Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ink on your fingers

Two short pieces in the new Time Out New York.

First is a review of the latest Irène Némirovsky book to be published in the U.S. I'm a huge fan of Suite Française, but this one is…meh.

Then we have a paean to the new Caligula DVD. My fascination with this movie isn't new, but even I was stunned to see it come out as a three-disc set! Space constraints prevented me to mention some of the great stuff on offer, like Malcolm McDowell outing Florinda Bolkan in his commentary (her girlfriend introduced him to Gore Vidal, author of the original script), or the featurettes on John Steiner (Longinus) and Penthouse Pet of the Century Lori Wagner (an extra). Steiner had gained modest fame after appearing in Peter Brook's Marat/Sade, so what did he do with it? He moved to Italy where he made 120 movies ranging from B to Z grade in about 20 years. If names like Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti and Ruggero Deodato mean anything to you, you've seen Steiner—who now says he hated Caligula and everybody involved with it. Wagner's story is more bittersweet. She had to fight to get decent screen time, and on that set it meant not being shy. "Tinto [Brass] needed somebody to urinate on this dead guy and I wanted my own spot in the movie…" At least she made out with some costumes, which she still owns.

But my absolute favorite extra is Helen Mirren's commentary. Dame Helen is acerbic, smart, funny—and considering her character appears only after a full hour, she's great at setting the scene while not on screen. Describing her first encounter with Maria Schneider (originally slated to play the key part of Caligula's sister, Drusilla), for instance, she recalls that "Maria was more terrifying than the whole of Caligula put together in many ways." She's frank about signing on for the money (it bought her first house) but has no regrets as the overall insanity made for a memorable experience. It's also fun to hear her cringe during the killing-machine sequence: She still can't bear to watch it and has to be told when it's over so she can resume watching.

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