1. Analysis of the Book
Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a fragmented autobiography of the titular character and the people around him. The novel is written in multiple volumes and starts off with Tristram recounting the tale of his birth but the narrative soon veers off into several tangents recalling events that occurred before and after his birth. The narrator becomes so caught up recounting random events he never quite gets around to telling readers about his birth. The stories are chronologically erratic and the language tricky, which confounds readers as they try to keep up with where the narrator drops stories or picks them back up.
2. Analysis of the Film
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is very much a critique of the vapidness of modern Hollywood cinema. Winterbottom makes it a point to highlight how cinema has become less about intricate art and more about shallow spectacle. The filmmakers and actors creating this film within the film care mostly about the inclusion of a big battle scene or another typical love story as the central story instead of really getting into the intention behind the original Tristram Shandy novel. With Steve Coogan’s sub-plots, the film explores the issue of male egos and male obliviousness to a woman’s burden with raising and maintaining a family. The “mockumentary” style of this movie and comedic performances sometimes blurs what Winterbottom is ultimately trying to say regarding these themes.
3. Analysis of the Adaptation
Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation was cleverly done because it mimicked very well the jumpy narrative, confusion, and insecurity that shines through in Sterne’s novel. Even if some event or story from the novel was excluded from being shown in the film, it received exposition some other way. Cast and production members discuss several scenes that got cut out of the movie’s original script, Jennie tells Coogan about the Tristopedia, and the hot chestnut scene is shown as a flashback from when Coogan was preparing to audition for the part of Shandy. Although A Cock and Bull Story does not follow the events of Sterne’s novel, Winterbottom captures the spirit of the novel with other plots in the film.
4. Online Research
- Steve Coogan, in an interview, answers criticisms of the movie, talks about how he came to be on the film and some difficulties that came along with filming a movie with in a movie.
- Director Michael Winterbottom and producer Andrew Eaton discuss the difficulty in trying to market Tristram Shandy to financiers of the film and their approach towards adapting the novel.
- In this review by Melvyn New, he analyzes why American audiences may not have been receptive to this film because of the lack of familiarity with Steven Coogan and Robert Brydon in American media and tabloids. He also argues that Winterbottom’s version of Tristram Shandy is missing a certain degree of self-consciousness that is ever present in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Because of this and other elements such as casting, New thinks that Winterbottom may not have grasped some points that Sterne was trying to make in his novel.
(This link was obtained through the UMD research port so I’m not very sure if there will be any problems linking to the actual article. If there are, please let me know and I’ll try to find another way to show it.)
5. Critical Analysis
Two characters in the film, Jennie the intern and Stephen Fry (as an academic talking head) say that life is chaotic, driven by chance, and can’t be captured by art. Doe the film argue against this, or does it confirm it? How about Sterne?
In some aspects, Winterbottom’s Cock and Bull Story goes against the argument that life’s chaotic nature can’t be captured by art. Fry’s character claims that “life is chaotic, amorphic, can’t fit any shape,” and this film captures this description accurately because one doesn’t know whether to characterize it as satirical, comedic, or a serious adaptation of a classic literary work. This movie can fit into any of those categories given different perspectives. Both the film and literary versions are good at accurately imitating life’s winding nature because both start off with a set path (the tale of Tristram’s life) with a final goal (Tristram’s birth) that eventually takes the back burner in the narrative because of random problems or shifts in belief that pop up along the way. Life’s chaos is captured in both Sterne and Winterbottom’s Tristam Shandy due to rambling, non-sequential narratives, multiple sub-plots, and diversions in story telling.