Censorship of Caligula (1979)

CALIGULA was one of Australia’s longest-running film censorship cases, with the first issues beginning in March 1980.

It would take until August 2021 for the problems to end.


Directed by Tinto Brass / 1979 / USA / IMDb

In March 1980, a 4250.20-meter (154:56) print of CALIGULA was banned because of sex and violence. Both were described as being:
Frequency: Frequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

A 4073.50-meter (148:29) ‘modified version’ was awarded an R-rating in March 1981. The cuts reduced the sex and violence to being:
Frequency: Frequent
Explicitness/Intensity: Medium
Purpose: Gratuitous

In something of a first, the Censorship Board insisted that the cuts be advertised.

March 1981
Registered subject to the special condition that all advertising clearly indicates that this film is a ‘modified version’.

– Film Censorship Board

In May 1981, the Films Board of Review upheld this decision. The appeal was presumably made against the ‘special condition’. Any distributor knows that informing the public that a film is censored is never good for business.

In all cases, Roadshow Distributors was the applicant.

Caligula (1979) - Australian daybill movie poster 1
Daybill via moviemem

It was claimed that the R-rated version was the same as what had been approved in the UK. However, the British Board of Film Censorship’s (BBFC) X-rated print reportedly ran 149:34, just over a minute longer.

Morality police protest

The classification of CALIGULA was protested by Fred Nile and his Festival of Light.

As well as being good for box office takings, it did him no harm either. Three months later, on 19 September 1981, he would be elected to the NSW Legislative Council where he would continue to help shape what people could see.

June 19, 1981
The campaign by the Festival of Light director, the Reverend Fred Nile, to ban the Sydney screening of CALIGULA has fallen on stony ground with the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board.

Mr Nile described CALIGULA as a nauseating exhibition of blue pornography and said he hoped the campaign would draw public support for a major change in the policy of the censorship board.

The chief censor, Janet Strickland, said the decision to allow screening of the film with an adults only ‘R’ rating would stand.

The film, due to be screened in Sydney today, had been modified.

The film had passed through Custom control and only individual action by State censorship authorities ‘could prevent its being shown.

An American anti-pornography lawyer, Mr Ray Gauer, arrived in Sydney yesterday and said he had no idea he was in Australia to spearhead Mr Nile’s campaign against CALIGULA.

The Festival of Light invited him to Sydney and described his visit as being to spearhead the campaign.

– Censor board stands firm on CALIGULA
– Canberra Times via Trove

June 22, 1981
The Festival of Light is picketing screenings of the R-rated film CALIGULA and investigating whether legal action can be taken to halt screenings.

On Friday protesters gathered outside Sydney’s Barclay Theatre when the film had its Australian premiere and several nuns were planning to set up a vigil outside the cinema again last night.

Meetings organised by the Festival of Light at the weekend decided to picket all screenings of the film.

The festival’s convener, the Reverend Fred Nile, said yesterday that action might be taken against the theatre’s owners and the film’s distributors.

– CALIGULA picketed
– Canberra Times via Trove

Trouble brews in Western Australia

The Festival of Light’s campaign against the film would turn out to be far more successful in Western Australia.

The speakers here are Keith Wilson (Labor) and Bill Hassell (Liberal).

August 6, 1981
Mr WILSON, to the Chief Secretary:
(1) Did his colleague, the Attorney General, as Acting Chief Secretary, issue a press statement in January stating that there would be no public screening of the film CALIGULA in Western Australia?

(2) If “Yes”, what substance is there in press reports that a modified version of the film now being screened in other states will be released in Western Australia!

Mr HASSELL replied:
(1) Yes-referring to the two versions of CALIGULA refused classification by the Commonwealth Censorship Board in March and October 1980.

(2) Arrangements have been made to have the film viewed by members of the State Advisory Committee on Publications and members of the Police Department before the modified version, classified “R”, may be screened in Western Australia.

– Cultural Affairs, CALIGULA
– WA Legislative Assembly

R-rated, but banned in WA

October 1, 1981
MR HASSELL (Cottesloe-Chief Secretary) [10.48 am]: I seek leave of the House to make a statement concerning the screening of a film in Western Australia.

Leave granted.

Mr HASSELL: Under an agreement with the Commonwealth approved by the Censorship of Films Act, 1947 the censorship and classification of films for exhibition in ibis State is dealt with by the Censorship Board of the Commonwealth. The purpose of the arrangement is to achieve a uniform system of censorship for the whole Commonwealth of Australia.

However, as a result of dissatisfaction in this State with certain decisions which have been made to allow Films to be shown in this State, which were regarded as unsuitable for public exhibition, Parliament in 1976 amended the Censorship of Films Act by adding a new section 12B, which retains a residual power in the State Minister to prevent the screening in this State of a film considered to be unsuitable.

The relevant provisions of section 12B are as follows-

Notwithstanding that any film has been approved by the censor, and regardless of the classification assigned to that film or of any appeal relating to the application, the Minister may, if he is satisfied that such is necessary in the public interest, direct that a classification assigned to a film pursuant to section 12 of this Act shall be ineffective in the State and if such a direction is given … if the Minister refrains from assigning a classification to the film, it shall be deemed to be an unapproved film for the purposes of this Act.

There has been considerable public speculation and interest in relation to the film CALIGULA.

In the circumstances, I considered that it was necessary in the public interest that I should give particular consideration to the screening of this film in Western Australia, notwithstanding that it has been approved for screening by the Commonwealth Censor, with an “R” classification and after certain modifications were made to the original film.

Although they have no official standing under the Censorship of Films Act, I requested the members of the State advisory committee on publications, together with officers of the Liquor and Gaming Branch of the Police Department, to view the film CALIGULA and to advise me in relation to that film.

It was the unanimous view of the five members of the State advisory committee on publications and two officers of the Liquor and Gaming Branch of the Western Australian police that the film CALIGULA should not be screened in Western Australia, and they have advised me accordingly.

I attach to this document and I will, with leave, table a summary of the views of the Stare advisory committee.

In view of the advice which I have received, I have directed that the classification “For Restricted Exhibition”-(R)-assigned to the film by the Commonwealth censorship authorities shall be ineffective in the State, and I have refrained from assigning to the film any classification in lieu.

The film is thereby deemed to be an unapproved film under the Censorship of Films Act 1947-1979.

I table this report on the screening of the film CALIGULA which is a summary of the views of the five members of the advisory committee on publications who, at my request, viewed the film and gave advice on it.

The report was tabled (see paper No. 479).

The SPEAKER: At this point I would like to indicate to the House that the Minister has taken advantage, for the first time in this House, of a Standing Order which was inserted in the Standing Orders last year, and I draw members’ attention to Standing Order No. 118A. It is under that particular Standing Order that the Minister has taken the action he has.

– Cultural Affairs: Film, CALIGULA
– Bill Hassell, Chief Secretary
– WA Legislative Assembly

Distributor concerns with WA action

In April 1981, James Glickenhaus’s THE EXTERMINATOR (1980) was banned from playing in Western Australia. This was despite the uncut version having been awarded an R-rating by the Commonwealth Censorship Board.

Distributors began to get nervous when this was repeated six-months later with CALIGULA.

October 12, 1981
Following concerns from the film industry that the Chief Secretary was “effectively re-introducing a continuing system of State censorship of films,” the Chief Secretary informed Cabinet of his view that this was not the case, nor his intention.

The Chief Secretary informed Cabinet that the power to prohibit the exhibition of the two films (THE EXTERMINATOR and CALIGULA) was only exercised “after careful consideration of the particular circumstances” and after receiving unanimous advice “that the films in question add nothing to the artistic or cultural life of the State.”

– Censorship of Films
– State Cabinet Records
– Government of Western Australia

A voice of reason in WA

Not everyone was happy with the Western Australian ban. Here is Labor’s Ron Davies arguing that it should be allowed to screen.

Interjections come from Labor’s Mal Bryce and the Liberal’s Sir Charles Court, Cyril Rushton and Ray Young.

November 4, 1981
Mr Davies: I understand it is very easy to buy tapes of blue movies in this State. I have seen some prosecutions made from time to time. I have said before that I am at a disadvantage in this matter because I cannot ever remember seeing an “R”- rated movie. I do not object to other people seeing them.

This brings me to the point of the Government’s attitude to morality. The Government was wrong in censoring CALIGULA. I believe it is a film that should have been made available in a closed theatre so that people who wanted to see it could do so. I asked a question as to which version was seen by the State advisory committee on publications-not films. I want to know whether it was the one from the USA, Canada, the UK, or the one passed by the Australian Film Censorship Board. I would not like to be hung because of the Figures I shall cite, but I am told that the USA version lasted 160 minutes, the Canadian 159 minutes, the UK 140 minutes, and the version passed by the Australian Film Censorship Board lasted 120 minutes.

While I would not have wanted to see 140 minutes of such a film, no doubt other people would have been prepared to do so. I am sure it would not have made them into depraved people; they would have been mature adults to have seen it. The Government could have raised the minimum age limit to beyond 18 years.

The Minister in charge of these matters is wearing two hats. How many prosecutions have been made against teenagers under 18 years going into drive-in theatres to see “R” rated movies? Not one.

Whilst this Minister has been in charge how many theatre proprietors have been prosecuted for admitting people under the age of 18 years to an “R”-rated movie? Not one.

Nevertheless, I understand that any night of the week where an “R”-rated movie is showing the Minister could find people under the age of 18 in attendance. If he were so concerned about the morality of our youth he would take the trouble to check this aspect. I realise that it is difficult to tell whether a youth is 17, 18, or 19 years of age; but no-one under the age of 18 has been prosecuted while this Minister has been in charge of the relevant portfolio. I understand that when “R”-rated movies are shown at drive-ins people can take up a position outside the fence and watch the action. They do not need to hear what is being said; they are probably mature enough to know what is going on. I have not been snooping around to ascertain this is so, but I understand it does occur.

Last Friday night I was at home by myself and found that a CARRY ON Film was to be shown. I knew these were thought to be amusing, and this one was called CARRY ON EMMANUELLE.

Sir Charles Court: You even have the right pronunciation.

Mr Davies: I found what I saw of it to be bawdy and boring. As it happened I went to sleep during the film which showed ambassadors jumping in and out of bed in a fairly graphic way with the wife of a certain ambassador.

Sir Charles Court: That is the diplomatic corp for you.

Mr Bryce: No wonder there is a waiting list for people to join!

Mr Davies: I lost count of the number of times she was in bed with different men. When I woke up I found that her husband had either lost his impotency or regained his potency, whichever is appropriate, and they had got together again. It turned out that he had been feeding her fertility pills instead of birth control pills, and she ended up with a brood of children. The final scene was of the various ambassadors looking through the window deciding which one of the children was theirs. Overall I found it to be in poor taste, especially for television. As a decent citizen I should have written to the television station about the film, but perhaps the station will pick up my remarks made in this place. I have seen much more enlightening and enjoyable films.

Mr Rushton: Did you turn it off?

Mr Davies: I woke up at the end of it. Normally I do not watch much television. I am not a TV snob, but unfortunately like other members I do not have the time to watch it. I am told that in the television series STARKSY AND HUTCH there is a tremendous amount of violence. Other similar series have an equal amount of violence.

In relation to the film CALIGULA the Minister cannot tell me which version he saw. All he has said is that the public cannot see the film because he and a few others believe it is degrading. All they have said is, “We don’t like it. We don’t think you should see it”. However, he has not brought down one prosecution under the existing law relating to children between the ages of two and 18 viewing “R”-rated movies.

Mr Young: The Minister doesn’t prosecute people.

Mr Davies: He should make his standards known.

Mr Young: Do you say he should direct the police?

Mr Davies: The Minister should not bring us into that debate. I have evidence of the Minister for Police and Traffic directing the police. The evidence is on file.

Mr Young: Are you saying he should direct the police in this ease’?

Mr Davies: The Minister for Police and Traffic has said that he does not believe a certain film is good, and therefore his standards should be our standards. However, he is doing nothing to protect the morals of our teenagers, which is something he and the Government are supposed to do. People who write to him about the film CALIGULA should ask, -“What are you doing about teenagers watching ‘R’-rated movies?” The Minister should do something about children and youths between the ages of two and 18 watching “R”-rated movies if he is at all concerned about any film. In regard to certain publications we have amended the legislation so that they are available if people ask for them. The publications must be under the counter. I have no objection to such books being available in that way, because the decision to buy them should be left to individuals, depending on their ages. Whether such publications can be considered as harmful depends on numerous things. I know many people would object to my view, but hopefully sonic would agree with it.

The Government has adopted a moral stand in regard to the availability of liquor, to prostitution, and to gambling, but its latest act in regard to the film CALIGULA is completely out of character. If it, the Minister for Police and Traffic, the Police Department, and the State Advisory Committee on Publications-not films-are so worried about particular films, they should worry also about the breaking of the law in regard to “R”-rated films. That law is broken every night of the week. The situation is as simple as that.

Protestors should say to Hassell, “How dare you not have the Act properly policed?” From what I have seen of the film CALIGULA and heard about it, I am not attracted to it. However, I refer to the film about Rome, about Caesar-


Mr Davies: That is correct. The film was very bloody. I was able to see it one Sunday evening. I thought it had good drama, but it was very bloody.

Mr Rushton’ Was that a midnight show?

Mr Davies: I think it appeared earlier than that.

Mr Young: To be exact, it was at 7.40 p.m.

Mr Davies: I thought it was good television, good drama, but it was very bloody. If films like it are to be put on television, people have the option of turning off their television sets, although I expect that it is at times difficult for parents because they may not know what their children are watching on television.

I believe the Government has made a bad blue in regard to the film CALIGULA. The Government has no right to restrict the film in the way it has, under the conditions it has imposed. I repeat that the Minister cannot tell me even the version that he saw. If the Government is concerned about such films it should actively pursue the law as it presently exists.

– WA Legislative Assembly

The following day, Ron Davies got some answers from the Chief Secretary, Bill Hassell.

November 5, 1981
Mr Davies, to the Chief Secretary:
Which version-i.e. what cuts had been made from the original of the film CALIGULA was viewed by the State advisory committee?

Mr Hassell replied:
The State advisory committee viewed the version of the film CALIGULA which was given an “R”-rating by the Chief Commonwealth Film Censor on 18 February 1981.

The original film was previously rejected by the Chief Censor on 18 March 1980. Following this rejection, a plan of reconstruction was submitted to the Chief Censor by the importer in October 1980, but found to be inadequate. The present version, approved by the Chief Censor on 18 February 1981, is the one released for screening in the United Kingdom.

Cuts made from the original film are not known.

– Cultural Affairs, Film: CALIGULA
– WA Legislative Assembly

Protecting the weak of mind in WA

The prohibition of CALIGULA continued to crop-up in WA’s Legislative Council throughout November.

Here, Ian Medcalf (Liberal) and Bob Hetherington (Labor) discuss how the film could cause people to become violent. The interjection is from Bill Withers (Liberal-Independent).

November 10, 1981
The Hon. R. Hetherington: We have to face up not only to the problem of domestic violence but also to the problem of general violence in our community. This, as the Hon. Win Piesse has said, is something we have to do by education.

The Hon. I. G. Medcalf: That is what was motivating the Chief Secretary when he decided to ban CALIGULA. He was concerned with the problem of violence and the affect it might have on the weak minded and juveniles.

The Hon. R. Hetherington: I am seriously wondering about the influence-not just on the weak minded-of visual violence we are getting in our society. It is argued that violence is cathargic if we watch it and then get away from it. I used to do that with my children. I did not mind their watching Robin Hood or cowboys and Indians- preferably with the Indian’s winning, because I did not like the old stereotyped stories-as long as the people involved were using weapons such as bows and arrows, things that were not common to their society.

The Hon. W. Rt. Withers: They kill silently.

The Hon. R. Hetherington: I did not mind the killing when it involved a fantasy world. But when we get to television films involving violence that is too much like our newsreels, I become a little worried. I am not going to start a crusade against this sort of thing here, because I have not done enough reading about it as yet and my views at present might be wrong.

The Hon. I. G. Medcalf: I will lend you some articles.

The Hon. R. Hetherington: I would be glad of that. If when I go to Adelaide early next year and the film CALIGULA is showing I will see it and decide if the Chief Secretary is right.

The Hon. I. G. Medcalf: I bet you do not sit through the whole film.

The Hon. Rt. Hetherington: The Attorney might be right, although I am good at closing my eyes during the nasty bits. I did not go to see the film JAWS because I did not want to see people eaten by sharks. It might happen, but I prefer not to see it via the medium of a film, even if it involves a mechanical shark which I know is not real. I am being led astray, but it is an important question. I have read a magazine from the Festival of Light from cover to cover. I have not been convinced by everything in it but at least I have read it. Should the people involved read my speech they would at least appreciate that.

– Domestic Violence and Women’s Refuge Centres
– WA Legislative Council

Here, the merits of the ban are discussed by Bob Pearce (Labor), Mal Bryce (Labor) and Leo Watt (Liberal).

November 11, 1981
Mr Pearce: I would not be so critical of ROAD GAMES. An American star (Stacey Keach) was brought over and the film was about a journey across the Nullarbor Plains from Western Australia to South Australia. It is not a film over which anyone would want to lose any sleep, and if one did not go to it, one would quite happily have saved the $5.

Mr Bryce: Unlike CALIGULA-you at least had the option.

Mr Pearce: I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that at least one could choose whether one went to see ROAD GAMES which was not the case in respect of CALIGULA.

Mr Watt: Do you think CALIGULA should have been available for viewing?

Mr Pearce: I would not go and see CALIGULA, because it is a bad movie, but I would not tell the member for Albany he should not go. I would advise him not to go, but I would not stop him from going if he were foolish enough to spend his money in that way.

– The Western Australian Film Council Includes Transfer to Trust Fund
– WA Legislative Assembly

WA drive-in vs. hard-top

The prohibition of CALIGULA in Western Australia did have its opponents. Here David Parker (Labor) asks the Chief Secretary, Bill Hassell (Liberal), why it could not be restricted to hard-top only screenings.

At the time, numerous sexploitation films, such as Jess Franco’s LOVE CAMP (1977) and SWEDISH NYMPHO SLAVES (1977) were playing in drive-in theatres, which could be easily viewed from outside. Parker goes on to rename the Festival of Light, who campaigned for the ban, as the Festival of Darkness.

Interjections are from Ron Davies (Labor), Mal Bryce (Labor), Brian Burke (Labor) and Barry Blaikie (Liberal).

November 26, 1981
Mr Parker: This Division covers a multitude of sins, and I intend to deal with a number of them this evening; but I will try to keep my remarks relatively brief.

One of the areas of operation of the Chief Secretary and his department is that of censorship. Some time ago, considerable publicity was given to the fact that the Chief Secretary had banned in Western Australia the showing of the film CALIGULA.

In Western Australia we have an Act which gives the Chief Secretary the power to make a decision with respect to a film which already has been allowed into Australia and which has been classified for viewing under one or other of the classifications by the Chief Film Censor. Of course, that is currently Lady Duckmanton [Janet Strickland]. I would not imagine she is a person of lewd tastes. Indeed, she is a considerable person in the community, and is probably very highly regarded.

Mr Hassell: She is only one of a board.

Mr Parker: She may be only one of a board, but she is the Chief Film Censor.

A large number of films come into Australia each year; and many of those films are given an “R” certificate by the Chief Film Censor. Some of them are given an “R” certificate without alteration, and others are cut before they are allowed to be shown with an “R” certificate.

The film CALIGULA was cut before it was allowed to be shown in other parts of this country. Indeed, the version which is being shown in other States is the version which was approved for release in Great Britain.

We see a tremendous inconsistency between the attitude of the Chief Secretary to this film and his attitude to other films. I am not able to explain the inconsistency, although a little later I might suggest a hypothesis as to why this attitude has been taken.

I took the trouble to refer to The West Australian of the last few weeks to learn the sorts of films that are being shown in Western Australia. I was not particularly concerned about those being shown in hard-top cinemas; I was looking at those being shown at drive-in theatres, because the drive-ins are places which are generally accessible.

One reason that the drive-ins are accessible is that people come in cars, and it is difficult to determine whether the people in the cars are over the age of 18 years. Of course, a requirement regarding an “R”-certificate film is that people must be 18 years old to be permitted to see it.

The first problem is that people may go into drive-ins when they are under the age of 18 years, as I am sure very many of them do. Secondly, many drive-in screens are able to be seen readily from the road. It is easy for anybody to drive past or park outside a drive-in and see the screen. As one goes along the road, one sees people parked outside the drive-ins watching the films from the roads. In the case of some of the “R”-certificate films, I would not imagine that not being able to hear anything would be a particularly great impediment to one’s appreciation, if that is the word, of the film.

I wish to give a resume or the “R”-certificate films showing in the drive-ins in the Perth metropolitan area. I repeat that these are being shown at the drive-ins, not at the hard-top cinemas. The films include EROTICA, which is described as “a film to set your fantasies on fire”; TWENTY SECONDS—“you explode”; THE WORLD IS FULL OF MARRIED MEN; VANESSA-“she starts where EMMANUELLE left off”

The Deputy Chairman (Mr Blaikie): I hope you can relate this to the Chief Secretary’s department.

Mr Parker: Very definitely. The Chief Secretary is in charge or Film censorship.

The next film is CAN I DO IT TILL I NEED GLASSES? That has been approved by the Chief Secretary to be shown in a drive-in in Perth. Other films include NAUGHTY NELL AND BIG DICK and BLUE SUMMER. These are the films showing at the moment.


As I have said, the drive-ins are readily accessible to young people, and it is very difficult to police the people going into drive-ins. Indeed. I am not aware-and the Chief Secretary can correct me if I am wrong-of any prosecutions of under age people attending drive-ins. However, the Chief Secretary says that in no cinema in Western Australia can people see the film CALIGULA.

The reviews of that film which I have read in reputable international magazines such as Time, The Guardian, and various other publications of that nature, indicate that the film CALIGULA is not one that anybody in this Chamber would want to see. The report produced by the Chief Secretary, which was prepared by the State advisory committee on publications, indicates that those descriptions of the film are probably not inaccurate.

I say categorically that I have no desire to see the film CALIGULA. I am sure many other people in the community also would not have that desire. The point is the Chief Secretary is prohibiting anyone from seeing CALIGULA. In Other words, the Chief Secretary is removing the basic right of people to make a positive decision not to see the film. At the same time, he is allowing the films which I have just listed to be shown in drive-ins where they are readily accessible. Indeed, the names of some of the films, as we have just discovered, are hardly conducive to good morals, let alone the films themselves.

What is the reason for allowing a film which is called CAN I DO IT TILL I NEED GLASSES? to be shown at a drive-in cinema, but not allowing a film like CALIGULA to be shown in a hard-top cinema?

It seems to the Opposition-on this matter I am speaking on behalf of the Opposition which has made a policy decision in this regard-that there are grounds for imposing the normal restrictions accorded by the censor on those films which can be shown in drive-in cinemas.

I would be more than happy if the Chief Secretary were to use the powers he has already in order to advise these film exhibitors that they are not allowed to show some of the films I have mentioned in drive-in cinemas, but rather that they be shown in hard-top cinemas.

It seems to me the decision needs to be made that, if the Commonwealth film censor has determined a film is suitable with the appropriate modifications to be shown as classified in Australia, that ought to be sufficient reason for the legislation to provide that film can be shown somewhere in the State and that it will not be banned totally. It must be remembered that film has been through the Commonwealth censorship process already.

The Opposition’s policy on this matter is that if it were in Government some of the films which I have said are being shown in suburban drive-ins would not be allowed to be shown there, but there would be no film which had been passed by the Commonwealth film censor which would be banned completely from being shown in Western Australia.

In other words, our ban would be directed not at the showing of the film which could be shown at a hard-top cinema where it is easy for the proprietor to watch the people going in and out and there is no danger of someone driving or walking past and seeing what is going on on the screen-they have to pay their money and be vetted as they go in the door-but rather, if we were in Government, a film such as CALIGULA censored as it has been by the Commonwealth film censor, would be allowed to be shown, in a hard-top cinema.

However, neither CALIGULA nor some of the films I have mentioned which are being shown currently in drive-ins, would be allowed to be shown in those drive-ins. That seems to be a much more sensible policy than that adopted by the Chief Secretary who has totally banned the showing of the film CALIGULA. If a film already has been through the Commonwealth censorship process, if it has been cut, certified as being suitable for one or other of the classifications of exhibition, and if it is here and exhibitors are wanting to show it, they should be told they can show it, but in a hard-top cinema and the police must do their job to ensure that the exhibitor prohibits people under the age of 18 years from entering the cinema. I would hazard a guess far more harm is done when people go to see some of the films I have mentioned in a drive-in-and some of the people seeing those would be subject to far more harm than would people who make a positive decision to go to a hard-top cinema-than there would be if we followed the policy I am enunciating.

If we were in Government, all those films would be allowed to be shown, but they would be available in a place where, in order that a person might see them, he would have to make a positive decision. There would be no danger of a person who has not made a positive decision to see the film or a child under the age of 18, seeing the film by accident.

The Chief Secretary’s policy on this matter is s quite wrong. I endorse the editorial which appeared in The West Australian after the Chief Secretary announced his policy which indicated it was a very dangerous one upon which the Chief Secretary had embarked. I t seems the fundamental policy which we are adopting is that people should be able to see the films of their choice, irrespective of what I might think, or what the Chief Secretary or his committee might think of them. The restrictions which need to be imposed are those which affect the place of viewing, so a positive decision has to be made by a person to go to see a film, and there is no chance of under-age people seeing it.

The Chief Secretary is being totally hypocritical in regard to this matter. The film CALIGULA has received a great deal of adverse international publicity. One of my favourite authors who originally did some work on the script, completely disowned the final product. I have no reason to doubt what he said about it. I am sure all that has been said about the film, in terms of what it contains, is quite correct and I do not argue that point.

I am simply arguing that it has been through the Commonwealth censorship process and it ought to be shown in this State as are all the other films which have been through that process. The power of the Chief Secretary, either in terms of discretion or a change to the legislation, ought to be confined to a determination of the films to be shown in hard-top cinemas as opposed to those which are to be shown in drive-ins.

The Deputy Chairman (Mr Blaikie): Order! I suggest to the member for Fremantle, if he wishes to continue to speak to this Part, he should do so, but now he is starting to go over ground he has covered already, and I suggest he make progress.

Mr Parker: I have finished that point and I am making progress. Perhaps in some ways it is hardly surprising the Chief Secretary would have chosen this film on which to exercise his censorial powers, because Caligula himself-the man about whom the film was made-has certain similarities to the Chief Secretary.

Caligula was not the real name of the emperor concerned. His name was Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. However, as a small child he was nicknamed “Caligula” because, according to the various reference books in the Parliamentary Library, translated Caligula means “Little Jack Boots”. The reason Master Caligula was given that name was because of his arrogance and the fact that, when he achieved a position of power, he misused it in a way which was to the detriment of the people with whom he was dealing and also to the detriment of the empire concerned.

We all know the end result for Caligula was not very satisfactory from his point of view. He was killed by some of his former supporters; but, in the meantime, he had demonstrated a complete contempt not only for his empire, but also for the people who put him in the position of power he held. It was he who had such contempt for the other senators and for the parliamentary process which was then in operation in Rome-the Senate-that he nominated his horse as a member of the Senate.

Mr Brian Burke: At least they elected a whole horse.

Mr Parker: It was a whole horse rather than merely a portion of one. Nevertheless, the point I am making is that Caligula had a contempt for the parliamentary democratic processes which operated in Rome at the time he was emperor and prior to it. He did not have much to do with it after that; he was dead.

Perhaps it is not surprising the Chief Secretary would have chosen this particular film on which to exercise his censorial powers. It might have been somewhat embarrassing had the film been shown in the State of Western Australia.


Mr Hassell: I will deal briefly with the other points raised by the member for Fremantle. He said that there was an inconsistency in the decisions relating to the film CALIGULA. The whole matter of censorship, especially of films, is extremely difficult, and I do not think any easy answer is available. An easy temptation exists to respond to the many attempts presently made in the community for a tightening up in the whole of the area. It would be easy to do so with a considerable degree of community support.

Mr Parker: It is the festival of darkness.

Mr Hassell: It would not at all be the festival of darkness.

Mr Bryce: You would love to spearhead that, wouldn’t you?

Mr Hassell: If we were to do that we would end quickly the system of uniform censorship that we have supported for many years and which has operated for many years in this State and others. It is not our policy to do that.

What we have maintained-I will repeal this-is that the 1976 amendments to the Censorship of Films Act were passed deliberately to deal with extreme cases. It is not hard to identify which cases are the most extreme. The member for Fremantle read out a list of titles, and during the course of doing so he mentioned that the titles did not relate to one film. Perhaps he made the point that all the advice I received in relation to CALIGULA was that it represented all ‘those things to which he referred put together in one film, and that is why that film was so totally condemned by the Government’s advisers who viewed it.

Mr Parker: I am saying it was dealt with in the wrong way.

Mr Hassell: I know the member is saying that; that is his view and he can have it. The public accepted the ban on CALIGULA and, to a large extent, welcomed it.

Mr Davies: Aren’t the distributors trying to get you to change your mind so they can put it into a hard-top theatre?

Mr Hassell: Some representations have been made to me in that regard. Off hand I do not recall whether they have been dealt with or finalised, but in view of the advice we have in relation to CALIGULA we are not likely to change the decision that was made deliberately.

– Division 81: Chief Secretary’s Department, $1 349 000
– WA Legislative Assembly

Video releases

In mid-1982, CALIGULA was announced as coming to home video.

Caligula (1979) - Advertisement 1
Ad – Roadshow – May 1982
Caligula (1979) - Advertisement 2
Ad – Roadshow – Jul. 1982

The R-rated modified version was released by Roadshow.

Caligula (1979) - VHS videotape 1
VHS – Roadshow

A reissue followed that packaged it in a mock red velvet cover. This is now very rare, especially in good condition, and is highly sought-after by collectors.

Caligula (1979) - VHS videotape 2
VHS – Roadshow

Both ran 143:19 (PAL) and identified the print as the ‘modified version’ as required by Film Censorship Board.

Video classification introduced

In February 1984, it became law for all videotapes to be submitted to the Film Censorship Board. At the same time, the X-rating was introduced, and until mid-1985, it was considered not only for hardcore films but also for material that was too extreme to receive an R. During this period, titles such as CALIGULA could pass uncut. The guidelines were soon tightened and violent content removed until it became the exclusive home of hardcore pornography.

In May 1984, Palace Home Video received an X-rating for a 143-minute tape. It was accompanied by the warning that the film contained sex and violence that was:
Frequency: Infrequent
Explicitness/Intensity: High
Purpose: Gratuitous

In this case, the 143-minute running time may be an error as it corresponds with the ‘modified version’.

A week later, Pakenham Video Library was awarded an R-rating for another 143-minute tape. It was accompanied by the warning that the film contained sex and violence that was:
Frequency: Frequent
Explicitness/Intensity: Medium
Purpose: Gratuitous

This was either a copy of Roadshow’s tape or an import of a similarly modified print.

Caligula (1979) - Advertisement 3
Ad – Palace X – Jun. 1984

When the Roadshow Home Video release appeared in mid-1982, it was not viewed by the Film Censorship Board. This did not take place until September 1984 when they confirmed it with an R-rating.

In January 1985, CALIGULA once again received an X-rating. This time it was the full 155:53 (PAL) version.

The cover of the Palace X Video release that followed promoted it as ‘Finally-the uncut version of CALIGULA, the most expensive and explicit multi-million dollar “X” certificate film in cinema history’.

Caligula (1979) - VHS videotape 4
VHS – Palace X

Both the NSW and Queensland Police received X-ratings for the 156-minute tapes in October 1985. Presumably, these were copies of the Palace X Video release.

Unofficial VHS releases

In the late 1990s, there were two ‘no name’ video reissues of CALIGULA. Neither was submitted for classification, so any consumer advice after the ratings were fabricated.

The first ran 141:09 and featured a Vestron Video logo at the end. This indicates it was copied from an American tape.

Caligula (1979) - VHS videotape 5
VHS – No Name label

The source and running time of the second is unknown.

Caligula (1979) - VHS videotape 6
VHS – No Name label

The cover of this 1997 release labelled it R (High level sex scenes).

Dupe tape troubles

In April 2003, a 123-minute VHS dupe containing BAISE-MOI (2002) and A DOCUMENTARY ON THE MAKING OF ‘GORE VIDAL’S CALIGULA’ (1981) was refused by the OFLC.

In this case, it is likely that BAISE MOI (2002), which had just been banned in May 2002, was the target of the submission.

The accompanying MAKING OF had first appeared on the 1999 American DVD from Image Entertainment. It does contain hardcore footage, so in theory, the mixture with violence could have been enough for it to be refused as a stand-alone feature.

The applicant was the Victoria Police – Bendigo S.O. and C.A. Unit.

DVD release

In December 2004, a CALIGULA: TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION was passed with an R (Nudity, Sexual references, Adult themes) rating.

Caligula (1979) - DVD cover 1
DVD – Warner Vision

This heavily modified 101:40 (NTSC) version was released by Warner Vision in March 2005. The disc featured filmographies as the only extra.

DVD banned

In 2005, CALIGULA was once again Refused Classification.

December 5, 2005
Film 1(a): The film is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Films Table, 1. (a) as films that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.”

– Classification Board

It was submitted under the title CALIGULA: TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION. Even though no running time was listed, this must have been the uncut version.

The applicant, the ACT Office of Fair Trading, is responsible for policing compliance with the rental and sale of X-rated items in the Territory. Presumably, this DVD was found on the shelves of an adult store.

Unofficial DVD releases

In 2008, CALIGULA appeared on a ‘no name’ DVD label.

Caligula (1979) - DVD cover 2
DVD – No Name label

The cover had the new R18+ rating logo, but no consumer advice. It claimed to run 102-minutes.

Soon after, a second ‘no name’ DVD appeared. The consumer advice of ‘Nudity, Sexual references, Adult themes’ was taken from the December 2004 classification. No running time was listed.

Caligula (1979) - DVD cover 3
DVD – No Name label

Please e-mail us if you can confirm which versions these DVDs contain.

Seized at the border

There is one report of a customs confiscation of the 2009 release of the uncut ‘Imperial Edition’.

Caligula (1979) - Blu-ray cover 1
Blu-ray – Image

2009 – Blu-ray, Image Entertainment (USA).

RC-rating remains

In 2010, a 930-minute, extras-packed DVD of CALIGULA was banned by the Classification Board.

This was presumably the uncut version.

July 20, 2010
Film 1(a): The film is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Films Table, 1. (a) as films that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.”

– Classification Board

Via Vision Entertainment was the applicant.

Pay-TV premiere

In 2014, CALIGULA premiered on the World Movies pay-TV channel.

After promoting the screening on social media, the channel was questioned about what print would be shown.

March 13, 2009
Peter Marshall
Ahh, but which version of CALIGULA? In assuming you can’t go full X.
World Movies

Hi Peter, the uncut version of CALIGULA is still banned in Australia, so it has had some very minor modifications made to ensure an R18+ rating and will air on World Movies for the first time on Australian TV. WM

– facebook.com/theworldmovieschannel.au [dead link]

March 17, 2014
Due to popular demand, World Movies is bringing you another week of unforgettable films that changed the film industry forever. More Films That Shocked The World starts tonight at 9.30 pm and is set to push the boundaries of controversial cinema further than ever before.

From an outrageously twisted cult-classic to a violent look at a real-life serial killer, these are the films that have shocked, outraged and been banned around the world.

Before the week kicks off, let’s take a look at why these films were so scandalous.

Friday 21 March 9.30 pm
CALIGULA (United Kingdom [sic]) – Australian Television Premiere

– The stories behind the scandalous ‘More Films That Shocked The World’
– World Movies

An incomplete stream

A modified 144:48 version of CALIGULA has played on the Stan streaming channel.

Caligula (1979) - SVOD 1
SVOD – Stan

In 2017, they had it listed with their own R18+ (High impact nudity, Sexual references, Themes) rating.

Uncut at last?

In August 2021, a 161-minute version passed with an R18+ (Actual sexual activity, high impact nudity and sexual violence) rating.

The classification matrix described,
High impact: themes, violence, nudity, sex
Mild impact: language
None: drug use

Presumably, this was the uncut version. The applicant, Umbrella Entertainment, never released it.

Another unofficial DVD release

A third bootleg DVD appeared around 2023.

Caligula (1979) - DVD cover 4
DVD – No Name label

The cover lists a 156-minute and promotes it as ‘Totally Uncut and Uncensored’. The R18+ rating has no consumer advice.

More footage…but less sex

In November 2023, Umbrella Entertainment had the 178-minute CALIGULA: THE ULTIMATE CUT rated R18+ (High impact sex scenes, nudity and sexual violence).

The classification matrix again described,
High impact: themes, violence, nudity, sex
Mild impact: language
None: drug use

November 15, 2023
A modified version of the previously classified 1979 feature film CALIGULA, said to be THE ULTIMATE CUT…Modifications include re-edited previously unreleased footage, an animated opening sequence as well as sound and film restoration.

The film contains themes including mental health, torture and rape.

The film contains violence with bladed weapons that result in generous blood detail and a scene depicting a decapitation. The film feature an extended scene of sexual violence with accompanying blood detail.

The film contains frequent realistically simulated sexual activity including fellatio, cunnilingus, breast mouthing accompanied by sexualised nudity. The film contains verbal sexual references.

The film contains use of the words, “slut” and “whore”.

The film contains full frontal male and female nudity which is both sexualised and non-sexualised with an extended duration and occasional genital focus. Large statues and models of male and female genitalia are present throughout the film.

– More information about the content of this film
– Classification Board

CALIGULA: THE ULTIMATE CUT (2023) is a new version prepared by Thomas Negovan from unused footage found in the Penthouse archive.

The hardcore sex, shot by Bob Guccione, is removed. It explains why the previous R18+ mentions ‘Actual sexual activity’ but now downgrades it to ‘high impact’ and ‘realistically simulated’.