The British director, Michael Winterbottom, has become renowned for his manner, which comprises in having no manner at all. Each movie is pronouncedly different from the last, as if he relishes having the chance to try his hand at all genres and in all styles. But `A Cock & Bull Story' - an attempt to film Laurence Sterne's eighteenth-century novel-cum-autobiography-cum-whatever `The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy' - is in a league of its own, because it is a postmodern-ish take on a pre-postmodern-ish work of fiction. To talk of a film within a film within a film is too crude. If you like playfulness, you'll love it; if you want a linear narrative with a beginning, an ending, and a plot inbetween, then go elsewhere. Sterne himself said "Life is a cock and bull story", i.e. a joke, so perhaps we should leave it at that.
So, how to describe this film to someone who has never seen it? Well, for a start it is quite indescribable. It can be viewed from innumerable angles, but for me the most cogent is that of the process of moviemaking itself. But the more times I see this film, the more I see it differently; I am never bored, and I would not be surprised if in ten years' time it starts to appear on those list of best-films-of-all-time by the critics.
There are clever and witty observations and improvisations by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the accompanying commentary, which they claim to have done naked. Other extras include the complete Steve Coogan/Tony Wilson interview, three deleted scenes, and four scene extensions. The additional behind-the-scenes footage includes a highly interesting sixteen-minute tour of Shandy Hall with Stephen Fry and Patrick Wildgust (sic). All-in-all, this is a very generous package, but with neither sight nor sound of Michael Winterbottom himself (well, not much).