Tristram and Shandy?

Is Tristram Shandy a true adaptation, or is it all smoke and mirrors?

One thing that stuck with me most throughout the film is its unwillingness, or inability, to contain itself in a cohesive manner. Instead the audience is given flashbacks, digressions, and flashbacks within digressions breaking a cohesive narrative; however, that wasn’t a bad thing. The film, based on a novel deemed untranslatable, approaches adaptation in an intriguing way (similar to that of Adaptation). By imploring Andrews’ mode of adaptation, Tristram and Shandy  ably translates the spirit of the novel to the screen.

Along with its offbeat vibe, the film acknowledges perspective and expectation. It seems to acknowledge the idea that everyone will in fact have a different opinion of what should or shouldn’t be in the film (we discussed this in class via Lord of the Rings). The film utilizes a number of different characters to emphasize the many different and conflicting perspectives, ideologies, and ideas.

Another interesting concept explored in the film is the utilization of disparity of knowledge. Through editing and cuts, the film allows the audience to enter into a position of knowledge; however, it almost comes across as breaking the fourth wall. There’s a comedic self referential aspect to the narrative and it plays out very strangely.

I dont know if I liked this movie. There were a lot of different concepts and themes that qualify it as being an adaptation; yet, I don’t know if I would personally label it as such. While it does capture the spirit of the novel, I feel the post modern approach applied merely includes the original work instead of translates it. On the other hand, the applications of adaptation concepts serves as an interesting deconstruction of both the film genre, as well as the novel.

Where I wasn’t left scratching my head at the end of the film, I was certainly left with mixed feelings for what I had just watched. All in all, I think this movie could be deemed an adaptation based on its merit and inclusion of concepts.  But, in terms of truly adapting the novel, I don’t know that the film managed this.


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4 Responses to Tristram and Shandy?

  1. Mike Ketive says:

    I think this film, as McFarlane might define it, would be an adaptation. The film, much like Adaptation, is a film based upon a literary text, but the film’s content is not only the adaptation of “Tristram Shandy”, but of the filming of an adaptation of “Tristram Shandy”. I would also argue that it’s adaptive in it’s nature because of the parallels drawn between Steve Coogan and Tristram’s father, as they’re both struggling with their families (the controlling of Tristram’s path by his father and Steve’s attempt at controlling his film and his family). However, I, like you, am uncertain about whether or not this was a good film or a good adaptation. I don’t find it to be both but one or the other.

    • Marie Mosot says:

      We’ve touched on this question before, if a “good film” and a “good adaptation” are mutually exclusive conditions. I’m at pains to understand it. If it’s a “good adaptation,” then by definition, it’s also a “good film” because an adaptation is a film (at least within the terminology and subject heading of this class). What’s the distinction? Is it necessarily true that if it’s a “good adaptation,” then it’s a “bad film”?

      It seems to me that such a distinction means to keep the border between film and literature stable, but I’m not sure if it is, much less that it should be. It seems as if the distinction operates under a prescriptive model of what film and film adaptations should be, but as Tristram Shandy and Adaptation show, there is no definitive model or guidelines for adaptation, much less filmmaking, and to operate under such an assumption is to miss out on insights into both mediums.

  2. amelia daly says:

    I love your idea of a fourth wall! It’s great to consider the “disparity of knowledge concept” b/c it is amplified here!!!! We see so many points of view, you could almost create several sub films from the various characters perspectives. Maybe it’s an INFINITE wall! Haha!

  3. I think the film is a great adaptation. It didn’t take itself seriously, I think. Cogan is both Cogan and Shandy. And I think in some ways maybe, we are to think that the “real” Shandy isn’t in the period piece, but the fictional Cogan. The fictional Cogan is bringing what can be transferred from the book to the screen.

    So the film crew is trying to maintain historical realism and at the same time we get that some things are transferable and some are not. Some things must be adapted and some can be transferred. What can’t be transferred we get the period piece in the movie. And what can be transferred we get in the fictionalized life of Steve Cogan. And we get to see how it’s made, but it’s a movie not a documentary nor do I ever feel like it’s a documentary. There is the fictional film crew, with the fictional writers and directors, etc, who are being filmed by a real film crew. It was all very delicious and funny.

    I loved the movie. It was like watching an episode of Graham Norton. *smiles* It was done without the pomp, circumstance or seriousness of *Adaptation*. And the Jillian Anderson bit was hilarious.

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