header i-Italy

Articles by: Ottorino Cappelli

  • Life & People

    Italian Trash and Stereotypes at Their Highest: A YouTube Phenomenon


    In my endless search for Italian/American oddities on the web, I have just come across a remarkable Italian/Australian oddity: "The Italian Spiderman."

     

    The film is a parodical reference to non-American trash movies of the 60s and 70s that misappropriated popular American superheroes, and it is being presented as a fake trailer for a non-existent film, allegedly produced as a student film at Flinders University of South Australia. The first installment of the feature film premiered across the Internet on the 22nd May, 2008, with further installments to follow on a weekly basis. The point is: according to YouTube it has reached 2 million viewers...

     

    It isn't easy to understand exactly who is behind the whole thing. A Wikipedia article says that "The Italian Spiderman" is currently being developed by Alrugo Entertainment, an Australian film-making collective formed by Dario Russo, Tait Wilson, David Ashby, Will Spartalis and Boris Repasky. Their website, however, is permanently down, allegedly for having reached "its bandwidth limit."

     

    But the YouTube metering system is something rather difficult to manipulate... So the large YouTube audience of this movie's trailer is in itself rather phenomenal. Also, of course, "The Italian Spiderman" is a magnificent collection of stereotypes about italians abroad - if you have the stomach and the irony to stand it...

     

    I'll try to get hold of the "Alrugo brothers" in the next weeks. Meanwhile, for those who like the genre, here are the Wikipedia description and a few episodes from You Tube.


     

    From Wikipedia:


    The film operates on the fictitious premise that Italian Spiderman was a 1968 Italian action-adventure film made by Alrugo Entertainment, which was deemed "un-viewable" by Italian distributors and never released. The story has the only 35mm print of the film being lost at sea, but recovered in the present day, thereby allowing Alrugo Entertainment to release the film through YouTube.

     

    Episode 1

    Alrugo Entertainment was founded in 1961 in Palermo, Italy by orange-farming mogul Alfonso Alrugo. After accruing considerable wealth in the citrus trade, Alfonso decided to start a film production company that produced films that he felt "did the job". Alfonso was very supportive of up-and-coming practitioners and helped to nurture the blossoming careers of a spate of Italian directors like Gianfranco Gatti, Massimilliano Buonatempi, Carlo Zoffa and of course Giacomo Dentibiachi. Alrugo Entertainment began producing low budget, nudie-cutie pictures such as Busto Busto (1961) and Sex Cops II (1962). During this period, Alfonso was to discover two men who would play a large role in the next part of his life, director Gianfraco Gatti and actor Franco Franchetti. In 1964 Alrugo went into production of Gatti's opus, Italian Spiderman. Italian Spiderman was a heavily adapted and abridged interpretation of a novel Gatti had read during a summer in Moldova entitled Death Wears a Hat. When applying for the option, however, the author felt Italian Spiderman held such little resemblance to his work that payment was not necessary and felt that his name should be distanced as far as possible from the production. After three years of turbulent production and about $15 million later (a sum unheard of for any production of the time) Italian Spiderman was finally completed in 1968.


    Episode 2

    Even though Alrugo had survived the epic production period, a venture that Gatti described as "opening the gates of hell" (Gianfranco Gatti wrote about Italian Spiderman in his autobiography Opening the Gates of Hell), the company was in debt. There was no money left to distribute the picture and Alfonso had pulled every last favour he had during the production process. In a desperate attempt to show Italian Spiderman to the world, Alfonso sent the only existing print across the Atlantic on a cargo ship to a distributor friend of his in New York - the ship, however, never reached its destination. In the summer of 1969, Alfonso Alrugo closed the gates to Alrugo Entertainment and donned his orange-picking glove once more. Gianfranco Gatti went on to direct hardcore pornography and Franco Francheti died in a spearfishing accident. On Alfonso Alrugo's dying wishes, his two grandsons Vivaldi and Verdi Alrugo led an expedition to scour the Atlantic for the cargo ship carrying the only existing print of Italian Spiderman.

     

    On the 9th of January 2006, after four years at sea, they discovered the sunken vessel with the cans intact inside. In the excitement of this amazing discovery, Vivaldi and Verdi reopened Alrugo Entertainment and spent two years restoring the full-length print of Italian Spiderman from its watery grave. Vivaldi and Verdi believe that the Internet is the best device to expose Italian Spiderman to the world. In November 2007, they uploaded the theatrical trailer and in 2008, ten remastered excerpts from the feature will be broadcast for free over Myspace, YouTube, Yahoo and other video-hosting websites. Hopefully through the Internet, the world will now have a chance to behold Alfonso Alrugo's dream: Italian Spiderman.



     

  • Op-Eds

    The Race Debate in America and Italy: Should We Do the Right Thing?


    In an op-ed just published on i-Italy, Maria Laurino asks "Could a majority of Italian-Americans back the African-American presumptive Democratic nominee?"

     

    Meanwhile Bill Dal Cerro, president of the Italic Institute of America, enters the Lee-Eastwood dispute over the portrayal of blacks in American cinema, by saying that  "[Lee's] points about African-Americans are well taken, but, ironically, he does the same thing to Italians in his films."

     

    At the same time, on the other side of the ocean, an outburst of racism in Italy brings up the question: "Have Italians-in-Italy learned any lessons from the troubled story of their own migration?"

     

    We are bound to see more of this over the next months, as a crtitically "colored" presidential election approaches in the U.S. and the race debate surfaces in Italian politics.

     

    The result could be an old-fashioned, stereotyped, inter-ethnic polemic marred by reciprocal accusations; or it could  be the occasion to push the debate about race and ethnicity in America and Italy to a new level. There is no better place than i-Italy to try and do the latter.

     

     

     

    While we invite everybody to meet the challenge and do the right thing, here are a few reading suggestions from the net about the Lee-Eastwood dispute... and more.

     

     

      

    Spike Lee Clint Eastwood Row - Top 7

    1. The Hollywood Reporter: Spike Lee Takes Hit Over Portrayal of Italians (June 11, 2008)
    2. The New York Times: Round 2 for Spike Lee vs. Clint Eastwood (June 9, 2008)
    3. Chicago Tribune: Spike Lee, Clint Eastwood (June 10, 2008)
    4. Guardian.co.uk: 'We're not on a plantation, Clint.' Spike Lee Hits Back... (June 9, 2008)
    5. Telegraph.co.uk: Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee Row Over Black Soldiers (June 9, 2008)
    6. New York Magazine: Spike vs. Clint: Spike Strikes Back! Plus... (June 9, 2008)
    7. Guardian.co.uk: Dirty Harry Comes Clean (June 6, 2008)

    Spike Lee Clint Eastwood Row News

    Spike Lee Clint Eastwood Row Blogs and Commentaries

     

    Links provided by Mahalo.com

     

  • Le molotov contro i Rom a Napoli


    L'ANSA di qualche ora fa ha pubblicato un bell'articolo sulle violenze xenofobe a Napoli.

    Noi ad i-Italy ci eravamo occupati di questo tema con uno speciale di qualche mese fa, quando scoppiarono le violenze anti-rom a Roma. E ci torneremo presto, nella nostra ottica: "Siamo tutti rumeni"...

    Ma intanto qualche brano di questo articolo dell'ANSA vale la pena di essere salvato, qui, a futura memoria.

    * * *

    Il nostro speciale sul problema della xenofobia in Italia

    NAPOLI -  Qualcuno ha raccontato di un bambino che, stamattina in un bar, salutando la gente del posto, ha detto "addio, noi ce ne andiamo, ma non siamo cattivi". Altri si sono messi a cantare e ad applaudire, davanti al fuoco che divampava nei campi dei nomadi: c'erano donne e bambini, soddisfatti del risultato ottenuto con le molotov. I rom fuggono dalla periferia est di Napoli, dove si è scatenata una 'caccia agli zingari', che istituzioni e politica hanno condannato. Atti "barbarici". Eppure ancora oggi, in mattinata, sono stati incendiati due siti ormai vuoti: "Spengono il fuoco? Lo riaccenderemo", è stata la risposta di qualche facinoroso. La pretesa è quella di distruggere i campi, "altrimenti tornano". Per ora, non risulta che vi siano stati arresti, fermi, o identificati: sono state sequestrate due molotov, e si cercherà di risalire a chi le ha usate.

    (...)

    LE VOCI DI PONTICELLI - "Qui c'era un'aria irrespirabile, soprattutto di notte. Ponticelli è un quartiere difficile, ma la presenza dei rom l'aveva reso ancora più invivibile", la voce di un ciclista per le strade di Ponticelli testimonia come bastasse una scintilla per appiccare il fuoco. E la scintilla è scoccata sabato sera, quando una sedicenne ragazza rom ha tentato di rapire una bambina da un appartamento del quartiere.

     

    "E' da due anni che chiamiamo continuamente la polizia - dice una donna che abita proprio di fronte al campo che dà su via Argine, e che ora è ridotto in cenere - ma nessuno è mai intervenuto: la sera si ubriacano, rompono bottiglie, rubano nelle case. Ora li abbiamo cacciati e qualcuno nel quartiere ha pensato bene di bruciare le baracche, altrimenti tra due settimane erano di nuovo qui".

     

    Il senso di abbandono si è trasformato quindi in rivolta popolare contro i rom: è questa l'aria che si respira a Ponticelli,quartiere dove negli anni '80 c'erano 20.000 abitanti e ora sono 70.000, dove i lunghi stradoni sono delimitati da una linea senza fine di rifiuti e si ha la sensazione che qui l'emergenza immondizia non sia mai finita. "Da una parte i cumuli di rifiuti - racconta un'altra donna - e dall'altra la criminalità dei rom.Certo,ci sono ladri anche tra i napoletani, ma così ci sentiamo assediati". Il popolo di Ponticelli ha la rabbia dentro, molti raccontano di aver aiutato negli anni i rom: "Gli davamo vestiti, soldi e loro ci hanno ripagato cercando di rapire una bambina? Ora non li vogliamo più".

     

    Loro, i rom, sono andati via la notte scorsa, mentre un altro gruppo di irriducibili saranno costretti a lasciare in breve tempo i due campi intorno alla rotonda di via Argine. Nei due campi oggi ancora abitati c'era paura: "Dove andremo? Perché dobbiamo pagare per sbagli che non abbiamo commesso?", si chiede un ragazzo che insiste a dire che la ragazza che ha tentato il rapimento "non è rumena, è albanese. Lo so perché mi hanno detto che un rom l'ha incontrata in carcere e ha cercato di parlarle in rumeno, ma lei non capiva".

     

    Ma ormai è troppo tardi per ricucire il filo con il quartiere e infatti il ragazzo si avvicina alla porta del campo per mostrare tre estintori: "Ce li ha portati la Caritas, dobbiamo usarli se buttano delle molotov nel campo di notte", racconta. Lo strappo di Ponticelli con i circa 500 rom è irrimediabile, lo sa anche don Raffaele Oliviero, il parroco della chiesa Santi Pietro e Paolo che confina con il primo campo rom che è stato incendiato oggi: "Se ne sono andati perché si sono rassegnati al nomadismo. Noi negli ultimi anni avevamo cercato di integrarli nella comunità, avevamo organizzato un ambulatorio di volontari per visitare i bambini, lo scorso Natale avevamo organizzato un pranzo per loro. Purtroppo, ha vinto l'intolleranza".

     

    E si è arrivati all'addio consumato anche dai bambini: "Martedì sera - racconta un ristoratore della zona - sono venuti a mangiare la pizza, gliela offrivamo spesso. Poi i ragazzini sono andati via salutandoci per sempre, ci hanno detto 'ciao, noi non siamo cattivi'".

     

     

     

  • Op-Eds

    It Wasn’t Columbus’ Fault. Or Was It?


    ANSA (Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata) once used to be the sole Italian news service and a sort of semi-official voice.The old times are gone, but ANSA is still very authoritative and its current president – Boris Bianchieri – was the Italian Ambassador in Washington in the 1990s.


    The Agenzia has an informative website (www.ansa.it) which also sports an English-language section, which I visit often though I find hard to understand its editorial policy. Articles here are much less numerous than in the Italian-language section and, thank God, they do not include all the boring political gossiping of which there is plenty on the ANSA website, like in most of the Italian media. I imagine they select a few stories they believe foreign journalists may be interested in when searching for news from/about Italy. And that sort of worries me.


    A few days ago, the ANSA English-language home page has this to offer, among other things: “Columbus 'didn’t bring lice'.” The article refers to the well-known fact that European explorers contributed to the spreading of germs and diseases in the Americas, including smallpox, measles, chicken pox, and scarlet fever that would eventually decimate native tribes. But, it reports with apparent satisfaction, according to a team of US and French researchers, Christopher Columbus wasn't responsible for the spread of lice in the New World. Indeed, these scientists seem to have found two lice-ridden Peruvian mummies dating back to the early 11th century – almost 500 years before the Italian explorer arrived in the Caribbean. David L. Reed, of the Florida Museum of Natural History, is quoted as stating: “The DNA from these parasites showed that the animals predated the arrival of Columbus by hundreds of years.”


    That’s news – actually “good news,” isn’t it? But that’s not all. According to ANSA the “good news about lice … will ease a little of the pressure on Columbus, whose historical reputation has sagged in recent decades.” Things are getting more interesting here. So the article explains that Columbus has been “accused of brutal rule in his Caribbean colony and even the 'genocide' of a tribe;” that the “European hero has become a villain for many Native Americans;” and that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “has led efforts to cancel Columbus Day.” Finally, there are historians who “have also argued that Columbus Day should be scrapped because Vikings, Irish or possibly other explorers got to America long before Genoa's most famous son.”


    Thus the self-consoling, sort of “nationalistic” conclusion of the Italian newswire is that – at the very least – Columbus cannot be accused to have brought lice to the Americas… which “will ease a little the pressure” on this contested historical figure. Amazingly light – I mused. That’s exactly the kind of news you expect to find – in English – on the home page of an authoritative Italian news service. After all, what it says is true…


    It is true that a few months ago Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez renamed October 12 Indigenous Resistance Day. “We Venezuelans, we Latin Americans, have no reason to honour Columbus,” he said in addressing a meeting in Caracas of representatives of Indian people from across the continent. In an attempt to provoke and lead a global protest against colonialism – old and new – Chavez added that in the United States too Columbus Day should be remembered as the Day of Indian Resistance. "Long live Sitting Bull!" he declared, drawing applause from his audience.


    And it is also true that, in the U.S., the decades-long Columbus Day dispute has been often exploited to foment inter-ethnic strife, pitting Indian Americans, African Americans and Latinos against Italian Americans… as if Italian Americans were to blame for American racism.


    But it is also true that such attempts almost succeeded in the aftermath of the 1989 “Bensonhurst tragedy,” when a band of Italian/American youngsters killed Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager –  "apparently in the name of Italian neighborhood values". As Robert Viscusi recalled it, the media readily presented the episode as an example of racial strife, and residents of the local Italian/American community fell into the trap by "making shameful spectacles of themselves, shouting racial epithets and engaging in an unforgettable dumbshow of bigotry, waving watermellons in the air and showing their middle fingers to television cameras." (Robert Viscusi, "Breaking the Silence," Voices in Italian Americana, 1, 1990)


    So, the children of Columbus the-cruel-colonialist, may well be racist mobsters. That makes sense. But idiocies only endure because idiots do exist. Let me recall what Jerry Krase wrote many years ago commenting on the Bensonhurst tragedy:

     

    “Pitting people who should be working together, against each other is a long-standing American tradition. Putting the blame on Italian Americans for American racism is not unlike blaming Irish Americans for anti-Catholicism or Jews for anti-semitism. Not too long ago – and to many, still today – Italians (especially Southern Italians) were (are) considered members of an inferior race. The idiots who held up watermelons while black protestors marched near the site of Hawkins death haven't the faintest idea that watermelons, racism and Southern Italians have a lot in common”. (Krase, “Bensonhurst, Brooklyn,” Voices in Italian Americana. 5, 2, 1994).

     

    In sum – what’s the point here? The point is that, notwithstanding the positions of these and other Italian/American intellectuals over the years, perceptions of Italian/American racism is hard to eliminate; and this alleged racism resurfaces every year, when October 12 approaches and anti-Columbus Day protests mount. And the point is, too, that ANSA should be less superficial, even frivolous, when touching upon these subjects – for they are serious issues for many Italians living in the U.S. and elsewhere.

     

    To conclude, I offer three multimedia suggestions for the anonymous ANSA journalist, and for our readers:


    1) “AN ORATION UPON THE MOST RECENT DEATH OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS” as recited by its author Robert Viscusi for i-Italy. How Viscusi himself recalls in this video, the poem was written in 1992, when he persuaded the Italian American Students Union at Brooklyn College to join their colleagues of the Famiglia Latina club in a “Day of Dignity” demonstration to protest the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus in the New World. His explanation: “Look at it this way: Their parents, their grandparents, came to the United States because they were poor and they were looking to make a better life. Columbus came to america working for the King of Spain. Now, which one of them do you have more in common with? Why did your grandparents, or your parents, come here?”

    2) NON CI RESTA CHE PIANGERE, an Italian cult-movie directed and performed by Roberto Benigni and the late Massimo Troisi. The two actors, who are inexplicably thrown back to the past, find out that it is 1492 – so they decide go to Spain and to do whatever they can “to stop Christopher Columbus” from leaving Europe and discover America. Their mission is to save the Indians from the genocide and the Africans from slavery (interestingly, they do not seem willing to save the Italians from emigration, probably because that is not the Americans’ fault). Benigni persuades Troisi that “There is no such a thing as a good american man, in no part of the world,” and they leave for Spain as “The Columbus Stoppers” (I fermatori di Colombo).

     

    3)  THE SOPRANOS' "CHRISTOPHER." The September 29, 2002, episode of The Sopranos entitled "Christopher" (Season 4, Episode Three). Silvio wants to take action against protests for the Columbus Day Parade by Native Americans, believing it to be an insult to Italian-Americans. Not everyone agrees in the gang, however, for Columbus was from Genoa (in the North of Italy) and Southerners do not like Northerners. Without Tony's approval, Silvio and a few others, attempt to break up the riots where a Columbus effigy is to be burned. Tony, who believes Columbus to be an “hero” anyway, tries to pacify the situation by talking to an Indian chief to convince his own people not to protest during the parade. In the end, both the parade and protest occur without mob intervention, which upsets Silvio. Tony tries to calm him down by telling him he should be proud for being who he is and not only because of his heritage.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Italy on the Brink of Xenophobia?


    Italy decided to start expelling from the country EU citizens considered a menace to society. The decision was taken in the mist of a crime wave involving many immigrants from Romania that peeked due to a deadly assault on a navy officer's wife, Giovanna Reggiani. The woman died Thursday night at 47 years old after two days in a coma. According to the police she suffered "massive" head injuries consistent with blows from a blunt object such as a rock.


    The alleged aggressor is a 24-year-old Romanian gypsy. The suspect was arrested and accused of homicide and robbery. The man denies part of the charges. He stated that he never hit, but only stole her bag.


    Meanwhile, on Thursday night President Giorgio Napolitano signed an emergency decree allowing the expulsion of potentially dangerous EU citizens. According to Italian Police Chief Antonio Manganelli the Italian authorities have already compiled a list "with absolute respect for human dignity, avoiding a witch-hunt and without criminalising ethnic groups" of potentially dangerous people that might qualify for expulsion. According to the new regulation, which Italian officials say are allowed under EU law, these people will be send out of Italy without trial. As part of the crackdown, bulldozers in Rome knocked down shantytowns where thousands of illegal immigrants live.


    Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, under fire from the center-right opposition for being soft on crime, pledged such incidents would "never happen again". Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) party called Prodi "a liar" for claiming that the previous government underestimated the immigration problem. Gianfranco Fini, leader of the right-wing National Alliance (AN), stated that the government should be "ashamed of itself". He declared also that his party will vote to ratify the decree provided it also covers jobless immigrants.


    Prodi however, is also facing critics from the left wing of his own coalition, who believe the government is following a tide of of rising xenophobia.


    This opinion seems in line with what the Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said on saturday: "We should fight against the wave of xenophobia that is manifesting itself in Italy and we must fight against the bad image that Romanians who are working in Italy have." The statement came after Mr. Tariceanu, who had backed the crackdown earlier this week, came under fire at home for apologizing for violence blamed on Romanian immigrants.


    Meanwhile last Friday a band of Italian youngsters wearing motorcycle helmets attacked a group of Romanians with knives, metal bars and sticks in the parking lot of a Rome supermarket, injuring three persons, one rather seriously. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema condemned the mob attack as "gang aggression unworthy of our country."


    i-Italy will come back to this issue with more information and commentary in the following days. It is only too normal that we are particularly concerned about immigration in Italy sparking periodic outbursts of xenophobia nativistic prejudices, racism, and hate crimes.


    Nobody should forget that Italian immigrants have been usually identified with the “Mafia” and perceived as naturally prone to crime. As late as 1973 President Richard M. Nixon could claim that “you can’t find one [Italian] that’s honest”


    To blame Romanian and gipsies and all "jobless immigrants" in today's Italy as gangsters and bandits and dangerous is the same old nonsense.

  • Art & Culture

    Pinocchio: Italian vs. American Approaches to a Complex Morality Tale


    The Italian newswire ANSA reports that 82-year-old visual effects master Carlo Rambaldi, who won two Oscars (Alien, 1979; E.T., 1982), is set on outdoing Walt Disney's 1940 masterpiece Pinocchio, based upon a tale by the 19th Century Italian novelist Carlo Collodi.


    “It's always been a bee in my bonnet and now I hope I can finally get something done," he declared.


    Interestingly, Rambaldi adds that he admires Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio (2002), a movie praised in Italy but widely scorned in the U.S.


    Many Italian critics believe that Oscar winner Benigni (1998 Best Actor for La vita è bella-Life is Beautiful) successfully brought out the darker aspects of Collodi's 1883 complex morality tale.  According to this interpretation, Americans would not appreciate Benigni’s version because the Pinocchio they grew up with was the simplified, lightened story created by Disney right before World War II.


    "Roberto was unfairly panned by the American critics, who didn't understand what he was trying to do. We Italians loved it," said Rambaldi. He will try to follow Benigni’s approach, but hopes to get a more generous reception in the U.S.


    This seems a good subject to surf the Net for. Is there an “American” Pinocchio and an “Italian” Pinocchio? Is the Collodi-Benigni(-Rambaldi) approach different from Disney’s? What does the internet have to say?


    To be fair, when Pinocchio was released as the second full-length Disney cartoon movie (after Snow White, 1937), critics did find it “dark”. Let’s start by looking at the Time magazine archives, recently made available for free on the internet. On February 26, 1940, while praising the picture as a work of art, Time wrote:



    The peeping eyes in the night scenes in Snow White were scary […] but in Pinocchio the plunging, charging whale, Monstro, is terrifying.

    Nor are there any characters in Snow White to compare with J. Worthington Foulfellow, the actor-fox, who sells Pinocchio to the puppet show, or his shabby, screwloose, unscrupulous companion, Giddy, the cat. [These] are savage adult satire. They are even out of place in a children's picture.



    According to some, however, in Disney’s Pinocchio the moral battle between darkness and light, good and evil, is less complex and problematic than in Collodi’s original novel. It is an American simplification of a more elaborate Old World approach.

     

     

     

     

     

    Robin Allan (University of Exeter, UK) wrote about this in his Walt Disney and Europe. He notes that Disney’s film and Collodi’s book did share a dark vision of a frightening world as their “central bleakness”. This notwithstanding, Collodi's story had been softened and simplified in subsequent versions, some of which circulated in the U.S. in the 1930s. Disney followed these bowdlerized versions more than the original.

    Rebecca West (University of Chicago) summarizes Allen’s argument as follows: while Collodi's puppet has “a seemingly natural attraction to transgressive and delinquent behavior”, Disney modified the sadism and violence of the original tale “in order to bring to the screen a lovable, cuddly Pinocchio.”


    Incidentally, professor West points to yet another aspect of Disney’s “ultimately unsuccessful Americanization” of this Old World tale – one that she finds “most disturbing”: 

     

     



    in Disney's film … the greedy puppetmaster Stromboli is quite obviously portrayed as a Jewish gypsy, in spite of his stereotypically broad Italian accent.

    [On the contrary,] Collodi's puppetmaster Mangiafuoco "seems a fearful man but deep down he isn't bad," nor does he have any sort of marked ethnic or racial identity.



    In short, Disney’s Pinocchio is an “odd blend of its European origin and American elements”. And black-and-white morality, to come back to our original point, is one of its most “American”, and less “European” elements.


    It was, after all, 1940: the U.S. were oiling a propaganda machine that would ultimately help to destroy “evil” in Europe – a machine to which Disney himself would give a tremendous contribution during World War II. Carlo Collodi, on the other hand, was a Florentine journalist who had served as a volunteer with the Tuscan army during Italy’s Risorgimento. His Pinocchio might be a work of "homiletic Victorian values," as Robin Allan says, but it belonged to a deeply different world.



    It is curious to note that even the most vitriolic American critics of Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio concede that the Italian actor caught Collodi’s spirit better than Disney. Film critic Phil Villarreal, for example, considers Benigni’s work a “monstrosity” and “a failure on all levels”. But he adds:



    If there’s any redeeming quality, it’s that the script sticks close to the Carlo Collodi novel. This story isn’t as kid-friendly as the Disney animated classic. This time, Pinocchio isn’t so receptive to the advice of his cricket pal – the puppet attempts to bash the insect with a mallet. Multiple arrests and a prison sentence are also in store for the wily puppet. Woodcutter Gepetto [sic!], also shows the touch of a dark side. He speaks of ringing Pinocchio’s neck when he’s disobedient.



    Perhaps it’s not just black-and-white morality that makes the American and Italian versions of Pinocchio so different. It’s also a matter of different perceptions of the underworld in which children and adolescents live: a dark and frightening world that the American media persistently depict in happy, bright colors.


    Measured against this ampler background, Rambaldi’s intention to follow Benigni’s “Italian” approach rather than Disney’s “American” one, promises to give new, controversial life to Collodi’s complex, and immortal fairy-tale.

     

     

  • Op-Eds

    It Takes a Network


    A few institutional websites will come up first, some of them well designed but rarely updated, which present, however, only one-way information and no room for user interaction. Then you’ll find a host of amateurish pages striving to rally Italian Americans around a big tricolored flag and a sound file that, all of a sudden, launches the Italian national anthem at full volume. Lastly, come those e-commerce sites that want to sell you Italian food, clothes, and merchandise; plus some attempting to make money by helping you find “Beautiful Italian Singles.”

    Yes, there are a few online newspapers that offer free-access discussion forums, but they’re mainly in Italian – www.americaoggi.info stands out among them. True, there are a few news services (Ansa.it, for example) that have some sort of English-language version – but they’re mainly about Italy, and you’ll peruse them for hours in search of an entry about Italian America. And yes, in the past decade a sequel of self-defined “web portals” about Italy mushroomed – but they proven to be commercial failures: raised money, couldn’t define their audience, failed to find or retain users, and ended up in a handful of broken links.

    Well, you might surmise that this gloomy picture reflects a fact of life: fifteen million Italian Americans (U.S. Census Bureau data) – most of whom are on the net like everybody else in this country – don’t have an “identity” of their own: a sense of, or need for, “community,” some sort of social capital to be spent in telling their stories on line, meeting each other and exchanging ideas and opinions, while also engaging in discussions and other forms of interaction.

    Italian Americans are a success story of ethnic assimilation and disintegration after all – they are Americans; they don’t have much to say to or exchange with each other as a group. You might think so, indeed. But you’d be plain wrong!

    Just go and search MySpace.com – the famous website that millions of people use to build their own personal pages and make friends. You’ll find 58,200 entries for “Italian American” (7,440 of which are hyphenated), 110,000 for “little italy”, 519,000 for “sopranos,” and so on. Now try something similar with that rising star in the social networking firmament on the web: Facebook.com. You’ll find several hundreds discussion groups with an “Italian American” label, some with a few hundreds members and a few with several thousands members. And what about YouTube.com – the video-sharing site everyone is talking about? Over 100,000 videos are tagged “Italian” or “Italian American”, almost as many have “Italy” in their keywords, and countless more tell you about personal and family stories, describe trips, report events, and voice people’s opinions and feelings about every angle of Italian and Italian American lifestyle. And I’m not going to talk about blogs: browse for yourself with a good blog-searching utility such as technorati.com.

    To make a long story short: Italian Americans are out on the web, they do try to relate to each other on the basis of shared feelings of “community”, they do express their views through the entire array of multimedia tools the web offers them, and they are eager to find – and provide! – information about all aspects of their life. What is missing - and is badly needed - is a network connecting them.

    That’s exactly what i-Italy is going to be. Yes, we’ve got a magazine for you to read, and op-eds, and special reports, and a webTV to watch. And we are assembling an editorial board made of authoritative journalists, commentators, and pubic intellectuals. But make no mistake: the web is not just about information, not even about communication – all the web is about is conversation. It’s your stories that matter, your opinions, your comments – and your will to share them among yourselves and with usIt takes a network to build a community. Now we’ve got the network: let’s build our community together.

    Universitá di Napoli “L’Orientale”

    i-Italy Project Coordinator

Pages