Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fellini's 'Pinocchio' and Other Unfilmed Fairy Tales

In the wake of the update on Disney's live-action Pinocchio getting a new director (see HERE for the quick news post), we thought it about time we finish this archived draft and give you some more Pinocchio news you might not have been aware of.

Did you know Roberto Benigni, who went from wowing the world with his film, Life is Beautiful to freaking everyone out with his Pinocchio, originally talked with Fellini about making Pinocchio, with himself (Benigni) as the lead?
While the Benigni Pinocchio film flopped, it did return the Italian sense of comedy to the story and there is a strong sense - or at least, various homages - to Fellini throughout. Perhaps it flopped partly because it didn't translate well to English (and the actual dubbing into English certainly did much more harm than good!) but in putting Pinocchio on film, Benigni did little more than try to remain faithful to Collodi (many would say "too faithful") and never brought a fresh filmic sensibility to the story, so that it would work in the different medium (ie. film, as opposed to the original, which was a serialized story). Fellini, though, had quite different plans for his version, which unfortunately never came to be.

Would it have been better, as in better received and a better-made film? Who's to say. The trouble with making Pinocchio 'a real boy', literally, is that the character, and his journey and stories, easily become the stuff of nightmares. the very least that can be assumed is that it would have been 'Fellini-esque' and therefore a very, very different result.
Here's an extract from the book I, Fellini by Federico Fellini, Charlotte Chandler (1994*), describing his love for Collodi's Pinocchio, a little of what he had hoped to do with the story (but never did) and how he felt about fairy tales in general:
A film I have always wanted to make is Collodi's Pinocchio. it would be different from the Disney version. in my Pinocchio, every time the marionette said something untrue to a woman, it would not be his nose that grew. 
When I was little, a book seemed to be something to throw at your brother... When I was eight or nine years old, I had my first happy meeting with a book that became a good friend to me throughout my life - Pinocchio. It's not just a wonderful book, but it's one of the great books. I feel that it has had an enormous influence on me. It was the beautiful pictures which first caught my attention. It was the way I wished I could draw. 
Through Pinocchio, I learned I could love a book, that a book could offer a magical experience, and this was, as it turned out, not just a book for childhood, but one that could be read forever, I have read it several times in my life since my early childhood discovery.
The end of the book is the poorest part because Carlo Collodi, as a nineteenth-century man, moralizes when the puppet becomes a boy. It is sad because, losing his marionettehood, Pinocchio loses his childhood, the marvelous life of knowing animals and magic, in return for becoming a good, conforming idiot.
Pinocchio was born in Romagna, just like me. I wanted to make the story as Collodi intended it, with live actors, but in the spirit of the great Chiostri illustrations. When I was young, I used to practice drawing by trying to copy those drawings, but I could never achieve what Chiostri did. I had many ideas for showing Pinocchio in the Country of Toys in the film I would make. 
Fellini's self-portrait/caricature
with Ginger and Fred
I did not identify with Pinocchio, but with Gepetto. Creating Pinocchio was like making a film. I could see the relationship between Gepetto's carving out Pinocchio and my carving out a film. Gepetto was making the marionette from a piece of wood, but little did he know that soon he would not be in control. With every chip he carved away, Pinocchio was becoming more. It is exactly the way I feel when I am directing a film, as the film starts to direct me. Gepetto though he was the one in charge, but the more he carved, the further he got away from it. 
Pinocchio was one of my favorite friends. If I could have made the film, with live people as I wanted to do, I would like to have played the part of Gepetto, and there was only one perfect actor to play Pinocchio - Giulietta**. 
I have always been fascinated by the fairy tales of Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. Imagine - "Rapunzel." "The Princess and the Pea," "The Littel Mermaid"! I would love to bring those fairy tales to the screen. I have this vision of the princess there in her nightdress, so uncomfortable and unable to sleep, on top of a mountain of mattresses, not realizing that it is a pea under the bottom of the first mattress that is the cause of her distress. The scene is so developed in my mind that sometimes I feel I have already made the film. Poor romantic little mermaid who gives all for love, yet we understand, because each of us searches throughout life for love. "The Emperor's New Clothes" is such a profound concept. Fairy tales are one of the greatest expressions of man by men. Another reason I was attracted to Jung was his revealing interpretation of fairy tales as part of our subconscious history. 
Life is a combination of magic and pasta, of fantasy and of reality. Films are the magic, and pasta is the reality, or is it the other way around? I have never been very good at distinguishing between what is real and what is not..."
And here is another extract from an interview with Rolling Stone, titled Fellini's Language Of Dreams (referencing his ENORMOUS sketch and notebook, some of which can be seen online):
RS: Aside from the circus and the artists Of Rimini, what else influenced you creatively as a child? 
Fellini: Fairy tales. My grandmother used to tell them to me. She was a farmer, a peasant, and her stories ‑ since she lived in the country and was surrounded by animals ‑ always concerned horses, cats, owls, bats. So we grew up to respect and be very curious about them. And still today, when I eat a chicken, I'm afraid that suddenly it will become a prince once it's inside me! [Laughing] I've always had ‑and still have‑ this feeling. 
Also, when I was eight or nine, Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet was an enormous influence. It isn't just a wonderful book, for me it's one of the great books ‑ equal to Homer's Odyssey and Kafka's The Trial. And for my generation, it was our first happy encounter with a book. When you're small, a book is something very strange that belongs to the world of adults ‑ something that has to do with school, something that takes away your freedom ‑ unless there are beautiful pictures inside. And mostly it was something you could throw at your brother when you were fighting [laughing). But ultimately, it was something that didn't belong to you. The encounter with Pinocchio was like coming upon a magical object ‑ it was a big bridge between life and culture ‑ so it had a special meaning, almost exorcistic. 
Now the author, Carlo Collodi, lived in the nineteenth century, so he had to conclude the book in a certain moralistic way. It ends with the transformation of the puppet into a boy. That, however, is the least interesting, and even the saddest part of the book. But, of course, it's true that we all lose the magical, childhood, Pinocchio part of our being ‑ being in touch with animals, with the night; with mystery ...in contact with life the way it should be. And with this loss, we become good idiots, good students, good husbands, good citizens. 
Pinocchio is a marvelous book because you can read it forever ‑ when you're a child, when you're young, when you're old. It has the simplicity of the Bible and lacks all presumptuous consciousness. And, indeed, it really is a work of magic. You can open it like a book of oracles, readjust one line, and it will help you. All your doubts and problems find an answer on those pages.
We think we will never quite be able to think about Pinocchio again, without remembering Fellini and his enthusiasm. It certainly will make us look at Fellini films a little differently too.

A little sidebar on the current 'Pinocchio' news to end: it should be noted, despite all this discussion of Collodi's serial story and the difficulties of translating the Italian sensibility of those stories for a non-European understanding (or affection), the live-action version of Pinocchio coming from Disney is not a remake of Collodi's book, but of the Disney classic animated film, so it will likely be even further removed from its origin in that sense. Not that, that is necessarily a bad thing. It just makes it different. That the film will be made in this era (2018 on), with the current social US American climate, in combination with the resurgence of interest in tale origins and research (such a the wonderful  #FolkloreThursday phenomenon), means this version-to-be still has many possibilities. Though intended, at pitch time, as a straight remake of the 1940 film, it's been the 'revisioning' of the classic stories (such as 'Maleficent' and Branagh's 'Cinderella' that have been most successful across the board - critically as well as in combination with popularity) that have made the most difference to how society is now viewing these tales. It will be an interesting case study either way.

NOTE: All illustrations, apart from Fellini's self-caricature, are by Fellini'/s favorite Pinocchio illustrator, Carlo Chiostri.

* Fellini was interviewed, with it also being tape recorded for his exact words, in 1980 and the book was originally published after his death (1993) in German as Ich, Fellini. Most of the book is written/related in Fellini's words.
**Giulietta was Fellini's wife.


  1. It wasn't the focus of your post, but I was struck by the idea that Fellini would want his wife to play Pinocchio. That he would then want to play Gepeto himself is worrying to me because that starts to change the story from Pinocchio into the Greek myth of Pygmalion.

    1. I had that thought too - and then you add in his earlier comment about Pinocchio's er, not-nose, growing when talking to women. Put it all together and it definitely has that Fellini-flavor. He can't seem to make up his mind between exploring the childlike aspects and revealing the darker adult connotations. Between the fairy tale and myth blurring, and the 'G vs R' (ratings) aspects the vision seems muddy. As a result, I'm just not convinced it's a take I could actually like. Appreciate, maybe, 'like', probably not.