Tristram Shandy, Adaptation, McFarlane and Andrew

First off, sorry for the late post, Prof & co.! I was so sick this week I couldn’t even get out of bed to watch the film on my computer until this afternoon. But, mission (finally) accomplished.

As for the film, I couldn’t help but draw the comparison between Tristram Shandy and Adaptation, and furthermore, what Dudley Andrew and Brian McFarlane might have to say about that comparison, as it pertains to the issues of fidelity, transfer, and/or adaptation.

First of all, I think the class came to something of a general consensus, especially after hearing from Susan Orlean, the author of the source text, that Adaptation did, probably, effectively capture the “spirit” of the original novel even if it took liberties with the story itself. (I use that many qualifications because as far as I know, no one in class has actually read Orlean’s novel and I’m sure there are several people in class who would disagree with that description.)

Essentially, I’m left wondering: Do both films achieve the same “spirit of fidelity” because they use the same sort of process? (That process being “take a difficult work, one that would be nearly impossible to make into a film, and then use the drastic efforts that go into trying to make it into a film anyway plus some elements of additional fiction to get across the essence of the text”.) Or does one achieve that while the other is not as successful? Or is the adaptation (for certainly McFarlane would not see either of these films as “transfers”) successful not because the extra stuff that’s added to that which is taken from the text, but purely due to the bits that are taken directly from the source material?

Obviously this is all largely going to be opinion based, but I have some answers to satisfy my own curiosity. I would say that both films are successful adaptations because they work in such similar ways; the openings of both films, for example, grabbed me immediately even though they had each nothing to do with their source materials. The fact is that the subjects in each of these films would probably not have interested me as much without the ridiculous and often hilarious performances of Nicholas Cage, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as characters outside of the scripts within the films. It is the additional material that gets you paying attention to the adapted bits, which can then stay more faithful in tone (if not in plot) to their sources.

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6 Responses to Tristram Shandy, Adaptation, McFarlane and Andrew

  1. Great observation about the strategy these two examples use: to “take a difficult work, one that would be nearly impossible to make into a film.” I wonder if the challenge of adapting the “impossible” is becoming part of the strategy of adaptations in general.

  2. Darwin Eng says:

    I agree that is would be entirely opinion based as to if they are successful adaptations. As you noted, both of the films explicitly mention how a source text can be impossible to adapt. And in both cases, the resulting movies become “meta”, or conscious about the fact that they are films about a film trying to adapt an impossible text. I can’t say for certain (considering Andrew and McFarlene) if these movie are successful adaptations. While I especially enjoy the humor in A Cock and Bull story, it seems as though one can consider the movie a good movie, but not necessarily a good adaptation–it’s own reflection about itself is genius, but the movie is not a “word-for-word” transfer from text to screen.

    • McFarlane, of course, would say that it doesn’t need to be a faithful transfer for it to be a good adaptation- that is why he makes the distinction between the two, and why he is so frustrated with the long-held critical belief that an adaptation must be as similar as possible to the source work in order for it to be “good”. He disagrees.

  3. The more I see “spirit” the more I’m coming to dislike it. I like the idea of what can and can’t be transferred.

    For *Adaptation*, I don’t think its aware that it’s a adaptation. But *Shandy* is clear about it, to the extend that that reporter guys tell the fictionalized Cogan that he’s making a film from a book that supposedly unfilmable. Are both movies doing the same thing? No. *Adaptation* I think working with the spirit of fidelity, while *Shandy* works with what can be transferred and what is adapted.

    • Well, again, without having read the source who am I to say whether the film captures its spirit? However, I will say that I did get the very British humor of it all, which I understand is what defines the novel as well. Thus in that regard, the adaptation could be said to capture the spirit of the novel.

      Having said that, I do think you’re on to something with the differences between the two works. Beyond whether or not they are both loyal to the spirit of the source work, they do operate in similar yet distinct ways.

  4. I agree with you. It’s hard to judge when you are unfamiliar with the source work. But I think that’s why film adaptations are so interesting. As we spoke about it class, directors are aware that the audience will be filled with people that absolutely cherish the book and with people that have never read it. How do they reconcile being recognizable enough to the audince that knows the book and not alienating the non-readers of the book? I think this film has the potential to please both audiences. I’m sure the readers of the book notice how rediculous this film is, but appreciate that this is a new angle, and for people like myself that has not read the book, I thought it was hilarious but noticed how the influence of others and the actors insecurities participated in the process of adaptation.

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