Video Vault: Tristram Shandy, A Cock Bull Story

2005 – Michael Winterbottom
Rated R – 94 minutes
Vault Rating: 6

First, dear reader, I owe you an apology. In this very space I recommended today’s feature sight unseen based on generally good reviews.

To quote: “Your best bet for an A-Title is probably ‘Tristram Shandy …’ in what is sure to be a curious pick of the week.”

Now, friends, Vault doesn’t lie. It was the best film of the lot that week unless your tastes run to the soft core of “Pirates.” And, actually, for a given taste, TS rates much higher than the six I’ve posted. Outside of people who have actually produced a film or staged an elaborate show, I don’t think there are an awful lot of laughs outside a child getting his wanker slammed in a windowsill or a man being placed naked, upside-down, in an ersatz birth canal…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film at hand is based on the novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” which, due to its author’s digressions, never gets around to actually introducing the protagonist.

“I think that’s the attraction,” comments Steve Coogan, who portrays himself, Tristram and others in the film. “Tristram Shandy was a post modern classic written before there was any modernism to be post about. So it was way ahead of its time…”

It may still be.

Coogan and his costar, Rob Brydon, British comedians of some note, give the film a feel somewhere between a Monty Python episode and “This Is Spinal Tap.” And the best humor in the film arises from the two stars’ competitive egoism where Coogan constantly tries to keep Brydon at supporting actor status.

Meanwhile, the cast and crew (some of them very funny in tiny roles) of the rather ungainly shoot all exist in an intrusive cinema verite, trampling at will on a story so weak that it has nowhere to go but behind the scenes. Indeed, this is a movie about the making of a movie (which has been done many times before and with more aplomb) based on a novel with no particular point. That, I think, is the primary laugh, and it’s a devil of a reach at that.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy tells us that a “cock and bull story” is simply one that is false. A more eloquent diagnosis is that provided by the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which tells us the phrase is “A corruption of a concocted and bully story.” I like that. And it goes to the heart of this film, notwithstanding that it is, literally, about both a bull and a cock. Oh, the British and their blatant sense of humor.

I guess what I’m trying to tell those of you who still trust me is that this film is not a safe bet. Some may find it hilarious. Others may miss the boat entirely. You’re on your own. I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can do.

(Click on picture)



Hey! You’re welcome! And so are your comments. I’d love to know what you thought of today’s feature, so drop me a line at the following link: videovault@gantdaily.com and I’ll be happy to add your comments to the regular VaultMail feature. And until cock and bull stories no longer fly … Enjoy!

Video Vault: The Lady from Shanghai
Video Vault: V for Vendetta

Leave a Reply