18.11.05

A cock and bull story

Went on a Day Saver adventure (nearly a punch up on the 7 bus between little old lady and bunch of polite guys from Dubai when she complained that 'we don't shout in England') down to the Marina for the launch of Brighton's film festival at the swanky Seattle Hotel. I thought the speakers (including Jonathan Woodham) were saying 'Sin City', which sounded promising, but it was really CineCity. Full details on www.cine-city.co.uk. We arrived just as the bar, serving Havana Club-based cocktails, closed!! However we did get a goody bag containing a small bottle of rum. Missed the canapes too (but Angie bought some popcorn)! Spotted Julie Burchill, but no movie stars. The festival kicked off with a special preview of A Cock and Bull Story, not scheduled for release until the New Year. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 hour party people, Wonderland, 9 songs) it's an attempt to shoot an adaptation of Laurence Sterne's novel 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman', one of those 'unfilmable' books. If my memory serves me well, this bawdy bewildering novel is about the impossibility of writing an autobiography, because it would take greater than a lifetime to write it, plus the fact that it takes Shandy two volumes to get past being born. The form of the book is very strange, too (a post-modern classic written way before there was any modernism to be post about) with blank pages, black pages (yes, they do it in the film!) and lots of dashes and doodles. I suppose you have to know this to make any sense of the film. It starts in makeup where Steve Coogan (who plays Tristram and his father Walter) is having the kind of nose that Terry Gilliam wanted Matt Damon to have in 'The Brothers Grimm', while bantering with 'co-lead' Rob Brydon (who plays Uncle Toby, a kind of Don Quixote character) about billing, heel height and the Dulux shade of his teeth. Then with the opening credits we have Steve Coogan as our hero striding out to the stirring sounds of Michael Nyman's 'Chasing sheep is best left to shepherds' from 'The Draughtsman's Contract', the first of a couple of recycled tracks from the groundbreaking Peter Greenaway film, a cunning film-buff shortcut for establishing the period. And is that in fact the same house they're using? Coogan is talking to camera about Groucho Marx - what, in the 18th century? Is he in character or just in costume (he has no wig after all). Do we care? Coogan and Brydon also play themselves, well sort of: Coogan has a 'wife' played by gorgeous Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald, and a baby. He's also having an affair with Naomie Harris, a production runner fascinated by the films of Fassbinder. The 'real' people also act with people not playing themselves, such as Brighton's own Mark Williams, as a pedantic re-enactment expert working on the battle scene we never get to see. Confused yet? It's a bit like 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', where Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep have an 'off-screen' romance as well as the on-screen one. All a bit of a shambles really. The film awards itself two stars (an own goal) when they manage to secure Gillian Anderson for the romantic part of Widow Wadman – something that the Brydon character, as an X-files fan, is very nervous about. He has posters of her on his bedroom wall. There are cameos by Tony Wilson (with an 'it'll be on the DVD' nod to Party People), Sgt Bob Cryer from The Bill, the bloke from Vicar of Dibley, the woman from Extras, David Walliams as the curate, and many other stars of British comedy. The funniest bits are Rob Brydon's impersonations, Coogan as Roger Moore, for example. But overall it was more like Morecambe and Wise doing a play what they wrote. Will it travel, with all that in-jokery? I doubt it. A brave effort, but Terry Gilliam would have done it so much better.
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