Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

by Brian
I know nothing about The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Esquire, the 18th century novel that this movie is "based" on. I feel somewhat embarrassed by this; I feel that, as a college dropout who took a fair number of literature classes in my time, I should have at least heard of it. But no such luck.

After watching A Cock and Bull Story, I'm relieved to report that this is not an especial problem. One of the great things about this movie is that even though it's filled to the brim with in-jokes relating to the book, you don't have to be familiar with the book to get them. I honestly don't quite know how this works, but I got the distinct feeling that familiarity with the book would have been downright counter-productive.

This is really a very funny movie, and it's funny in a surprisingly original way. It's not only an adaptation of the book, but a movie about the adaptation. One may be forgiven for thinking that it is thus a lot like Adaptation, but it's at once more ambitious and less fanciful than that movie. There's a much wider focus in this movie in its examination of the collaborative filmmaking process than in Adaptation, which dealt more with the individual creative process instead. And where Adaptation eventually flew off the rails (not a bad thing) plotwise, Tristram Shandy wisely realizes that the truth is absurd enough.

In broad strokes, the movie has Steve Coogan playing Tristram, and also his father, which is good for him since Tristram hasn't technically been born yet even at the end of the book. Obviously, he also plays himself playing Tristram, and dealing with everything that actors deal with, like screen time, sex scandals, and height. Rob Brydon plays Tristram's Uncle Toby, and also himself, with his off-color teeth and inability to play in intimate scenes with actresses he's attracted to. There are numerous other amusing characters: Jeremy Northam as the director, Naomie Harris as Coogan's assistant, and Gillian Anderson playing herself, and suffering the biggest indignity an actor can suffer.

In the end, my biggest problem wasn't unfamiliarity with the book. Rather, it was unfamiliarity with the work of director Michael Winterbottom. I've somehow managed to see only one of his movies. Incredibly, that one is Butterfly Kiss, an obscure lesbian road movie from 1995 with Amanda Plummer in the type of performance that is probably fueling Dennis Miller jokes to this day. Looking over his list of credits, he seems an incredibly versatile director, but it's all happened without me noticing. Oh well.

5 Comments:

Blogger Alex Stroup said...

I also am completely unfamiliar with the source material but the three people I know who have seen this all loved it. I'm probably going to end up waiting for DVD, though.

3/05/2006 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

I looked up the book (cause I really, really wanna see it) and found these two pages.

http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/oct2000.html

http://www.gifu-u.ac.jp/~masaru/TS/i.1-19.html

First is an introduction to the books, and the second the book itself in hypertext format. Fun and original in theory, it honestly looks like a chore in practice.

3/06/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

'it' being the film.

3/06/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

No, no. Good film. I think it comes from the perspective that it does indeed sound like a chore, and has some fun with that.

3/06/2006 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Oh, man..

I meant the first 'it'. Film looks great.

Hate that one can't edit the comments.

3/06/2006 06:23:00 PM  

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