By XING CHOUWEN
BEIJING (China Daily Show) — China’s official state television channel has surprised observers with the announcement that it intends to be the first terrestrial broadcaster in the world to screen the full, unexpurgated four-hour Director’s Cut of controversial 1979 film Caligula.
The decision is the brainchild of Peter Davenport, recently appointed as new creative director of China Central Television (CCTV), following 2011’s disastrous Spring Festival gala show, or Chunwan, described by one irate critic as “the longest suicide note in Chinese television history.”
The 2011 Chunwan fiasco, which drew all-time-low ratings of just 967 million, shocked executives into ordering a shake-up of the channel, long-known for its tedious programming. One top propaganda official was said to have flown into a rage after being sent a DVD of Chunwan: Complete Happy Cut as a New Year gift.
According to a source, identified as “one of the Xinwen Lianbo presenters,” the state-owned monolith held several rounds of interviews for the coveted post before coming to a decision. Davenport landed the job after surrealist director David Lynch was rejected as “too close to the current chunwan style.”
Davenport, a UK citizen and former director of Channel 4 who was sacked in 2005 following allegations of sexual harassment, immediately ordered the channel to take a radical new direction, ditching tedious historical dramas, tacky game shows and dull news reports for more sensationalist content.
Caligula, which starred Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud, is an unusual choice for Chinese media, as the original release drew widespread criticism for its scenes of hardcore sex and graphic violence. After numerous scenes were re-shot in secret and pornographic orgies inserted, writer Gore Vidal disowned the project and almost every version since released has been incomplete.
“I’ve spoken to Tinto [Brass, the director] and Bob [Guccione, the producer]’s estate about the material and we’ve agreed on a definitive version at last,” Davenport told China Daily Show.
“Tinto is delighted that Chinese television will be the first to broadcast this lavish masterpiece and recognize its genius,” said a press release from Brass. “He’s particularly pleased that the long-misunderstood, so-called ‘equine scene,’ featuring a horse and two nymphs, has at last been retained in its full glory.”
“Are you serious?” was the reaction of Grady Einstein, Beijing bureau chief for Fores, a US golfing magazine known for its anti-China imperialist bent. “This is great news. I, for one, will be having a night in that night.”
Gerald Gould, a media analyst in Beijing, said the screening was “unprecedented,” adding, “It has certainly brightened my day.”
Davenport also plans to bring in new foreign franchises, with reality series The Real Housewives of Chongqing Municpality set to begin filming in April.
Producers Endemol were said to be disappointed when they failed to sell rights to their ailing Big Brother show, however. “The idea of an all-controlling faceless entity monitoring and directing the actions of a society under constant surveillance clashes with China’s Confucian values,” Davenport said. “I don’t think the Chinese would understand it.”
Follow this and other leading China news at @chinadailyshow on Twitter