by accident. My son Richard plays, and he’s a fine musician. We were just in the RAK London Studios with KT Tunstall, working towards maybe an EP of duets, and Richard was playing session guitar and overdubs. Richard and I had often talked about working together, but it never seemed like the right time. Then I was sitting on the patio and he said ‘I want to write some songs with you’, and I said ‘OK Richard’. The time was right. He played me what was to become “Don’t Do Me Wrong”, and I thought ‘I can work with this.’ I didn’t know where it was going, but it was happening. Next thing we’re making an album, and it’s like… it was flying. I’m not that clever, although I’m clever. I’ve not tried to recreate anything. Oh no no, it’s now. I didn’t want to plan it. I didn’t want to overthink it. It’s just like, whatever it is, there’s a connection, he pushed the ‘Suzie Quatro’ button. Whatever that is, he pushed that button. I can’t explain it any better than that. Whatever the song is, it is. Each song has its own character. It’s a very honest album.’ 

There’s boogie-romp and quivering reverb on “Going Home” where she’s staring at the ceiling asking ‘how can you lay by my side, you always withdraw and hide.’ While “Strings” has the classic anthemic chorus – E, F, F-sharp, with a horn arrangement from long-term collaborator Ray Beavis, and words about the ties that hold us all together, less cosmic string-theory as the relationships that bind us, and maybe the guitar strings of the songs we sing. “Love Isn’t Fair” – one of two solo Suzi compositions, is chiming steel-band swaying sing-along catchy-Pop, with lilting horns and rim-shot drums, as she protests at the unfairness of amour… M-mmmm. ‘I wanted to create a Blondie (“The Tide Is High”) meets Mavericks, and I think I accomplished that.’ And the killer head-banging hard-riff of “Macho Man”, strutting and swaggering ‘down where the feelings go’.’ 

With forthright candour, she once told German Teenage magazine ‘Bravo’ how she plays bass guitar because the sound and vibrations go just where she needs them. Right between her legs. Down where the feelings go… 

--- 0 --- 

Some found it strange that when she presented her Radio Two series it focused not on her seventies chart heyday – but was a more 1950s-based ‘Rockin’ With Suzi Q’. But that’s entirely consistent. Just – genealogy roots-wise, DON’T EVER ask Suzi about her misleading old Wiki entry, as I naively do. She doesn’t like it. In fact, she HATES it! Yes, her mother was Hungarian, but it was when her Italian paternal grandfather arrived at Ellis Island as an immigrant, that the official takes one look at the name ‘Quatrocchi’ on the papers, and says ‘no way, you’re Quatro’. So she was always Quatro and ‘it’s going into four generations now.’ Susan Kay Quatro was born 3 June 1950 in a Detroit the way it was before ‘Robocop’ (1987) and Eminem’s dour ‘Eight Mile’ (2002), when Motown rhythms made it the ‘Sound Of Young America’. The fourth of five children in a musical family, she made her show-biz debut as an eight-year-old playing bongos with her father’s moderately-successful jazz combo – The Art Quatro Band. At fourteen she was a TV go-go dancer as Suzi Soul. But as in her poem “Self Discovery” – yes, she writes poetry too, ‘that’s what your soul keeps screaming, there’s got to be more.’ That’s when the sisters saw the Beatles on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’, and at fifteen they formed mini-skirted five-piece girl-group Suzi Soul & The Pleasure-Seekers with sisters Arlene, Patti and later, little-sister Nancy. Her father gifted her a Fender Precision bass – ‘the Rolls Royce of basses,’ which decided her future. 

Is Suzi still a pleasure-seeker? ‘A hedonist? Nope. I never was. No, it was just a name for a band. And it was great training. A nine-year apprenticeship.’ 

The Pleasure-Seekers release two singles – including Suzi’s composition “Brain Confusion”, and “What A Way To Die” which later features in revenge sexploitation-movie ‘Blood Orgy Of The Leather Girls’ (1988), and they play dates clear across from Las Vegas to Vietnam. In late-1970 veteran-hitmaker Mickie Most heard her playing with the group – by then renamed Cradle, when he was in Detroit recording Jeff Beck at Motown. He saw potential and promptly snatched her across to the UK. PJ Proby had come to England to find that breakthrough success. Jimi Hendrix had come to England to do the same. Now it was Suzi’s turn. She toured downbill with Thin Lizzy and Slade, and released some singles, including 1972’s “Rolling Stone”, co-written with Errol Brown, and Pete Frampton playing session guitar. Until in early-1973 she was teamed with the Chinnichap hit-machine. The Nicky Chinn-Mike Chapman duo – responsible for Sweet, Mud, New World, Arrows and the Knack, who were to the seventies what Howard-Blaikley had been to the sixties, and what Stock-Aitken-Waterman would be the eighties. They wrote and produced the thumping “Can The Can” – which got to no.1 in May 1973, between Wizzard and 10cc, on Most’s RAK label. ‘Put your man in the can, honey, get him while you can’ is maybe an early lyric-shot for Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”?

Although she slots seamlessly into the Chinnichap stable, the songs they write are carefully crafted around her persona, but did she have any input into their writing? Were the songs pre-discussed with Nicky and Mike? ‘It was an incestuous relationship’ she explains. ‘I mean that figuratively. I was here, and we did the tour with Slade. And we were getting good responses. But nothing was really happening. I did what I did. I was doing all my own songs. Then one night Mickie (Most) asked if it was alright to bring these two guys around to see me play. So they came and they saw me. They went away and wrote “Can The Can” based around what they’d seen me do on stage. They wrote it for me’ she asserts firmly. ‘They didn’t offer those songs to anyone else. And it worked fine for me. I’m quite a prolific writer. I wrote ‘B’-sides, album tracks, and some ‘A’-sides too (sometimes with future first husband Len Tuckey). In fact, it got confusing at times. We were in the studio recording “Mama’s Boy”, and I turned to Mike (Chapman) who was producing and I said ‘you’ve given me no breathing space on this one.’ And he said ‘Suzi, this is one of yours.’ And it was.’ 

Her image arcs back to Emma Peel and forward to Joan Jett, suited and booted, her diminutive five-foot figure in leather jump-suit, playing bass in a group of heavy guys – Len Tuckey (lead), Alistair Mackenzie (keyboards), and Dave Neal (drums). Kicking ass, beating the guys at their own hard-rocking game. And it made her a ‘Top Of The Pops’ fixture, “48 Crash” (no.3, July 1973) with lyrics variously ascribed to middle-age male impotence or the 1948 Stock Market crash – but what exactly does ‘forty-eight crash is a silk sash bash’ mean? and “Daytona Demon” (no.14, October 1973), until “Devil Gate Drive” returns her to no.1, (February 1974) with its Pepsi ‘Come Alive’ riff, dislodging Mud’s “Tiger Feet” from the top slot. It occurred to me that her teenage hang-out in Detroit – the ‘Hideout Club’ must have been a kind of prototype ‘Welcome To The Dive’ where ‘your Mama don’t know where your sister done go’? ‘It was. And every teenager had one. That place where you go that your parents don’t approve.’ 

She tours the USA through three months of 1975 with Alice Cooper, and returns with a vengeance with the softer melodic “If You Can’t Give Me Love” (no.4, March 1978), with the lyric ‘I know you’re the king of this discothèque thing’ to catch the tone of the changing times. And a duet with Chinn-Chapman stable-mate Chris Norman of Smokie – “Stumblin’ In” (no.41, November 1978), which goes gold when it climbs to no.4 on the US Billboard chart. Her exposure as ‘Leather Toscadero’ opposite the Fonz in TVs ‘Happy Days’ must have helped. She can also be glimpsed as a nurse in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ (1994) and in ‘Midsomer Murders’ (2007) as electrocuted Rock Diva ‘Mimi Clifton’. And for completists, she’s the voice of ‘Rio Rogers’ in ‘Bob The Builder: Built To Be Wild’ (2006 DVD). As well as stage musical work. 

By the time “She’s In Love With You” becomes her final major hit, a no.11 in October 1979, she’s a bona fide legend. Everyone knows Suzi Q. But for her inclusion on the Ferry Aid charity hit “Let It Be” (March 1987), and a fun Reg Presley duet on “Wild Thing” in 1986. But the hits are just part of the story. There are fifteen studio albums too. Alongside various Greatest Hits compilations, and her ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ (1986) stage-show soundtrack, there’s a trilogy of strong current work, ‘Back To The Drive’ (2006), ‘In The Spotlight’ (2011), and ‘QSP’ (2016) uniting Suzi with Sweet-guitarist Andy Scott and Slade-drummer Don Powell. Showcasing new original Suzi songs.

In a recent Radio Two interview Graham Gouldman claimed that you can no longer write love songs as you age… ‘I don’t agree with that at all’ she explodes vehemently. ‘I know Graham, and maybe incidents in his life have caused him to think that way. But sure you can still write love songs. You can even write them from a better perspective. I’m a romantic, I’m not even a hopeless romantic, I’m a HOPEFUL romantic. I will always believe in the power of love.’ Suzi writes love poems in her ‘Through My Eyes’ (2016) collection. Rhyming verse in “A Mother”, and the mysteries of love in “Common Denominator”. ‘I am a poetic person. I do seem to think in poetic phrases. I am a published poet. Although I usually treat things separately, songs and poems. But every once in a while I’m talking with a songwriter, and he says ‘I’ll write that down, that’s good’.’ 

“Easy Pickings” on the new ‘No Control’ album contrasts the artificiality of the ‘Talent/Reality Shows of Today’ – ‘where mediocrity lies’, with the true honest rural roots of guitar-picking in the Kentucky hills. Based around a riff she’s been toying with for a decade, which found its perfect home. So I guess that means Suzi won’t be doing the ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Big Brother House’ any time soon…? ‘They’ve asked me to do that show maybe ten times. And ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. But I turn them down. I will not be a hypocrite. We all watch reality TV. They make for good television. We sit down and watch our Saturday night reality shows. Of course we do. We all do it. But it’s not had a good effect on music. It’s all about fame and money. This is not the way stars are found. Who won last year’s ‘X-Factor’? We don’t know, neither of us. That answers my question. You should come to it with heart. I would not be doing this fifty-five years if I was in it for the fame and money. That should not be your motivation. When I wake up to the reality of the day, I’d still be doing this. I’d still be playing. In fact, I still do that. I go to pubs and get up and jam.’ 

“Bass Line” is the ‘story of my life’ – ‘follow the bass-line, straight down that fret line, follow that bass line.’ “I Can Teach You To Fly” has an upbeat sixties counter-melody vibe, its Turtles positivism grounded by the horns. While “Going Down Blues” seems to be a backatcha attack on a tell-all confessions-biog. ‘You picked up on that? You’ve impressed me’ she grins brightly. ‘I’m not the kind of writer who writes fiction. That song is about somebody, yes. But no. It’s a private thing. You’ve got someone in your life whose done that to you, haven’t you? I can tell.’ While “Don’t Do Me Wrong” is the first song Suzi and Richard wrote together… a unique partnership, as far as I know. Frank and Nancy Sinatra recorded “Something Stupid” together – a father-daughter relationship, but they didn’t write it. I can’t think of another mother-son writing partnership, unless ‘R’N’R’ readers can put me straight…? 

But as in Suzi’s poem… ‘a five-minute conversation you wish was twenty,’ a half-hour conversation you wish was more… 

Meantime, for Suzi, ‘I’m just out flying high.’ 

Published in: 
‘R’N’R: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 Issue 76 
July-August (UK – July 2019)

DVD: 'Suzi Quatro: Trailblazer. Inspiration. Survivor'


DVD Review of: 
(2020, Acme Film Company) 

Dale Hawkins did the original Rockabilly ‘Susie Q’, which the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival later revived. Growing up in motorcity Detroit young Susan Kay Quatro was probably familiar with the song. Always a solid bundle of rocking energies, it was brother Michael who set up her audition for Mickie Most at Motown’s Studio A. Signed to Rak Records she was supplied with suitably nonsense hits written and produced by the Mike Chapman-Nicky Chinn team, to become inescapably part of the 1970s chart machine. She wore ‘Barbarella’ leather because she’s an Elvis fan, but the ‘Top Of The Pops’ image tells only part of the tale. Tributes from Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, Deborah Harry, Wendy James and others testify to her influence – as leading the first female-fronted Rock band, and her enduring presence persists. Wielding a bass-guitar that weighs more than she does, the trade-off for a life lived on the road since age fourteen is family and marital issues. Divorce from solid husband-partner Len Tuckey – former guitarist with Nashville Teens (from 1969-1973), and problematic sister-moments, including with Patti who went on to join Fanny. Here, she sets out to redress the balance. Don’t underestimate her. Watch the DVD story. As her 2019 ‘No Control’ album indicates, Suzi Q was always a Rocker at heart, and is at her best writing her own material. All she demanded was that the world ‘let me be who I am.’ She would accept no compromise on that. 

(The DVD bonus features include an interview with Liam – not Gallagher, but director Liam Firmager) 

Published in: 
‘RNR Vol.2 Issue.80 March-April’ 
(UK – March 2020)

CD: Suzi Quatro 'The Devil In Me'


Album Review of: 
(2021, Steamhammer/ SPV) 

Hey, you all want to go down to Devil Gate Drive? Well, come on!… but if you’d prefer to stay home and just listen to Suzi, this is a great place to go too. There’s a thump-thump-thump drum-track, attack-dog metal guitar riffs that snap and snarl, and twelve new songs written with son Richard Tuckey that she inhabits as skintight as her old leather jumpsuit. Her voice might be huskier, but only to a degree. ‘Hey Queenie’ references Chuck Berry, edged with Jez Davies keyboard runs, and there are Cherie Currie Runaway harmonies on ‘Betty Who?’ – yet there’s no ‘I’ in Suzi, she does not do that confessional thing, there’s little that’s personal or autobiographical, no diary entries about what it’s like being Suzi Quatro in 2021. ‘My Heart And Soul’ has the tasteful string arrangement of a pleading Darlene Love girl group with an unseasonal Xmas plea. There’s vampish bump and grind too. But it’s in the hard Lock-Down Blues of ‘Get Outta Jail’, with Suzi trapped in twilight zone isolation that you glimpse her urgent need to play ‘one more gig to satisfy, one more gig before I die.’ She’s the Motor City Rocker. Rocking is what she does. 

Published in: 
‘RNR vol.2 Issue.87 (May-June)’ 
(UK – May 2021)

Thursday 24 February 2022

Cult Movie: 'CALIGULA'




Review of: 
with Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, 
Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud 
(DVD September 2008 Arrow Films) 

The past is another planet. Those who watched BBC-TV’s ‘Rome’ saw character motivations and loyalties that were comfortingly familiar to us all, fused with grotesque levels of barbarity and repellant alien strangeness to recoil from. We think we know Pagan Rome. We don’t. When it comes to fantasy empires nothing that Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg or Robert E Howard could contrive comes close to this stuff. Robert Graves’ ‘I Claudius’ illustrates exactly how emperors exert apparently limitless power without restraint, consequence or conscience, but equally, how they do so at the whim of the Praetorian Guard who can dispatch them, and their entire family in a coup the moment they prove inconvenient. And in an age of epic excess, Caligula’s rule has become a byword for gargantuan perversities. 

He was an ‘extraordinary’ man according to Gore Vidal, ‘some think the most wicked young man who ever lived.’ He’s also one who’s story has been retold in the guise of multiple interpretations all the way through to MegaCity One’s insane ‘Judge Cal’ in ‘2000AD’ magazine. Through Graves’ eyes Caligula’s horrific debauches seem to be more a way of testing out those constraints, taunting Rome’s endurance recklessly. His ‘expedition’ to Britain results in his soldiers attacking papyrus reeds on the shores of a nearby lake, then triumphantly returning with the spoils of looted sea-shells. A jape that mocks the military, the credulity of the populace, and the pretensions of Imperial Rome itself – forcing limits to the tipping point that would provoke response, inviting lethal retribution. Although most of this is conjecture, the movie follows what is generally assumed to be known. Caligula succeeded his mentor, Tiberius, on the former emperor’s assassination, inheriting the city, the empire – the world. Ancient historian Suetonius who documents his perversities suggests Caligula may have murdered him. In this version, when Caligula loses his nerve, Macro does it for him. In a scene perhaps intended to echo one in ‘The Fall Of The Roman Empire’ (1964) Macro holds his hand in a naked flame to prove his loyalty to the new emperor, which doesn’t stop Caligula having him executed soon after in a giant mechanical contrivance for lopping off and harvesting heads.


Tacitus adds detail. But the writings that survive were not subject to the rigorous objectivity we expect from modern historians, they all had their own axes to grind. The bare truth is, Caligula – nicknamed ‘Little Boots’, ruled from 37-to-41AD, starting off well until a near-fatal midpoint illness – possibly the result of poisoning, which knocks him off-course. His sister-lover Drusilla is the only thing he really cares for, and her death shoves him further into ultimate madness. Deep in decadence he instigates the ‘Imperial Brothel’ staffed by Senator’s wives, each five-gold-piece they earn goes to balance the civic budget. He makes his horse – Incitatus, a consul. Until his bloody assassination becomes inevitable, with Caligula’s expression fixed somewhere between exultation and amused vindication as it happens. To Gore Vidal, he ‘plunges into death’ as ‘the last great trip.’ His killers kick a severed head aside contemptuously, as Incitatus rears and canters away, a symbolism probably intended to represent Caligula’s untamed spirit escaping. He’s immediately succeeded by his stuttering club-footed uncle Claw-Claw-Claudius. 

Following this time-line – as related in the generous bonus-DVD of extras, ‘Caligula’ started out from a script by Gore Vidal, who had already done uncredited script-work for ‘Ben Hur’ (1959). Later the movie became Bob Guccione’s prestige project, with the ‘modern publishing emperor’ bringing in Italian director Tinto Brass, banked by the overflowing ‘Penthouse’ coffers, with the bought-in power of ‘A’-list stars, the louche access to thirteen attractively bare ‘Penthouse Pets’ (including ‘Pets Of The Month’ Lori Wagner and Jane Hargrave), complete with the historical subject-matter to justify it all. In protest at the Tinto Brass ‘Hollywood-on-the-Tiber’ excess, Vidal subsequently insisted his name be deleted from the credits. Ponderous Prokiev and weighty Katchaturian set the portentous tone, undermined only slightly by such gaffes as the geographically exact modern European map on the palace wall. 

Malcolm McDowell is at his most malevolently cherubic as Caligula, using the evil charm he perfected in ‘If’ (1968) and ‘Clockwork Orange’ (1971), and is still capable of unleashing in ‘Star Trek: Generations’ (1994) or NBC-TVs ‘Heroes’ (2007-2008). At one point his Caligula casually continues his conversation as he breaks off to urinate into the drapes. Peter O’Toole invests the vile syphilitic Tiberius with a sense of sinister reality, with his Capri grotto of speaking-statues, freaks and sexual gymnasts. And John Gielgud is Nerva, the patrician old pragmatic with republican sympathies. Long-suppressed, the film has been derided as up-market art-porn, opulent sleaze, big-budget smut. What Helen Mirren calls ‘art and genitals’. And yes, it’s all that, the elaborately-staged sex and orgy scenes are unexpurgated, explicit. The violence is stomach-churning. But there’s a palpable air of madness, which to Guccioni is merely part of its ‘historical accuracy’ – not pornography but what he insists is ‘pagan-ography’, and hey, that’s the way it was. The past is another planet.


Caligula 1979, Director: Giovanni Tinto Brass. Producer: Bob Guccioni & Franco Rossellini. Original script: Gore Vidal (uncredited). Visual Effects: Franco Celli & Marcello Coccia. (4-DVD Box-set September 2008 Arrow Films) With Malcolm McDowell (Caligula), Helen Mirren (Caesonia), Peter O’Toole (Tiberius), John Gielgud (Nerva), Therese Ann Savoy (Drusilla), John Steiner (Longinus), Guido Mannari (Macro), Paolo Bonacelli (Chaerea), Giancarlo Badessi (Claudius), Adriana Asti (Ennia), John Gielgud (Nerva), Leopoldo Trieste (Charicles), Bruno Brive (Gemellus), Mirella Dangelo (Livia), Helen Mirren (Caesonia), Richard Parets (Mnester), Paula Mitchell (Singer/ Subura), Osiride Pevarello (Giant), Donato Placido (Proculus), Anneka DeLorenzo (Messalina), Lori Wagner (Agrippina), and Teresa Ann Savoy. Music: Paul Clemente with Aram Khachaturian & Serge Prokofiev. 4-DVD set includes Full Uncut Version (2:36), Theatrical Version (1:42), Alternate Version (2:33), + bonus-disc with ‘The Making Of…’, ‘Conversation With Lori Wagner’, ‘Tinto Brass: The Orgy Of Power’ etc 

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‘VIDEOVISTA (Nov)’ UK – November 2008)