- Interviews by Michael Winterbottom
Three interviews in this collection, all previously published, center on Mr. Winterbottom’s film Cock and Bull Story (2006), a work that has received almost as much attention in the last few years as Sterne’s fiction. Unfortunately, this is not because the film is particularly good, much less a box office success (it was not), but [End Page 248] because chattering about films has become an international pastime.
In the first interview, conducted by Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope (2006), we discover that Tristram Shandy has thirteen volumes, that it is a “pre-post-modern monster,” that its hero (the child Walter “spent his life waiting for”) is never born, and that the film “is very meta stuff.” Fortunately, these are the inanities of the interviewer Mr. Nayman, not Mr. Winterbottom, who cogently corrects the last statement: “It’s very simple stuff, really.” Indeed, in all the interviews, Mr. Winterbottom’s is the saner voice. He is, for example, intent on relating his wonderful experience filming at Shandy Hall, a place he admires; he repeats the experience in all three interviews, along with his delight in the reception given the film by Sterne scholars and enthusiasts gathered there for the preview—proving perhaps that scholars and enthusiasts are also polite. As for Mr. Nayman, he admits first to “wallow[ing] through Tristram Shandy in university,” then that he read about “75 percent of it, which is not to say I read the first three quarters,” and finally that he “enjoyed the first fifty pages so much that as my eyes started to glaze I decided I was enjoying the rest.” One assumes he was unconscious when reading volumes ten to thirteen, since Sterne, of course, wrote only nine volumes.
David D’Arcy’s interview appeared in GreenCine (2006) and he elicits the information that the cast was not required to read Tristram Shandy, and that the two main actors, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, did not do so, but that “it’s not relevant either way.” Again, Mr. Winterbottom is to the point: “It doesn’t really matter—great book, great film—because I don’t think there’s that much connection in the end. I think you can make great films out of great books, but not because they are great books. It just happens by chance. . . . It’s two separate things.” And he goes on to endorse the suggestion that better films can be made of lesser books because one feels “freer.” When asked if he worries that his film might become the present generation’s version of Tristram Shandy, he is quite candid: “I don’t think that many people were aware of Tristram Shandy anyway, so. . . .”
Finally, Richard Porton’s interview appeared in Cineaste, again in 2006; he is seemingly the most schooled of the three, able to tell us that Sterne was an “antinomian clergyman who also derived sustenance from . . . Rabelais and Erasmus,” and that his “playful subversion of linguistic propriety and linear narrative is inextricable from a celebration of creative fecundity and the power of literature to transcend the prison of the self.” As a film about filmmaking (all three interviewers mention 8½), Cock and Bull Story is a “manically comic version of the filmà clef genre” that reflects a similar attitude toward Sterne’s work. His interview stresses “charitableness” as the primary theme of the book and movie: “Sterne’s benign lunacy,” celebrates rather than admonishes his characters “for their determination to ride disparate hobbyhorses with a combination of vigor and dyspepsia.” Mr. Winterbottom offers the same charitable attitude toward his actors and his film, and thus we should be no less charitable toward his enterprise and his interviewers, although, as Scriblerians, we might wonder, “What would Swift have thought?”