1) By virtue of the fact that this is a film, Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s novel is slightly easier to get into since the viewer isn’t burdened by written language – having said this, the film would make much less sense without having read at least the first few chapters of the novel beforehand. Steve Coogan playing Tristram Shandy who is, in turn, playing Tristram Shandy, walks us through his visual autobiography in much the same way that Sterne wrote it, when the film actually focuses on the character of Tristram Shandy at all. Beginning with the conversation between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is particularly effective in framing the movie as a film-within-a-film rather than beginning with Coogan in full period dress and then pulling back so that he can address the issue of various child actors who have been chosen to portray his various stages of youth. The dialogue between Coogan and Brydon is seamless and natural, setting us up for the singularly English humor characterized by quick-witted muttering, politely monotone insults, and an expansive vocabulary juxtaposed with stubborn ignorance. The technical shooting of the film never dissolves into a Cloverfield-like intimacy, maintaining smooth shots when Coogan is Shandy-as-Shandy and moving along in documentary style when Coogan is himself-as-alternate version of himself and further emphasizing that this film exists in multiple dimensions. Did that make a bit of sense?
2) The book is very complicated to begin reading because it demands a lot of focus to understand what is actually being said or described by the frustratingly detailed and easily distracted Shandy. Following the novel is perhaps purposefully difficult to illustrate the idea that writing a novel is difficult, but the expectation of a novel framed as an autobiography is that a recollection of one’s life should be straightforward enough – instead, Shandy is in no way direct or particularly succint in describing the events not only of his life but of those leading up to the very beginning of his life. Even the dedication page is unnecessarily convoluted in language and message, but once the modern brain has adjusted to Sterne’s style the actual events of Tristram Shandy’s life are comically unfortunate, especially his accidental circumcision.
3) http://www.ifc.com/blogs/ifc-now/2010/09/tristram-shandy-a-cock-bull-st.php Synopsis of the film intended to interest IFC viewers
http://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Cock-and-Bull-Story/108051809223495 A Facebook page for the film
The third source is the lengthiest and the most explorative of the actual film in addition to the reviewer’s personal opinion of the acting and production values. The film is compared to other movies such as Spike Jonze’s Adaptation that share the theme of a story-within-a-story, one of the most confusing elements about A Cock and Bull Story. Steve Coogan is also given more attention in this source, which is helpful for American viewers who might not be familiar with his earlier English work.
4) Both Tristram Shandy the book and Tristram Shandy the film have disjointed narratives (they are non-sequential, and prone to diversions). How is the narrative disjuncture similar, and how different, in the film compared to the book?
The film and the book are equally confusing for those who must experience them from the outside, but within the novel Tristram Shandy is free to meander as he pleases throughout his own autobiography while the actors-playing actors-playing characters must submit to being woven around each other in the cinematic adaptation, emphasizing not only the difficulty of filming Sterne’s novel but the limitations involved in presenting a story in an entirely different medium from its original. There exists nothing like a perfect adaptation from one medium to another, but the film reflects Shandy’s disjointed narrative by adding as many layers to its own small universe as possible until the story seems likely to implode. Steve Coogan does not simply play Tristram Shandy but Shandy’s father, Shandy as himself, Coogan as alternate-Coogan, and perhaps shades of the real Steve Coogan who must deal with issues of family and responsibility just as any other human being. In similar layers, Tristram Shandy cannot seem to help pausing and analyzing what he has just written as well as what he intends to write, never quite focusing on what he is writing at the moment.