Reviews 2012

Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body

Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body. Katia Pizzi (ed.). New York and London: Routledge, 2012. 280 pages. $133 (hardback).

The nineteenth century, which witnessed the invention of the puppet Pinocchio, was characterised by an ever increasing interest towards dummies, puppets and marionettes. Since then, numerous studies on the role played by Pinocchio and, more generally speaking by puppets, have been carried out leading to the conclusion that the field has already been extensively investigated. Nevertheless, Katia Pizzi in Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body manages to provide original insight into the study of mechanical bodies and their relation with modernity. The collection addresses the influence of mechanised bodies in many subject areas such as, literature theatre, painting, radio, and film, which reveal a noteworthy multidisciplinary aspect. The volume collects papers presented in occasion of a symposium held in 2006 on the topic of the mechanical body.

In the opening chapter, Jean Perrot examines the ‘secret bonds’ of intertextuality (24) between Collodi (the pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini) and George Sand and analyses the presence of French influences and references in Collodi’s novel Le Avventure di Pinocchio [The Adventures of Pinocchio]. Like Perrot, the contributors of the second and third chapters, respectively Ann Lawson Lucas and Charles Kopp, compare Pinocchio to other puppets and/or monsters. For instance, Lawson Lucas explores the similarities and the differences between E.T.A Hoffman’s Der Sandmann [The Sandman] (1816) and Collodi’s Pinocchio, while Kopp draws an original comparison between Pinocchio and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This last comparison brings to light that, although both narrative works protagonists are hominoids, Pinocchio and Frankenstein are rather different in terms of genre, tonal register, their characteristics and their destinies. Nonetheless, a similarity is worth considering: both works describe the production and birth of hominoid creatures by male creators but in neither book there is a reference to reproduction by means of the female body (70).

Jill Fell and Christopher Cairns largely develop the theme of modern theatre puppets. For instance, Jill Fell examines Alfred Jarry’s Monsieur Ubu paying deeper attention to the marionette’s anatomy. Fell’s analysis is carried out within a European avant-garde context, and in particular the work of Dada, a period which witnesses the fin-de-siècle concern towards the ever growing developments of mechanical toys in the late nineteenth century. Especially in the twentieth century, during which Futurist ideas proliferated and enthusiasm for machines influenced several disciplines, theatre witnessed the most significant experiences in terms of mechanised bodies, as shown in the essay produced by Cairns. The author addresses the theatre of Dario Fo, who was the first to attribute great value to objects, masks and mannequins (93). In Fo’s theatre, as Cairns reveals, mannequins (the term is used here as an umbrella term for puppets, dummies, marionettes and dolls) have multiple functions, first and foremost political satire and irony. Futurism, and its enthusiasm for Pinocchio and mechanised bodies, within the wider context of machine advocacy (9), is discussed by Katia Pizzi in her own contribution, where she analyses Futurist Luciano Folgore’s copious production at the John Paul Getty Research Library.

Two articles in the collection stand out due to the original viewpoint of their analysis. In the first, the visual artist Stephen Wilson explores the fire-place motif in Collodi’s text seen from the point of view of an illustrator. The paper is followed by Susan Lawson’s interview in which Wilson clarifies the visual cultural aspects in Pinocchio. In the second and more innovative contribution, Massimo Riva investigates Pinocchio’s identity by questioning the genre of Collodi’s original story in an experimental undergraduate course at Brown University.

As the above summary reveals, one of the most interesting and remarkable aspects of Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity is the multidisciplinary approach of the collection which does not deal exclusively with literature but also with other forms of art. This is particularly evident in the double contribution by Salvatore Consolo who focuses on the role of marionettes and puppets, in particular of Pinocchio, in cinematographic transpositions. In his first article, Consolo analyses five Pinocchio films dating from 1911 through to 2002 (Antamoro, Disney, Guardone, Comencini and Benigni). In Consolo’s second essay, on how to transpose literary narratives into movies, Roberto Benigni’s cinematic transposition is further explored. Here, Consolo explains the main reasons of the unsuccessful distribution of the movie abroad, and especially in the United States, throughout the investigation of the narrative structure, the characters, time and space, the soundtrack, and the viewpoint of Benigni’s Pinocchio.

In conclusion, Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body casts a new light on the field of study of Pinocchio, puppets, and mechanised bodies in general. Thus, the collection seems to be the evidence that, despite what one may think, investigations into Pinocchio are far from complete: studies featuring alternative perspectives are still possible. Katia Pizzi’s book may be used as valuable reference material for further research on the subject thanks to the high quality of its contributions.

Melissa Garavini
University of Turku, Finland