Some might claim that, since I rarely watch a video and limit my attendance at the cinema to once per decade, I am not in the position to be a respected film critic. I have, however, watched three different videos (now called DVDs) in the past month. Or rather, I have watched three videos with different titles in the past month. They are all actually the same video.
First I watched the film of Tristram Shandy in the form created in 2005 by Michael Winterbottom. Sterne’s book is probably the best novel ever written in English and I was keen to see how such a erudite book (it’s not many novels that incorporate epistemological jokes based on the assumption that the reader is familiar with Locke’s discussion on the association of ideas) would be set to film.
Then I watched two vidoes that Alison bought me for my birthday: I am Curious (Yellow) and I am Curious (Blue). These are throwbacks, of course, to the films that impressed me as a callow youth (along, somewhat later, with Barbarella, a film I, possibly inappropriately, took a bunch of nuns to see).
The thee films are all films about making films and the effect on the actors and actresses of making the film. Certainly the Curious films do it better (and I notice on the DVD sleeve the comment from John Lahr that “I am Curious seemed to be cinematic Tristram Shandy”.)
In the eponymous Tristram film, Tristram is portrayed through the his actor as a somewhat petty person, keen to establish and fix his rank compared with those around him. I read no such pettiness in the book. The balance between being in the film and being about the film is also much better in Curious: there you can never forget that you are watching a metafilm but the underlying film has by far the larger weight. In Tristram the balance is much more weighted towards the making of the film: I cried out for the actors to get back into character. I am more concerned about Tristram than the actor playing him in the same way that I am more concerned about Lena than the actress playing her. To see how the actor or actress is affected by playing the part is interesting (and possibly at the time of Curious, novel, although some film buff will probably correct me) but the main line should be the story—ultimately the producer can project a more rounded feel for a fictional character than for an actor or actress of whom I’ve never heard (Steve Coogan and Lena Nyman).
I suppose I ought to address the questions of nudity and sex, two completely unrelated topics in Europe but strangely intertwined in North America, whence I write this posting. Curious and Tristram contain both and Curious was supposedly banned from the USA because of either its nudity or its sex. Frankly I don’t believe that: it was banned from the USA in the mid 1960s because of its strong anti-Vietnam and anti-Military messages using the excuse of the nudity and sex.
In Tristram the nudity is sexual and the sex is completely unnecessary to the plot (I believe that there is some rule these days that all films have to contain some sex in order to be published, irrespective of whether the story needs it). In Curious the nudity is completely non-sexual and the sex is integral to the development of Lena’s (as fiction and as actress) character. The little sex and nudity in Tristram tries to be erotic; the much larger proportion of sex and nudity in Curious is completely anaphrodisiacal.
The DVDs of Curious contain one very powerful scene that the director, Vilgot Sjöman, couldn’t place in the films themselves: the literal unfrocking of the Archbishop. Curious also contains a really nice continuity error: it was obviously filmed either side of the point in 1967 at which Sweden switched to driving on the right-hand side of the road (a strange decision but one that presumably made sense at the time). This means that in some of the scenes the traffic moves on the left, in later scenes on the right and in still later scenes on the left again.
So, I recommend anyone who remembers the 1960s, or wants to remember the 1960s, to buy the DVDs of the Curious films. Don’t bother with the Tristram one because it is much the same done less well.