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Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

1.      Book Analysis

Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is an autobiography that surrounds Tristram in which he narrates segments of his own life as well as those surrounding him. Aside from Tristram himself, the novel follows the exploits of Uncle Toby, a veteran whose time is spent reenacting his adventures at war, and Walter, Tristram’s father. The precise chronology of the events discussed is amusingly erratic as the narrator jumps between events both preceding and following his own birth that may or may not have involved him at all. It becomes apparent that Sterne, through Tristram, is parodying traditional narrative as much of his commentary involves the fact that even as he writes it is questionable whether or not the story has progressed at all. The themes involved in the book include the intentional use of a digressive style of writing, the inconsistent order of events or history, and the supreme authority that the author possesses within their own story.

 

 2.     Film Analysis     

             A Cock and Bull Story, directed by English filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, was a 2006 adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy which is structured as a “meta-film” (a film within a film) and follows the exploits of Steve Coogan (as himself) in his attempt to create a film based off of Sterne’s original story. The theme of disorder is ever-present throughout the film as Coogan reveals to the audience that his personal life mirrors the maelstrom of Tristram’s more closely than his best efforts at acting it out could possibly have achieved. As a stand-alone film, A Cock and Bull Story is an amusing stroll through the film-making process, granting perspective into a world that, according to Winterbottom, does not take itself entirely seriously. However, when held beside Sterne’s book, a whole new experience is had by the audience as they become cognizant of the links between Coogan and his character.

 

 

3.      Analysis of Adaptation

      The movie parallels the book in an unconventional manner in that it satirizes the film-making process much the same way Sterne’s book satirized the writing process.  Similarly, Coogan’s “acting” throughout is so comfortable and subtle that at times it seems more of a documentary than a scripted narrative, despite the hybrid mix of dry and over-the-top humor. Winterbottom’s chosen method  of film-making is once again (and likely intentionally) reminiscent of Sterne’s unconventional writing that sometimes falls nearer to an impromptu monologue than a drafted piece of literature. A Cock and Bull Story effectively delivers the experience had in Sterne’s novel during the “off-screen” segments in which Coogan unwittingly echoes his character when the camera (in the film) isn’t rolling.

4.       3rd Party Perspective

a.       http://www.damaris.org/content/content.php?type=5&id=494

An in-depth analysis into the themes present in A Cock and Bull Story which draws comparisons between Winterbottom’s method of filming and those present in other mediums of story-telling (e.g. books, other films).

b.        http://movies.about.com/od/interviewswithactors/a/tristram011506.htm

An exclusive interview with actor Steve Coogan in which Rebecca Murray recounts his answers to questions posed by critics and audience-members alike regarding the film.

 

c.       http://www.cinemalogue.com/2006/03/10/tristram-shandy/

Commentary by Rubin Safaya which begins with a detailed summary of the events within the film which includes input from the actors themselves and is followed by Safaya’s own critical analysis.

B.     Reading through Rebecca Murray’s interview, one gains the perspective of a lead actor regarding the troubles, challenges, and miscellaneous goings-on involved in filming the “un-filmable”. Coogan recounts his experience working with Michael Winterbottom before, during, and following filming of A Cock and Bull Story and as he explains his eagerness to take the role as a result of the seemingly insurmountable challenge posed by accepting an incomplete script, playing multiple roles, and being asked to play the role of himself acting in a film with no prior knowledge of Sterne’s book. Reflecting on the film with his commentary in mind, one is able to fully grasp the hurdles Coogan faced and appreciate the flexibility required of him to have performed under those circumstances. In addition, Coogan’s commentary on the experience of acting in a film within a film, in a sense projects to the difficulties that Laurence Sterne must have faced when writing the original story.

5.      Critical Analysis

How is the film a mockumentary (a documentary parody), a parody of a “making of” film, or a satire of reality programing? And is such a project within the spirit of Sterne’s novel?

Michael Winterbottom’s film A Cock and Bull Story is what is referred to as a “meta-narrative” which means it is a story within a story. As such, the audience is given two different worlds to observe within a single film in that they witness a retelling of Laurence Sterne’s tale of Tristram Shandy, in addition to the events supposedly behind-the-scenes which details the lives of the film-makers. Being that the entirety of the film is scripted and often pokes fun at the players involved (mocking them), Winterbottom’s film can indeed be considered a “mockumentary”. This term refers to any parody on any events in reality where the supposedly script-less participants further the story or plot in often exaggerated and humorous ways. These phenomena can clearly be seen in A Cock and Bull Story as Steve Coogan and co-star Rob Brydon dramatize the filming process with their constant bickering, colorful dialogue, and over-the-top displays of emotion. Delving further, it is this notion that makes the film such an effective adaptation of Sterne’s original novel in that Sterne himself spent almost the entire book satirizing (mocking or ridiculing) the entire authorial community with his disjointed commentary on writing his own (from the perspective of Tristram Shandy) autobiography.

 

 

 

 

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2 comments on “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

  1. I agree that the “meta-film” layout of the movie is a clever way of modernizing Sterne’s novel. What distinguishes the novel, aside from its original style, is its lightheartedness. The movie’s mockumentary style captures this vibe while serving as a metaphor for the novel’s major themes. It is interesting that the viewer credits Coogan with this success, even though it was Frank Cottrell Boyce who adapted the screenplay. The Shandy of Sterne’s novel is a fictional character that does not represent Sterne’s own feelings, much like Coogan is an actor who plays an actor who plays Shandy and had no actual role in writing the film. This concept is a well executed expansion of the core themes of the novel. The film is a successful parody because the audience believes that they are seeing the real Coogan, when he is just playing a character. In that respect it is a very successful satire and an important and lasting film.

  2. Insightful analysis of the book, the film, and the adaptation itself. Online research links were good. While you made some good points in your critical analysis argument prompt, it lacks an argument structure, which mostly means it lacks a thesis statement at the beginning that encapsulates your argument. It should be something more like:
    http://engl329b.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/critical-analysis-argument-paragraph-model/
    9.5/10 Joseph Byrne

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