And speaking of butter and unlikely phallic symbols, I’m reminded that there’s a famous butter scene in Tinto Brass’s “Caligula,” represented here.
At one time the movie was going to be called “Gore Vidal’s Caligula” but then Vidal denounced the whole project and had his name taken off, so it’s hard to know if he was the writer of the butter scene. Brass is certainly a fan of the bottom, but only of the female sort as far as I know.
I always misremember and think that Vidal wrote the famous homo-erotic oyster/snail scene in Kubrick’s “Spartacus.” He didn’t of course, he wrote the famous homo-erotic scene in “Ben-Hur.”
So I’m not sure who did write the oyster/snail scene - Dalton Trumbo was the main scriptwriter, with uncredited contributions from Peter Ustinov; and frankly it sounds more like Ustinov. Still, I’m sure Gore Vidal would have been very happy to have written the following: (in the movie, Crassus is played by Laurence Olivier, who we know was sexually versatile, Antonius is Tony Curtis: a pretty straight arrow by all accounts):
Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
Antoninus: When I have them, master.
Crassus: Do you eat snails?
Antoninus: No, master.
Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
Antoninus: No, master.
Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
Antoninus: Yes, master.
Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.
Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.
Now it’s pretty darn obvious we’re talking bisexuality here, and I can see that the oyster is a reasonable stand in for the vulva; but what man in his right mind would want his genitals compared to a snail?
“Spartacus” was based on Howard Fast’s novel of the same name. It contains no reference to snails or oyster, but it does contain an extraordinary scene in which a character called Senvius claims to have bought “a quarter of a million pounds of slave to be turned into sausage.” “I will never eat sausage again,” declares a delicate flower called Claudia. “I never ate it,” says her companion Helena. Once you start looking for sexual metaphors you can find them just about everywhere.
Gore Vidal supposedly once asked his mother what the 19th century was like. She said, “Well, the food was awfully good.”
Above, far right, is Gore at the elegantly named Cafe Nicholson.
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