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TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY

Purporting to be the autobiography of a man more inclined toward discussing the difficulty of writing an autobiography than actually writing one, and who tends to reminisce about events that occurred before he was even born, Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman departs from the narrative straight and narrow early on, never to return. Momentary asides lead to parenthetical digressions that blossom into full-blown anecdotes that eventually loop back over themselves, by which time we’ve ended up somewhere entirely other than where we thought we were going. As Sterne, writing as Shandy, said of his own penchant for straying off course: “Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine — they are the life, the soul of reading, — take them out of this book for instance, — you might as well take the book along with them.” But I digress. For the matter at hand is not Tristram Shandy the book, but rather the remarkably fecund film that has been made from it — in spite of the conventional wisdom that even to attempt such an endeavor would surely prove a fool’s errand. Foolhardy British director Michael Winterbottom and his frequent screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (here collaborating under the pseudonym Martin Hardy) have responded to Sterne’s daunting fragmentation by fragmenting it all the further. What begins as a note-perfect Shandy adaptation (starring the game-faced Steve Coogan as both the title character and his father, Walter) soon gives way to a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the making of said film, complete with its own Winterbottomesque auteur (Jeremy Northam), an insecure star (Coogan again) trying to distance himself from his sitcom past, and an eager co-star (the delightful Rob Brydon) yearning for his moment in the sun. (Plus, lest I forget, a last-minute cameo — both in the movie and in the movie-within-the-movie — by Gillian Anderson.) The layering of the real and the reel is as intricate as in Adaptation or The Stunt Man, but underneath the movie’s tricky hall-of-mirrors surface lies a warm, delicate and, yes, distinctly Shandy-esque portrait of the struggle of creation, the general folly of human endeavor and the infrequency with which our lives turn out as we would have scripted them. By not even attempting to follow Sterne to the letter, Winterbottom and Boyce have triumphantly captured his impish creative spirit. (ArcLight; Monica 4-Plex)

FRIDAY ROCK PICKS:

Meat Beat Manifesto, Dälek at the Knitting Factory

Electronic-music
groundbreaker Jack Dangers has propelled his Meat Beat Manifesto
through expansive electro-acoustical dimensions in recent times. His
latest discs, Off Centre and At the Centre
(both Thirsty Ear), bring in such prog-jazz heavies as drummer Dave
King, flutist Peter Gordon and keyboardist Craig Taborn to merge
densely textured otherworlds with subtly complex polyrhythmic
dance-thump and deep-space analog-synth sallies. Do not miss Dälek, the
scary industrial crew who make something like a hip-hop equivalent of a
slasher flick, ill-harmonized claustrophobically in evil-tongued raps,
barbed-wire screetchez, scratchez and sonicus interruptus for even
wickeder massed guitar samples, like the barbed wire on your future.
Their new disc, Absence, is
on Mike Patton’s essential Ipecac label, and you should buy it,
experience it and burn in hell — you owe that much to yourself, don’t
you? (John Payne)

Ariel Pink, Gris-Gris, Indian Jewelry at the Echo

Bursting
forth nearly fully formed from the foothills in the headlands of Los
Angeles, Ariel Pink has a star-making story à la Kate Bush; his
home-recorded pop debut, The Doldrums,
was distilled from his 8-track/beatboxing/keyboard demos sent to
red-hot pop feral children Animal Collective and released on their Paw
Tracks label. Skimming his MySpace profile is an exercise in
discovering new angles in music; there’s a cover of the Smiths’ “This
Night Has Opened My Eyes,” and Pink is perhaps the only person apart
from Lester Bangs to recommend ’70s German agit-pop theatrical troupe
Floh de Cologne. Also tonight: the electric organism moving the echoey
psychedelia of Gris-Gris and the chunky rhythms and whirlwind mantras
of Indian Jewelry. (David Cotner)

Bob Mould, Curt Kirkwood at the Troubadour

Indie-rock
loyalists will forever prostrate themselves before the altar of Bob
Mould’s Hüsker Dü, because in the ’80s the band did indeed kick pre-emo
rump in righteous ways (still brings a tiny nostalgic tear to the eye).
Mould’s next band, Sugar, was a more musically inclined power trio with
a beautifully dense sound that in retrospect seems way underrated.
Mould, growing up and out of limited punk rock parameters, followed
with solo albums that combined his heartfelt, intelligent songwriting,
fiery electric guitar and ardent singing with explorations in
electronics, to varying degrees of success, such as his similarly
underrated Modulate (Red Ink). Tonight, Mould performs solo versions of material from his latest work, Body of Song
(Yep Roc), another slamming, searing set featuring Fugazi drummer
Brendan Canty and Sugar bassist Dave Barbe. Another rock form-smasher,
ex–Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood, opens with a look at his roots-rocky new
solo disc, Snow (Little Dog). (John Payne)