1. Tristram and Shandy is a whimsical journey through a man’s quest to write about life, namely his own life and those closest to him. Akin to a Mrs. Dalloway kind of exploration of the journey of the mind, it careens from an autobiographical story to the exploration of religion to the discussion of the history of Hebrew circumcision practices. It can be read as a commentary on the very unfocused nature of life and the mind of the individual setting out to make something. It brings up an interesting take on the eternal “is art created by the artist or found by the viewer” question by examining the process of one man’s attempt to create such a masterpiece.
2. The humor in the film, in fact the entire concept behind the film, is very British. The film comments on the state of the film industry throughout its 94 minutes. There is very little time for the viewer to acknowledge the wry and subtle jokes (and there are a lot of them) and evokes the memory of the recent Simon Pegg films, albeit with very different subject matter (it is useful to bring up this example to illustrate to US audiences the type of jokes that are employed). The costumes are at times lampoons of realistic period pieces (Doctor Slop’s wig comes to mind) and the actors professionally play actors that are, at times, unprofessionally acting in a film that is destined for failure. This movie could very well have been a television series in the way it goes from problem to problem with creating the adaptation of this “unfilmable” book. It is also worthy to note that Steve Coogan plays a director directing a movie in Tropic Thunder and also plays a crazy doctor named “Ramsbottom” in Despicable Me 2.
3. The obvious difference in the adaptation is how it is about the filming of the writing of the book instead of just about the writing of the book (like the book). The book conveys to the reader that the writer is enjoying his work and the light-hearted nature that underlies the text is faithfully translated into the movie. The jokes from the book are pared down for contemporary audiences and not everything is put into the movie. For instance, the movie stops recreating the book at around Volume 6ish and goes into its own exploration of the filming of the “unfilmable.” It is very humorous to see the ponderances of the book fleshed out visually in the film, one such example is the creation of the womb and the tests to see the feasibility of filming it.
Steve Coogan goes into detail about how the improvisation between he and Rob Brydon was filmed to get the feel that they were having fun, much like the novel.
This is a very informative article that goes through (literally) ABC’s of Tristram and Shandy.
Steve Coogan is interviewed and the very first question the interviewer asks requests that he explain the plot of the movie. To this Steve Coogan answers, “Oh, that’s a cop out, frankly.” This sets the tone for how the crew approached the movie, that it is not about a subject but more about a process that is meant to entertain. Tristram Shandy happens to be the vehicle that is used to fulfill this vision. Mr. Coogan says that Michael Winterbottom, the director, saw the “unfilmable” nature of the book to be a challenge that he accepted. And Mr. Coogan then says that his experience with Mr. Winterbottom convinced him that success was possible.
5. How is the film a mockumentary (a documentary parody) and a parody of a “making of” film? And is such a project within the spirit of Sterne’s novel?
The novel can be seen as an implied parody of the grand expedition that is creating the quintessential novel, much like the often parodied quest for the “Great American Novel,” and the film follows suit with the more contemporary take that is to make a sincere box office smash. The novel seems to take itself quite seriously, but Laurence Sterne infuses the transcript with a lighthearted nature that allows the reader to see beyond the words and sense the author’s true, benignly satirical intentions. The frequent tangents and esoteric allusions play upon the style of writing that was so prevalent in literature at the time. The film works to the same effect with its camera style and script. By keeping the camera cinematic, as opposed to the “shaky cam” filming style that was used in The Office, it retains its status as a film that is supposed to be taken seriously, but the ever-vaunted “serious” script calls for ridiculous scenes, like when adult Steve Coogan is to be inserted into a womb, nude, and then talk to the audience. This dichotomy of sober and absurd aspects keep in line with the similar tone of the novel.