Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

"Tristram Shandy was a post-modern classic, written before there was any modernism to be post about."

Steve Coogan in Tristram Shandy



Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Director: Michael Winterbottom
United Kingdom 2005
94 min


I'm seated at my computer, recently having watched The Film With The Glorious Title with my boyfriend and a glass of red wine. (The last drops squeezed out from a box, so it was not as fancy as it sounds.)

The film is partly a film adaption of the 18th century Laurence Sterne novel (with the even more glorios title The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman), partly a film about the filming of the same novel, and partly a portrait of Steve Coogan, the main actor.

To be more complex (or perhaps not complex enough) - it is a story within a story within a story.
A meta film x 3.


Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the improvised introduction scene.


Trailer: A Cock and Bull Story.




The film begins with the two actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon talking, in make up, about the size of their parts. We then go on to Tristram Shandy (Coogan) narrating his own story, beginning with his birth. However, Tristram Shandy cannot explain anything simply, but instead he wanders away in never ending side storys, desperately trying to give his story nuances, and ends up with not being able to proceed the story telling past his birth.
(In the novel, published in nine volumes starting in 1759, Tristram Shandy doesn't come to the story of his birth until volume III.)




As the film goes along, we get a deeper look into the relations between the cast members and the complications of the attempt to film this impossible novel.
All characters plays both their Tristram Shandy-characters and themselves, which could make this film confusing to watch. Of course, it is confusing, but not as confusing as it could have been. (Makes perfectly sense, eh?)

But of course, all the confusion in both the novel, the film adaptation of it and the story behind the scenes of filming it, has a purpose. Life isn't easy to film. How can one know what facts to sort out? Can you ever narrate a life, even your own? Or is it impossible to narrate your own life, but possible to narrate another's? And can that result be fair? Oh dear.



It is not easy to write about this film. It is not even easy to tell if it is good or not. It is a weird, well-done film about an unfilmable (and according to many, unreadable) novel.

The actors are sublime, and has to have a lot of humour about themselves. Especially Coogan, since his character (supposed to be himself) is egotistical and has both a complicated love life and a low self esteem, needing all the time to confirm that he has the greatest part in the movie.

Anyhow, I adore this film. It probably means that I think it is great. I simply love the Brittish!



Quotes:



Tristram Shandy: [narrating] That is a child actor, pretending to be me. I'll be able to play myself later. I think I could probably get away with being eighteen, nineteen. Until then, I'll be played by a series of child actors. This was the best of a bad bunch.


Tony Wilson: [interviewing Coogan] Why "Tristram Shandy"? This is the book that many people said is unfilmable.
Steve Coogan: I think that's the attraction. "Tristram Shandy" was a post-modern classic written before there was any modernism to be post about. So it was way ahead of its time and, in fact, for those who haven't heard of it, it was actually listed as number eight on the Observer's top 100 books of all time.
Tony Wilson: That was a chronological list.


Steve Coogan: [Steve is hanging upside down in the model womb] How about filming the other way around, the right way up, and then just flip the image?
Leo: Well, maybe, but I'd have to have a word with Mark about that. I mean, I think he wanted the realism.
Steve Coogan: He wants realism?
Leo: Yeah.
Steve Coogan: Yeah, I'm a grown man, talking to the camera, in a fucking womb!


Dr. Slop: I can extrude the baby's head before the mother has a chance to mash its head to dough. Captain Shandy, make a baby's head of your hands. You're to imagine these sleeves are Mrs. Shandy's... funnel.
Rob Brydon: Funnel?
Susannah: Meat curtains.
Rob Brydon: Meat curtains? Brother?
Steve Coogan: My brother knows nothing of women.


4 comments:

João Lisboa said...

"It is a weird, well-done film about an unfilmable (and according to many, unreadable) novel"

Certainly unfilmable (at least as far as my cinematic imagination can be stretched) but marvellously readable!

I read it during a to and fro plane trip Lisbon-NY-Salt Lake City (of all places!... no I'm not a mormon)-NY-Lisbon and it felt like I had dropped acid not having dropped acid. 18th century stream of consciousness-meets-surrealism-meets-weird erudition.

You should check one of his confessed admirers, the Brazilian 19th century writer Machado de Assis and his (in a tentative English translation) "Posthumous Memories Of Bras Cubas".

But... Gillian Anderson/Scully?...

Lolita said...

João Lisboa:
Hmm... If I wasn't interested reading the book before, I certainly am that now! I should have it sent for.

Thanks for the de Assis-tip! I'll look him up.

Hehe, well, I thought Gillian Anderson was a funny surprise actress. It wasn't like you expected her in the crowd among Stephen Fry and that Little Brittain-guy!

João Lisboa said...

I've just linked you.

Lolita said...

João Lisboa:
Thanks a lot! And I've just put "Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas" on my to-buy-list for the next pay day!