Blog Writing Assignment: Tristram Shandy

1. In the same way A Cock and Bull Story is a film-within-a-film, Tristram Shandy is a book-within-a-book. Sterne’s novel follows the character Shandy as he tries to write an autobiography of his life. The nature of the book is quite surreal–the first chunk of the text is primarily a recount of his birth–but his story is filled with stories of misfortune and disappointment (mostly regarding his physical appearance and disappointment from his father). Shandy’s long-winded autobiography essentially becomes a stream of consciousness-esque story filled with long tangents about other parts of his life and family history, nonsensical nuggets of information interspersed around his (rather unimportant) life story.

2. The film version of Tristram Shandy is more mockumentary than true film based on the book. The film follows the making of a true Tristram Shandy adaptation into film, with the majority of the actors playing petty, vain caricatures of themselves, with almost all of the actors having little interest in the text the film is adapted from. The characters featured in the film are a copy of Sterne’s Shandy in the novel, in the sense that they are as uninterested in the text as Shandy’s story is meant to be found uninteresting. Winterbottom’s film uses the mockumentary device as a tool, incorporate parts of the book around his behind the scenes shots by including them as finished scenes for a true Tristram Shandy film.

3. Although it isn’t a true adaptation, instead being more about the making of the film based off the book, Winterbottom’s adaptation of the book into his film is at most, the closest anyone will get to making an adaptation of Sterne’s novel, and at least, a spiritual adaptation of Sterne’s work. The text as it stands would be too hard to take and turn into a film on its own, but the structure of the film is clearly influenced by the structure (more like lack of structure) of the novel. Although the story might not be an exact copy of the novel, parts like the structure of the film or the attitudes of its characters make it a good adaptation of Sterne’s work.

NPR interviewed Winterbottom and Coogan when A Cock and Bull Story first released in 2006. Winterbottom joked that no one had read the book, and none of the actors could get more than five pages deep into it–filming the movie, he said, on the basis that no one had read it. The interview also focused on the difficulty of adapting novels with tough language into films, noting several other films had failed where Winterbottom’s film had succeeded.
A review of Tristram Shandy; the author says the film does a good job of pointing out the problems of making an unfilmable film, but the
Another review of the film, this one criticizes the banter between Coogan and Brydon but points out some of the film’s successes in referring to the book; it also says Sterne’s novel influenced some of Karl Marx’s early theories as a revolutionary journalist.

5. Winterbottom’s film-within-a-film structure and the disjointed narrative used in the movie mimic Sterne’s style and plot device in his novel, creating a film out of unfilmable text by employing the same style device Sterne did in his novel. Like the novel, the film uses a disjointed narrative over its length, using cutaways to show filmed scenes of parts of the book, in the same way the book features tangents and breakaways from Shandy’s man life story in the text. While the narrative in the text serves to further complicate Shandy’s character and minimalize his story among the other stories he has, the film uses the disjointed narrative structure as a tool, using it to minimalize the characters in the film, but also show those parts of the text to make his film a real adaptation of the text. A true adaptation of the novel would be impossible, thanks to its length and context, but Winterbottom is able to capture the essence of the book by using an updated version of Sterne’s disjointed narrative and the same plot tool he uses to tell Shandy’s story–a “making of” story as he writes his autobiography.


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