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Sep 30, 2009

The Night Digger - old fashioned filmmaking and a chance to let the audience viewer to imagine how great the danger on screen might be.

I am a big fan of Bernard Herrmann because of the quality and emotional scope of his music and his contributions that empowered the films of Orson Welles, Hitchcock, and De Palma.

Last night - September 29, 2009 - on TCM they showed The Night Digger (aka The Road Builder) directed by Alistair Reid.

I bought the soundtrack sometime in the mid-1990s, and it was pretty cool to finally get to see it.

The music in the mix appeared to be subdued ( at least it was on TV) which would be in keeping with the overall mood and tone of the film. You immediately know when you are hearing a Herrmann score and he tends to be powerful and you wouldn't want to allow it to dominate the film at the expense of the story. I would like to see it in a theatre. Alistair Reid's direction of the film was restrained, deliberate and methodical. It was very old fashioned and pleasing just the same. His suggestion of ideas and the moments when we are to consider the pleasure of the flesh is not too chaste, it is just clearly and briefly offered.

The pace is right in vogue with the time that it was made (1971). Compared with the current modern trend of horror or action stories often being ramped up so that everything is being thrown in your face and with a blurring speed of hyper-editing, The Night Digger if released as is today would be a bomb.

There is something reassuring about seeing it, if you bring the readiness to accept the slowed down tempo and presentation of material at a speed above boredom but in tune with small town life, the simplest cause and effect cutting and story points can be conveyed in an easily digested manner. In a sense although we know that the film was made in the early 1970's, the person who is open to different moods and pacing will be pleasantly rewarded with a classic offering of film ideas presented in a very basic way.

This tends to be the thrust of M. Night Shayamalan's work that I have seen.
With each release Shayamalan is adhering to traditional slower cinema story presentation that ultimately should allow his films to stay fresh and not be bogged down by becoming dated from catering to the current hip fashion trends.

The Night Digger DP was the late Alex Thomson.

Among the enjoyable films of his that I have seen are: The Krays, Legend, Excalibur, Eureka, Cliffhanger, Year of the Dragon and the Dino De Laurentis production of the classic action pix starring Arnold Schwarzenegger Raw Deal.

That featured one of my all-time favorite Schwarzenegger lines in a film - "You shouldn't drink und bake."

A simple film and memorable in its own way, I liked The Night Digger. Herrmann's use of the harmonica as a theme that identifies Billy works very nicely. If you dig harmonica in a film, go back and dig into Ennio Morricone's Once Upon a Time in the West and The Untouchables.
revised 10-2-09

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