Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

1 Jun

1.) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne is not an impossible work of literature to read. However, it is very confusing and hard to grasp in almost every sense. The five installments of the novel contained many sexual references and some obscenity for the time period (1759-1767). One could find it interesting that the story is about Tristram Shandy yet he doesn’t focus on himself a lot. The author tells other people’s thoughts through his own eyes. The reader quickly notices that the plot is not in chronological order and is somewhat unconnected at first. Sterne makes jokes about the literary and publishing world by including the black and marble page. The novel heavily dealt with birth and groin problems that many times were not graphically discussed in literature. In terms of themes, the novel focuses on memories and ideas and how that relates to ones understanding of their family, environment, and life. The author also showed that when attempting to tell a life story sometimes it is best to go out of order to spark curiosity in the listener.

2.) 18th century wigs falling off actors, a fake baby playing the main character at his birth, and a lot of behind-the-scenes camera action accurately describes Winterbottoms 2006 film, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. This film is actually two movies in one. It starts with two actors in hair and makeup about to shoot their scenes for the day. A movie watcher could take this as a mistake in the first five minutes. Yet, the movie is diluted with satire and an unserious energy. It is confusing, just as the book is, because there seems to be no logical order. Winterbottom shows that actors read lines on a script without being fully engaged or aware of Sterne’s book. You’re not supposed to take the movie too seriously is really the overlying message. We see the crew practicing and setting up a huge battle scene on for the their budget to not allow it. The structure of the film is messy and a little irritating yet fun to watch.

3.) In total the film and book about Tristram Shandy confuses its audience. Since the novel is hard to read (and most people haven’t) the movie focuses on this very idea. At least with the book the concept can be deciphered at the end. Yet, the film with its interruptions from camera crew and dealings with the actor’s real life problems and situations makes it almost tragic to watch. At times one is not sure if they viewing the ‘real’ movie. However, when reading the book we know the confusion is intentional. The film adaptation is not even an adaptation of the book but a film about how remaking the impossible is just that…impossible.

4.) A. Movie Mom: Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story: This blog article discusses the movie to parents and how it is not appropriate for children under high school age because of the nudity, alcohol, and sex in the film.

B. Michael Winterbottom Interview: This interview with the director discusses how Winterbottom prefers to take on low budget films and direct unexplored genres (although not intentionally).

C. Video Interview with Steve Coogan: The Spike interview with the main character of the movie asked questions about Steve Coogan traumatic experiences in his own life and how it related to his young character is the movie.

*C. Steve Coogan is asked questions about if he had a penile or erectile incidents like his character Tristram in the film at the windowsill. This video is a wonderful insight on how the actors think of the director and the script. Coogan describes how Wonterbottom starts to shoot movies before the script is ready and many times he films actors without them knowing. Coogan said the only traumatic experiences he had ‘down there’ was his first time having sex. His answers show how he brings humor in his career and real life.

5.) Particularly in how it treats pregnancy and birth, and the way men are portrayed as being both pendantic and ignorant about these subjects, is the film feminist? (Note that the book is very similar to the film in this regard).

The movie, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, is not a feminist film due to its lack of dealing with female independence and decision-making, which is emphasized during the delivery scenes. Before Tristram’s birth his mother wanted to deliver her child in London but his father made the decision to have his son delivered at home by a doctor who could have killed Tristram. Although, the film emphasized women’s feminine virtues such as clothing selection and demeanor it did not tell a message of a liberating story. The women in the movie were submissive and aimed to please men. Males controlled when they wanted to have sex, the name of their child, and how things should be done. During the childbirth section men acted nonchalant about the event even when the pregnant woman was screaming at the top of her lungs. This does not show feminism, rather it shows reality for the time.

5 Responses to “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”

  1. emrg10 June 2, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    I found the confusing parts of the novel to be frustrating more so than those of the film. Writing out of order sparked too much curiosity and along with the foreign time period, the novel was hard to follow. The satiric aspects and structure of the film were not as frustrating or irritating. It was interesting to see how the different stories mixed and played off of each other, so I agree, it was fun to watch.
    Concerning the adaption, I thought the film was less confusing than the novel. The novel had the problem of being from a different period, while the film had the advantage of understanding what has changed culturally between the novel’s release and 2005. The language of the film was easy to understand, so if one is paying attention and familiar with the theme from the novel, one can understand the film.
    I found the film to be feminist to an extent. I see that you say the men’s attitudes show reality for the time. The film depicts certain Victorian values, but the satiric undertones reveal a feminist message. The audience knows that the men are ignorant and the women is more logical about the situation. This satiric depiction gives the film a feminist quality, although the main plot does not deal with female independence or decision-making.

  2. doctorzap June 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    I agree with your stance on the critical prompt response. This film held no kind feminism objective but simply held the view points of Tristram. Through his view he did not discuss equality but strictly commented on random day-to-day events and his delivery along with male authority over the activities you listed were all just apart of the norm. There was not the slightest sign of the females trying to rise above the males or anything similar to that matter.

  3. aed1423 June 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    Hello Amber,

    A Cock and Bull Story is not a direct adaptation of Tristram Shandy but it still adapts it in some way. It is a more modern take on turning the life of Tristram Shandy into a form of art. In this case it was a film rather than a novel. I agree that i is “a film about how remaking the impossible is just that…impossible.” but it also recreates the essence and madness of the original story.

  4. esasaki June 5, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    I think you did a good job with your analysis of the book, film and adaptation. In particular, I agree with you on the movie, that it’s confusing and there seems to be a lack of logical order. For this assignment, I actually watched the movie first and then read the book. I think this negatively impacted my impressions of Tristram Shandy because I became confused and quickly bored within the first 10 minutes of the movie and fell asleep around the 40 minute mark. Like you said, the purpose of the book and film is to intentionally confuse the audience with disjointed structure and parody, which might be an acquired taste for some, others might love the story and yet, some people might be confused with the meaning of it all. I know I was at first.

  5. lordbyrne June 8, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    Amber, good analysis all around. I do have a thought for you: is it possible that a film could show a women living in a world controlled by men and still be feminist? In other words, is showing the oppression of women a feminist act, or do the women need to be empowered for it to be feminist? I think the bumbling doctor is a feminist statement of how women had little control over their pregnancies in this period. 10/10. Joseph Byrne

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