Sredni Vashtar, 1981


And speaking of Sredni Vashtar (see yesterday’s post)… Screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin has a YouTube channel where he recently posted his own adaptation of the Saki story, a 25-minute film I hadn’t seen before. Or at least I don’t remember seeing it before. Birkin’s note says that the film was made to accompany screenings of the third film in the Omen series, The Final Conflict, which he also wrote. I saw this at the cinema but don’t recall any short being shown with it (then again, I don’t recall much of The Final Conflict either). This must have been one of the last occasions when a short was commissioned to be shown with a first-run feature since the practice was discontinued soon after. Sredni Vashtar is a fitting companion for a horror film replete with sinister tragedies, but shorts and features weren’t always so well-matched. I saw Alien three times on its first run, and on each occasion had to sit through a documentary about the ongoing Mod revival. “Yes, yes, yes, you love your Parkas and Vespas but we’re here for the monsters and spaceships…”


Anyway, Birkin’s Sredni Vashtar is a superior adaptation of the story that’s all the more impressive when you read that it was shot in a mere five days. Saki’s tale is an unusual one for having a serious tone that sets it apart from the stories that surround it in the Chronicles of Clovis collection. The default Saki mode is one of cheerful flippancy whatever the subject may be, and it’s often the ironic distance between the events described and the offhand manner in which they’re related that makes his work so memorable. Sredni Vashtar‘s tale of an ailing boy’s revenge on an oppressive guardian seems to have been more heartfelt than many of his other entertainments. Alexander Puttnam, the son of film producer David Puttnam, plays the browbeaten Conradin, while Birkin’s mother, Judy Campbell, is the boy’s guardian aunt. Themes from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana are put to good use, and would have helped tie the short to the Omen series, the first two of which were scored with Jerry Goldsmith’s thundering Latin chants. There’s also a fleeting reference to JM Barrie, whose life Birkin had dramatised for the BBC, while the film as a whole looks forward to the not-so-innocent childhood rituals that Birkin explored in his debut feature as director, The Cement Garden. Watch Sredni Vashtar here, and if you enjoy it do read the story as well.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Saki: The Improper Stories of HH Munro
The Chronicles of Clovis and other sarcastic delights

Weekend links 489


Typhonic Neural Tantra by The Wyrding Module.

• November 2019, as many people have been noting, is the month in which Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner takes place. At Dangerous Minds Paul Gallagher writes about the unrelated William Burroughs script whose title was borrowed for Scott’s film.

• More Ridley Scott (sort of): disco was still a big thing when Alien was in the cinemas 40 years ago, so Kenny Denton reworked Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score into a disco single which he released under the name Nostromo.

• “The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most exciting novels ever written and on the other hand is one of the most badly written novels of all time and in any literature.” Umberto Eco on the cult of the imperfect.

• Jonathan Glazer has made a short film, The Fall, for the BBC but the corporation’s restrictions mean that (for the moment) it’s difficult to see if you live outside the UK.

• New albums at Bandcamp: Typhonic Neural Tantra by The Wyrding Module, and Emotional Freedom Techniques by Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle).

• Hawkwind dancer Miss Stacia and the Barney Bubbles estate have made a line of T-shirts based on Barney Bubbles’ Space Ritual design.

Walter Murch and Midge Costin on the art of cinematic sound design.

Ivana Sekularac on the former Yugoslavia’s brutalist beauty.

• Congratulations to Strange Flowers on its 10th anniversary.

Geoff Manaugh on the witch houses of the Hudson Valley.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 19 experimental horror films.

Fall (1968) by Miles Davis | The Fall (2011) by The Haxan Cloak | Fall (2014) by The Bug (feat. Copeland)