Gore Vidal at the Whitney

Outspoken political novelist Gore Vidal makes a filmed appearance at the current Whitney Biennial art show in New York City. If you’re looking for a good museum experience in New York City this spring, the Whitney Biennial is the right choice; the show is designed to showcase new artists, outsider artists, digital folk artists and conceptualists with a wide range of backgrounds. The roster of artists is highly eclectic and includes poets (Ira Cohen,
Taylor Mead), musicians (a Miles Davis painting hangs on a wall, along with a page of cartoons by oddball songwriter Daniel Johnston), computer programmers and video auteurs.

One of the more interesting exhibits is a video trailer for a film that doesn’t exist, Gore Vidal’s Caligula, complete with real movie stars like Karen Black and Helen Mirren in decadent Roman costumes eating grapes and other things. At first I thought the title was meant to be ironic, but then I learned that the famous 1979 film Caligula starring Malcolm “Clockwork Orange” McDowell as the ultraviolent emperor was in fact based on Gore Vidal’s Caligula. The “new version” exists only as a preview for a remake of the 1979 film, running in continuous loop in a small room inside the museum.

The historical Caligula is compelling to modern artists and writers because of the extremity of his egotism and careless greed. The first 20th Century writer to find a fascinating metaphor in this tyrant was Albert Camus, whose play about Caligula must have inspired Gore Vidal. In this popular diagramatic work, the emperor is a walking existential disaster, miserably trapped in his unstoppable thirst for pleasure and power. A lonely soul with the morals of a child and the powers of a god, he does terrible things just to explore the boundaries of his endless boredom. He forces a nobleman to stand by while he rapes his wife at a public political gathering, amused only by the utter humiliation and not even satisfied by that.

I’m not sure exactly what video artist Francesco Vezzoli had in mind when he created this hypothetical movie, but when Gore Vidal shows up to speak a few lines he’s got a broad smile on his face. Somehow I imagine there’s a political statement in here somewhere.

5 Responses

  1. Home WreckerIs this the book
    Home Wrecker

    Is this the book that almost did in his marriage, or maybe it was another one – an expose on pornography? I don’t remember for sure.

    Vidal’s always been kinda ‘out there’, for lack of a better expression.

  2. Hey Steve — I’m not familiar
    Hey Steve — I’m not familiar with that story, but I know the movie was supposed to have been pretty pornographic, so you may be right. Anyone know for sure?

  3. Marriage? I’ll have to look
    Marriage? I’ll have to look into that. Gore Vidal had a “life partner” who was a man. It’s all the the Gore Vidal link in Levi’s initial story.

  4. caligula triviathe 1979
    caligula trivia

    the 1979 movie, Caligula, is considered to be a terrible movie by most critics (not due the the content, but just a badly made movie). This is not Gore Vidal’s fault. After the movie was filmed, Pentohouse Magazine (who financed the movie) got greedy and took all the film back and had it edited by people who knew nothing about editing.

  5. Yeh, Bill, come to think of
    Yeh, Bill, come to think of it, I’m confusing Gore with someone else. I actually woke in the middle of the night and remembered he was gay, hoping nobody on Litkicks realized what a dope I am!

    You got me man!

    As to who I’m confusing him with, I haven’t a clue. So there you go.

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