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Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

A cock and bull story

When Laurence Sterne, a pastor, self-published his “About the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.” in 1759, he became a sensation. He played with the conventions of linear storytelling in a manner 200 years ahead of his time. The story is written as an autobiography that follows Shandy’s life from the womb to, after many tangents, just after birth. The heart of the novel is the digression into other topics.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is a movie based on the book, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Michael Winterbottom, and directed by the latter. It’s on its way to North American theatres. Boyce wrote “Millions” (directed by Danny Boyle, who did “Trainspotting”), which I recommend, and teamed with Winterbottom to create one of my favourite films, “24 Hour Party People“, which starred Steve Coogan, who is also a lead in “Tristram Shandy”. (I think I would like “Party People” even if I weren’t a fan of New Order and the Manchester sound.)

“Shandy” is a meta-movie, a movie about making a movie. Many of the actors play multiple roles. Coogan plays Tristram Shandy the fetus, Walter Shandy (Tristram’s father), and himself as an actor making the Shandy movie within the “Shandy” movie.

This is where it starts to get weird.

I don’t know Steve Coogan, but I do know that this isn’t the first time he has played himself in a movie. He played himself in Jim Jarmusch’s odd “Coffee and Cigarettes”. It may be more correct to say he played a version of himself – Coogan can’t possibly be that arrogant and off-putting in real life – and, if so, he sure can mock himself. He does a similar thing in “Shandy”.

Coogan honed the arrogant persona on his TV show, “I’m Alan Partridge”, although he played an unambiguously fictional character in that series – sort of. He allegedly based his Alan Partridge on Tony Wilson, the British journalist who covered, nourished, and by the end swamped the Manchester music scene in the 1980s. Wilson co-owned the Hacienda club and Factory Records. Ironically, or not, Coogan would portray Wilson in “Party People”.

So Boyce and Winterbottom hire Coogan for “Shandy”, in which Coogan plays Coogan – a role he’s played before. And who shows up in the movie(s) to interview him? Tony Wilson, playing Tony Wilson. That’s beautiful.

The Web site for “Shandy” continues the theme. It’s a Web site about building a Web site. Look at the deleted e-mail.

Boyce is not mentioned anywhere on the site, and the credited writer is the pseudonym Martin Hardy. Variety tells us Boyce did that to effect an end to the working relationship with Winterbottom.

Bonus note on Andy Serkis:

The pre-Kong, pre-Gollum Andy Serkis plays producer Martin Hannett in “Party People”, although you won’t recognize him in that role, either.

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