The original story of Pinocchio was written by Carlo Collodi in 1883. Since then it has been retold in hundreds of different incarnations. If you go to Wikipedia you can find a long list of different productions but curiously absent is Corey Allen’s 1971 film The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio. Lest we allow Allen’s effort to fade into obscurity I will attempt to save it from the trash heap of history where it belongs.
The film starts off more like Pygmalion with a lonely woman named Gepetta (see what they did there?) who fashions a man out of wood. She admires her handiwork and places a necklace with a heart around his neck. Then it’s time to get down to business. She wrestles his wooden form into bed but quickly finds out why most dildos do not come attached to the rest of the male body. For some reason, perhaps mental illness, she is able to converse with the mannequin but he does not, ahem, come to life.
Gepetta goes to sleep disappointed and unsatisfied leaving the sex-golem to stare into the darkness, but then “poof” a fairy godmother appears and turns him into a man. Not a “real” man but a biological facsimile. The movie is about the difference.
Pinocchio wants to satisfy Gepetta because she is his beloved creator but even once he becomes flesh and blood he is not yet a man and so can not hope to successfully gratify her. Here we have the first qualifier that is presented in the film. To be a man you must have experience. The fairy godmother tells him to go out and get some before approaching his maker.
Being young and naive, Pinocchio has no sense of morality or convention. This leaves him vulnerable to anyone he might meet. The first person he stumbles into is a pimp named Jojo who runs the local brothel. Inexplicably Jojo looks exactly like Mario from Mario Brothers. Pinocchio introduces himself to Jojo and explains that he doesn’t know how to make love. “Hi my name is Pinocchio and I don’t know how to make love.” He says.
Jojo’s brothel has fallen on hard times. Jojo senses that Pinocchio might be able to help. Jojo assigns a young woman to rectify Pinocchio’s innocence. Before they hop in the sack she has him take off his clothes including the heart necklace Gepetta gave him in lieu of a heart. The prostitute discovers that due to Pinocchio’s once being made of wood he is somehow blessed with extraordinary sexual powers. This is a soft-core movie so there is nothing explicit on-screen mostly we just witness the young lady screaming and making strange faces. It sounds less like an orgasm and more like a cross between a rollercoaster ride and giving birth. It’s surprising poor Pinocchio didn’t hop out of bed and run away.
The pimp wants to hire this newfound stud, but Pinocchio wants to rush home to Gepetta and show her what he has learned. Jojo argues that he can’t go home without money, Men need to have money. Pinocchio explains that he wants to go back home and make love and get married and have babies because he is now a man. Jojo explains that domestic bliss is not what a real man wants and that Pinocchio needs more practice and experience.
Pinocchio’s education concerning masculinity is becoming increasingly complicated. On one side there is the “heartless” sex that his male body craves but on the other there is the intimacy of love and matrimony that his heart desires. Both are societal norms but they are still in opposition. The sexual side sees the convention of marriage as emasculating whereas the societal side sees the sexual side as degenerate.
On top of all this is the economic requirements of manhood. This is truly an intersectional film. The pimp sees manhood as an expression of economic independence. A man must be able to provide for a woman in order to truly be a man. In addition, the capitalist gospel the pimp preaches ties money to sex which further confuses the issue.
While the pimp keeps adding new prerequisites to manhood the fairy godmother advocates for the romantic vision of masculinity. She shows Pinocchio some “wholesome” porn of a married couple making love, but Pinocchio doesn’t understand the difference. As the viewer, I was able to glean that true love is marked by saccharine flute music, nasty orange lighting, and a tasteful soft focus.
In order to become the pimp’s new whore Pinocchio has to pass a test. He is thrown into a Ménage à trois with two lesbians. The lesbians have their voices dubbed over with male voices that sound like teamsters. The two women forcefully reject his advances sending him flying across the room several times but he persists and eventually, they concede. Everyone cheers and a celebration ensues. Don’t let the evangelicals know that all lesbians need is a poke in the whiskers from a puppet to be “cured.”
Although undoubtedly the director wanted to put lesbians in the movie simply because they provide twice the tits of a hetero couple the women’s presence evokes yet another meditation on manhood. These women are attracted to women which has apparently lowered their vocal range. Does having sex with a woman make you a man even if you are a woman? Is masculinity determined by behavior?
Having passed the test Pinocchio is pimped out with great success to lonely housewives all over town each of whom feels ignored by their husbands and long for a “real man.” However, this isn’t generating cash fast enough for Jojo so he decides to put on a show that people will have to pay to see. A boxing ring is erected on a bed and women are lined up to tangle with Pinocchio. He manages to “satisfy” 27 women in a row before his fairy godmother comes to admonish him mid-hump.
The film now has become the battle of the sexes. Women enter the ring proud and tall and exit in need of medical attention. After their bout, the women lie backstage in a languid pile of pleasure and exhaustion. I’m not sure what sort of message this sends about sexual relations or manhood but the fairy godmother is furious with Pinocchio and tells him that this is not the way to become a man.
Pinocchio’s nose does not grow when he lies but his penis grows when he “misuses” it. By the time he is finished with 27 women, it has grown to 5 feet in length and a good 6 inches in diameter. It is such an exaggerated symbol of manhood it is no longer useable. Pinocchio has become a parody of masculinity.
Many men fantasize about enlarging their penises as made evident by the plethora of enlargement pills and gadgets that are available. Men also fantasize about having multiple sexual partners. Pinocchio becomes the embodiment of that fantasy and finds that it is debilitating. The ultimate man as imagined by men is useless.
After the sexathon, his clothing won’t fit and he keeps knocking over lamps and furniture with his grotesque groin. He has not only lost his purpose as a lover but his ability to function as a human being.
The ladies of the brothel take pity on him and fashion him a sort of toga. Then they give him a baby stroller to rest his penis on and disguise his deformity. Here again, his condition has destroyed his ability to have children, and as if in some Greek myth he is doomed to wander the earth with an empty baby carriage. A symbol of his failure. Another path to manhood, that of becoming a father, has been shut down for him.
Pinocchio runs off to find Gepetta but is confronted by the fairy godmother. She scolds him and waves her wand around but accidentally zaps all her own clothes off. This causes Pinocchio’s prodigious penis to grow even bigger until it pins her to a wall. She zaps the offending appendage back to its original size minus a few inches in lieu of punishment.
Then there’s the orgy. I can’t remember why but Pinocchio ends up back at the brothel and an orgy results. His penis pops back to jumbo size and the party-goers play ring toss with it. Then someone tightrope walks on it, and there’s jousting too, and eventually everyone piles on for a ride around the room. Pinocchio feels like a freak and runs off into the night. It turns out that at that very same moment Gepatta is out in the streets searching for Pinocchio. Suddenly she is set upon by rapists but Pinocchio arrives just in time to fight them all off with his mythic member.
His selfless act causes his gigantic junk to shrink down to human scale again and he and Gepetta are reunited. Pinocchio cries with joy and Geppeta tells him that his tears are a testament to his finally becoming a real man. I’m not sure how much was intentional but the film offers a dizzying array of messages about masculinity.
In addition, there is a whole subtext about objectification. Typically we see objectification as men looking at women as if women were objects. In The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio, we see objectification in reverse. Not a turning of the tables where a woman treats a man like an object but where a woman treats an object like a man.
Objectification has been part of human culture since the beginning. As soon as we could carve a piece of wood or paint on a cave wall we created a symbol of our desires. Once created we could compare each other to that idealized image. The problems of objectification do not become truly pernicious until you add economics to the mix. It’s one thing to make a drawing of a curvy lady and compare it to actual ladies. It’s another to print 10 million copies and sell it for money. The same can be said for pornography in general. The idea of creating sexually stimulating material is not in and of itself a problem. The problem is less about turning a person into an object than it is about turning a person into a salable product.
In the original story by Collodi, Gepetto makes Pinocchio because Gepetto hopes to make money by running a puppet show. In both the original and in our updated retelling, Pinocchio may be a real man or a fake one, but he remains a puppet of other people’s desires.
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