ULTIMATE PORNO: THE MAKING OF A SEX COLOSSAL
In the field of movie making-of books, ULTIMATE PORNO is one of the most obscure there is, yet also one of the few worth reading. The film it details is CALIGULA (1979), the star-studded PENTHOUSE financed, Tinto Brass directed porno extravaganza (or as it’s termed here, “Sex Colossal”) set in Ancient Rome. This book’s title may be crude, but it’s accurate: CALIGULA is indeed the Ultimate Porno.
Pier Nico Solinas was the first assistant director of CALIGULA, and so has first-hand knowledge of its tumultuous 1976 shoot. Of course Solinas’ account only covers part of the CALIGULA saga, which, as Solinas briefly outlines in the final chapter, stretched on for another three years after filming was completed (during which time PENTHOUSE head “Don Bob” Guccione took over, ordering extensive reshoots). Still, Solinas’ experiences on the debauched set of CALIGULA are eventful enough to fill three books, describing a Hieronymus Boschian cavalcade of depravity set amid some of the most elaborate film sets ever constructed.
A standout virtue of this book is its depiction of the duties of the first assistant director, a crucial but undervalued position. Among other things, it’s the First AD’s job to make call sheets, summon actors to the set and coordinate extras. On CALIGULA, however, Solinas’ duties included things like procuring eels to be inserted into a woman’s vagina, corralling giants and midgets for on-camera orgies, and shaving the bush of a horny lady extra.
In the midst of such X-rated insanity it’s hardly surprising the production spiraled out of control. Other problems included a script by “Bore” Vidal that nobody liked, Tinto Brass’ dictatorial helming (likened by one crewmember to the “Fourth Reich”), the abrupt departure of actress Maria Schneider (prompting Brass to threaten to “sew her cunt shut”), and profoundly inept production management that resulted in the film going massively over budget. By the end of the shoot there was literally no money left, with the crew divided into angry factions and the extras degenerating into a sex-crazed mob.
Of the principal actors, Malcolm McDowell and Peter O’Toole are portrayed as aloof and self-absorbed, while Helen Mirren is remembered primarily for being “always disarmingly attired in skirts with broken zippers and blouses with large rips in them.” As for Mr. Guccione, he’s sketched as an ego-fed windbag woefully unprepared for the realities of moviemaking--much less big budget moviemaking.
It’s a good thing the book’s content is so lively, as the prose leaves much to be desired. Pier Nico Solinas isn’t a writer by trade and nor is he especially fluent in English, which is evident in sentences like “If she got my zipper open she was going to suck all the films I’d ever seen out of my head”(?). Solinas also has an unfortunate penchant for poetic metaphors that rarely ever resonate, as in the two-page prologue (centered on a disrobing girl and predatory hawk) that strains for metaphoric significance but falls woefully flat.
Solinas is at his best simply describing the day-to-day realities of CALIGULA’S production, which nearly outdo the finished film in grossness and outrage. There’s never been another movie like CALIGULA, nor another book like ULTIMATE PORNO--and truth be told, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.