Posted by: philosopherouge | November 26, 2007

Force of Evil (Polonski, 1948)

 

I’m having a hardcore noir watching contest over the next two months, and I’m already behind! (mind you, only one film.. still, I need to gain the lead). We have until sometime in mid February to watch the most films of the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They? list of Top 250 Noirs and their Non-American noir list to spice up on some diversity. Rewatches are acceptable, although the point of the experiment is to expand our knowledge of the genre. The first film I watched for the contest is Polonski’s much hailed, Force of Evil (1948), which is listed as highly recommended by TSPDT. It reminds me very much of the Sweet Smell of Success, thematically and stylistically. They both have a sense of poetics (the dialogue is written in iambic pentameter…), and corruption, of the corporate kind, but as well of the soul. The story in many ways, attains, or at the very least reaches for a mythic or Shakespearean level of meaning and impact, using archetypes like Shylock as lose inspirations for the characters. While I don’t think I’d rank the film on such a high level, there is no doubt it’s a harsh, complex and intelligent film that demands attention and certainly a rewatch.

The heart and soul of the picture, even if as the viewer, we’re not quite sure he even has one… is no doubt Joe Morse. Morse played by the wonderful John Garfield, is seemingly corrupt to the very soul. He’s a lawyer for a number’s game, and money is the only thing that rules his life. This is why his extreme devotion to save his brother is so intriguing, while there are hints he’s trying to pay him back for all the sacrifice that he made earlier in their lives, Morse is refused the traditional course of a classic movie character, or even a Shakespearean one in that he never has a speech, or an aside explaining his motives. While they appear selfless on the surface, there is a sense of selfishness in that he’s trying to cure his own pains, and clear his conscious. In every imaginable way, the film is about greed and every character who shows any virtue is bitten in the end. The film is harsh, pessimistic and unforgiving. Every character is ambiguous, and in their own way, ugly. Even Doris, who appears to be the angelic beacon is tempted by wealth and Joe Morris’ charisma.

Joe’s strength comes from his words, as mentioned earlier, the entire film is essential an epic poem. If words were poison, Joe Morse may have been the most notorious serial killer in film. He could slice through anything with his remarks, and his manipulations. At first I was very much at odds with this, I thought it was out of place, especially compared to the afore mentioned Sweet Smell of Success, where words hold the same power. In Success, these men are hustlers, writers and publicists. Words are their tools, like a gun or violence would be in another noir. Then it dawned on me, this is the reason for Joe’s success. Not only as a lawyer as a tool to circumvent the law, but as a means of his advancement and survival. One of his own allegories that he brings up is of a magician, to which Doris responds that she was always tricked by them because she focused on their words, and not on their actions. This is means of his survival, right until the end when he uses people’s own words to bring upon their downfalls.

Added tension in the film is created in the juxtaposition of tight and wide shots. Conversations between characters are almost claustrophobic as the character’s faces crowd the screen. I somehow don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the employees in the numbers house is actually claustrophobic, and can’t even stand to sit in a police car without panicking. Wide shots are used for isolation, when Joe is reflective or in danger, more alone than he’s ever been. At one point he seems to be descending stairs straight into hell, and he’s running there as if this is what he’s been waiting for his entire life.

It’s a shame the film was made as a b-movie, it’s too short for one thing. It could have been expanded upon, just ten more minutes would have sufficed. The sets left something to be desired, and Edna Tucker seemed sorely underdeveloped. It’s the script, and Garfield who really elevate the film to it’s classic status. It’s tragic that his life and career were cut short, because he is one of those truly incomparable talents.

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Posted by: philosopherouge | November 25, 2007

Tarzan and his Mate (1934)

 

My first experience with cinematic Tarzan was mixed, although I must admit I enjoyed the experience overall. The film unfortunately suffers from being a little too long and in turn, being repetitive and having pacing issues. The special effects for the most part are better than I would have expected, but there are some moments that are too awkward to really win me over. I actually think the use of screens and stock footage is better utilized here than in some later encounters with the same techniques, notably in the African Queen. These problems are linked with the use of colour though, and the difficult to remain tonally consistent when working with different filmmakers, different qualities of film and in different locations.

What I find particularly interesting about this film is Tarzan himself, and how on a more subversive level he’s compared and contrasted with the “civilized” men he encounters. One moment stands out for me as being particularly revealing as we see in a moment, that there is something fundamentally human in destruction. Tarzan had just finished killing a crocodile to protect Jane, as they emerge from the water he spots the leopard that had first disturbed his love. Jane hast to hold him back, because at that moment the leopard is not posing an immediate threat and they are needed elsewhere. Is this simply Tarzan’s natural instincts of protection kicking in? His need to constantly reinforce his dominance at the top of the food chain? Or perhaps, it’s simply a characteristic of man. Something within us that begs for risk, and destruction of the world around us. This is of course counteracted by Tarzan’s kinship, connection and understanding of the natural world. What really makes Tarzan different is that he does not know greed. It’s greed and desire that fuels the other men’s needs. Even human life loses value on their quest as the need for wealth overpowers all reason. There is also of course the oversimplification and demonization of the natives, which while to be expected is still uncomfortable. Especially the “workers”, who are really just disposable slaves.

The reason though, this film is remembered and with such affection has little to do with the danger or the pursuit of fortune, it’s passion that fuels the remembrance of the film. Jane and Tarzan rank among the great screen couples because they understand each other body and soul. The two scenes that stand as a testament to this are, the first lesser known one where Jane wakes up in the morning as happy as a peach, no doubt after an evening of passionate sex. Along with the latter scene, this was cut once the Production code was enforced, a damn shame if you asked me. It’s a beautiful scene, and even in Tarzan’s only brief understandings of the English language, he does seem to truly understand the meaning of “love”, and that it’s what he feels for Jane. There is even a sense that he associates the word only with Jane, a synonym for her name. The latter scene is far more famous: Tarzan and Jane take a swim. While Jane is naked, it’s not an erotic scene, but a beautiful ballet. It’s a testament to their closeness, trust and understanding. It ranks among the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen. The film is worth watching for the three minute sequence alone.

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 24, 2007

A Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger Blog-a-Thon

In honour of my favourite filmmaker(s) I’m venturing out to start my first blog-a-thon! From December 16-20th, I’m asking anyone who’s interested to post articles and entries on the two filmmakers (or one of the two), in any shape or form. I’m sure you all know the drill by now, but if I’m leaving anything out or if you have any questions let me know! Sign up now, and when the week comes along, let me know when you’ve posted your related topics. They have such a rich and interesting filmography that I’m sure there will be many interesting topics and films to choose from.

Here are some banners, if you would like any of other sizes let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 22, 2007

Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)

 

It’s often strange when you watch a film for the first time, and the emotion that best describes the experience is nostalgia. I often associate this feeling with films I’ve seen a dozen times over, or are tied to significant events, or holidays. While I suppose, the latter loosely applies as the film touches on Christmas, a season that really draws so much on experiences and emotions. It evokes a sense of familiarity and comfort that few films outside of family and childhood favourites ever achieves. Perhaps my own affection for the film comes from Judy Garland and her singing of “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. As a child my favourite film, that I would watch daily was the Wizard of Oz, so Garland’s voice alone brings me back a few years. Then the song, as I mentioned I had never seen the film until yesterday, but my aunt who was a great classic film enthusiast idolized Garland and had a music box with the music that she used to sing to me when I was four or five years old. It’s while watching films like this that you really become aware of the filters that prevent us from seeing the world in the same way, and in turn interpreting and appreciating art as unique individuals. It’s a constant dialogue between one’s experiences, emotions, personalities with the work of the artist. No two people will ever have the same experience. That being said, the effect of the film lies beyond myself, as Minnelli is truly able to create an extraordinary film that plays on common experiences and emotions.

Instead of spectacle and wide ranging conflict, Minnelli’s decision to make a story of the experiences of one family and their everyday struggles was an interesting innovation at the time. He really introduced a new kind of musical, where music carries on with emotion, and it’s character, and their own fears and hopes that drive the plot rather than an external influence. The Smith family is a well off family living in St. Louis in 1904, one year before the World’s Fair. They are a large and happy family, ranging from a young girl to an elderly grandfather. Their dynamic is positive, however not sugar coated. There is a lot of the sibling conflict that I find familiar in my own home, and generally I think it’s a rather realistic portrayal of a “happy” family unit. The drama emerges from the struggles that are so ordinary, the father getting a job in New York, a Halloween prank gone sore, and countless tangles with the opposite sex. The film truly fits in the category of “harmless” and “innocent” fun, and it’s almost a shame that those have become synonymous with badly made films, or films that are not worth remembering for one reason or another.

This perhaps is not entirely true, because in the youngest daughter, Tootie, we find a very strange character who adds an edge of danger and menace to the film. Played by leading child actress of the 1940s, Margaret O’Brien, she’s cute as a button and not as shrill as most child actors. Her character is obssesed with death, and is often burying her dolls in the garden as they have died from various terminal diseases. In my brief readings on people’s reactions to the film, her character, as well as the Halloween episode stand out as the most heavily criticized sequences. I think though, people are unfortunately imposing twentieth/twenty first century ideology on a different time. First and foremost, in 1900 there was a significantly higher infant mortality rate adding in to the fact that infectious diseases were still a major issue. Yelllow Fever, Polio, Influenza, Cholera and others were still a major cause of death. Even a child as young and “innocent” as Tootie had no doubt encountered more death and sickness than most of us do in a lifetime. It’s so common, it’s almost normal, and is of little concern to those around her. While the era is romanticized, we are hinted that it was not as ideal as we are lead to believe, and these moments of discomfort (be your reaction laughter, or a slight adjustment in your chair) add needed tension to the film. The Halloween episode as well hints to time when there was a lot less parental supervision, and while some criticize the parents’ lack of attention, even my parents were going out on Halloween alone, getting into who knows what kind of mischief. These traditions were carried along from Europe, where this was just as normal. Halloween was the one night the children could let loose, and while Agnes and Tootie’s actions far surpass what even I think is permissible, I do understand why they were not severely punished. Even coming back to the obsession with death, there is a strange sense I have in the film that Tootie has had her own brushes with it (the doctor says something like, what trouble have you gotten yourself into this time), and no doubt has witnessed her share of it. I think there is a fear of shattering her fragile innocence. … Sorry for the strange tangent.

The music in the film is positively lovely, and every song is essential. I find too often with musicals that there are too many songs, and that some are underdeveloped. It’s not the case here. Each one is integrated perfectly in terms of character, timing and execution. As Liza Minnelli points out in her introduction, even the Trolley song is given an extra punch because it becomes more of a celebration of youthful happiness, but he anxiety and enthusiasm of young love is added to the mix when Garland’s beau misses the ride. It also makes the song dynamics far more interesting as the tone shifts, as well as Garland’s presentation. My two favourite numbers though are probably Meet Me in St. Louis, the song that runs throughout the entire film, sung by different characters, for different reasons and the afore mentioned “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. It’s also one of the best examples of Technicolor, the film is so vibrant, rich and beautiful.

Overall, while I loved the film I can’t recommend it to everyone. Most people who don’t like musicals probably won’t have much enthusiasm for it, as it really defined the ones that most people see and hate. I still say give it a chance, but you really have to let go of inhibitions and expectations.

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 20, 2007

Love Affair (McCarey, 1939)

Leo McCarey is an unheard of director in most discussions of the great Hollywood directors. Not until recently, when something of a McCarey cult has emerged, has his name been mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Lubitsch or Hawks. Yet, he’s in the running for the director with the most films on my list, and not once have I not enjoyed one of his films. Even when I was unable to finish An Affair to Remember, because of time constraints I was saddened because it’s a film that completely sweeps you up and doesn’t let go. While many people know of An Affair to Remember as one of the great romances of the screen, few are aware it’s a remake of McCarey’s own Love Affair, that was made nearly twenty years beforehand. Starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, it’s a story we’re all too familiar with as two people, who seem to have little in common, meet on a boat and fall in love.

It’s difficult to say what sets this film apart from the rest of the the romances I’ve seen (although this is hardly the last that will appear on my list), it’s really a combination of factors that meld together to create something truly memorable and unique. First there is Dunne and Boyer, who are arguably the classiest of the classic film stars. Even when either was being silly, they had an air of gracefulness that was unparalleled. They connect onscreen like few other couples, and while this can rarely be attributed to talent, one must give credit to whoever decided to match them. They play off each other with grace and elegance, taking comedic blows, while also making those moments of silence together as memorable as the quickest verbal blow. It’s their comfortable and joyous interractions in the first part of the film that make the shift into melodrama much easier. It’s a rare thing that a romance is so mature and genuine as this.

The one scene that stands high and above the rest as, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest scenes in classic cinema is the meeting of Michel’s widowed grandmother on a brief stop during their journey. Maria Ouspenskaya plays Grandmother Janou, in perhaps the best role a woman over sixty could ever dream of having. She’s the centrepiece for the success of their relationship, and allows the audience (and Terry) to fall in love with Michel all over again. It’s not so much a revelation of his softer side, but rather peeling back all inhibitions and filters that prevented them from truly connected. Janou plays something of the cinematic clairvoyant as she sees that Terry is the perfect woman for her grandson, she offers them both advice, and allows Michel to take the first step in becoming his own man once again, dropping the playboy image he was so famous for. This scene doesn’t sound too good on paper, but onscreen it’s magical and I’ve cried everytime I’ve seen it. This is top tier Hollywood cinema for me, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 16, 2007

Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

 

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Films don’t get much better than Les demoiselles de Rochefort, a joyous, colourful and surreal musical about love. In Demys’ world, love depends on chance, and in such a place love at first sight, ideal women and unlikely reunions can exist. This is the third of his films I’ve seen, and while I enjoy Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Peau D’Ane, this is by far my favourite and in the running for my all time favourite musical. Few films strike me as being so totally in love with life as this, and even in the ironic moments of tragedy (the slasher/murderor songs) there is a bounce in the characters steps as they focus on the romance, and the memories of the parties involved. There is nary a sense of bitterness involved (except perhaps the artist ex-boyfriend, but even his threats are rather empty), and instead of pursuing threads of unhappiness and feelings of jealousy or injustice, the focus is on the emotions that make life worth living.

While so much of this film is an obvious tribute to the hey day of the Hollywood musical, even down to casting Gene Kelly as one of the lovers, the film doesn’t feel derivative for a single moment. When Solange and Delphine are dancing a number that’s an obvious tribute to Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it’s a positively invigorating take on something so familiar. I love how it’s ironic, but still undeniably in love with the original material. While the opening song in Blondes is (although somewhat in a tongue and cheek manner) about finding millionaires, in Rochefort the song is about love in it’s purest form as they describe it as being similar to the wind and other poetic notions. Back to Gene Kelly, while he was beginning to look a little old, there is no denying he was still on top of his game. He choreographed his own sequences, and gives every moment his all. I love being reminded why he is one of my favourite Hollywood musical staple.

I’m almost at a loss of what more I can say, the performances all around are wonderful, and I haven’t seen a film look this good in a long time. The pastel landscape and clothes adds to the overall atmosphere to the film. It actually “looks” happy, a distinction that’s hard to achieve without being outright cheese-tstic. The only other film that strikes me as channeling this particular emotion so well in it’s visuals is Amelie, but even there it’s a bit overbearing compared to the simplicity exihibited in the visual style of this film.

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 15, 2007

Breaking the silence…

Yea, so that failed! I have a blog where I’m posting my favourite sthough if you’re interested, it’s HERE

I’ve seen a few movies in the past little while (since I last posted actually), not much time to review them unfortunately. I’ll try and update more regularly though from now on, here is the list with ratings, anything you want to hear thoughts on I’ll be happy to add a few words.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) 5/10

Shock Corridor (1963) 10/10

The Story of Temple Drake (1933) 7/10

Memories of Murder (2003) 9/10

No end in Sight (2007) 8/10

Funny Face (1957) 8/10

Outrage (1950) 7/10

The Awful Truth (1937) 10/10

Brothers (2004) 4/10

Michael Clayton (2007) 8.5/10

Kiss of Death (1947) 8/10

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) 7.5/10

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003) 8.5/10

Audition (1999) 9/10

L’Atalante (Vigo, 1934) 9/10

Theodora Goes Wild (1936) 8/10

Scarface (1932) 10/10

No Country for Old Men (2007) 10/10

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 3, 2007

Old Analysis: Diary of a Lost Girl (Pabst, 1929)

I was very busy in the last few days, so no time to watch anything new or write anything new. I wrote this a while back when I was analyzing the portrayal of women in classic film. I’ve always found Pabst’s portrayal particularly enligtening. I don’t recommend reading if you haven’t seen the film though, as there are many spoilers.

Although Diary of a Lost Girl bears little ressemblance to Pandora’s Box in story and even character, I’d again argue this is a film that showcases a positive message about women. Louise Brooks is Thymiane, a young innocent girl drapped in white for her communion, on this very day she is raped by the clerk who works in her father’s store. She gets pregnant, and so as not to bring shame to the family she is sent away to a horrid “school” for girls. Just looking at this part of the film (it’s only just the beginning), Pabst lets the viewer see the hypocracy of the situation. Thymiane was an innocent victim, and she was punished for it. Although particularly relevant at the time, since in the VERY rare case a rape was brought to case, a man could argue that a woman is pleading rape because she was found out. He could also argue that if she said no, she was just saying it because she wanted to give the appearance of being a “good girl”. Pabst very succesfully establishes the fact that Thymiane is not only innocent (the white flowers, dress, her naivity) but also that she is adored by her family. It makes their decision all the more frightening. On the other hand the clerk who commits the crime continues to advance in life while she is thrown at the sidelines of society.

Early on in the film, the subject of the father’s infidelity is brought up. He is a serial adulterous, and Thymiane always naively wonders why his secretaries are so often fired (they get pregnant, and are sent away, they are damaged goods). This in comparison to what happens to his daughter is a very revealing look at chauvinistic society, and the low value of women (not only the ones he has an affair with, but also his wife and daughter). This is enforced later, when he doesn’t leave the money to his second wife who bore him children, he leaves her with absolutely nothing.

Just like in Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl enforces female companionship. Too many films portray female friendships as heavily charged with negativity, and competition almost moreso in today’s films. In this film, on the other hand, the girls in the “reform school” come together as a support network. They are friendly, they work together, and help each other. Even in the brothel, the only friendship and intimacy that really is exists is between women. Men come and go, but they are except in very rare cases (there are some “good” men in this film, who do their best to help Thymiane, and succeed).

There is a point in Thymiane’s life when she’s all but forced into a life of prostitution. She can’t easily accept it, but she has no choice. Presumedly sometime afterward she meets up with her father in a club. He once again rejects her for her ways, and yet it was his decisions and actions that thrust her into this life. This is an important moment in the hypocracy and double standard of the male mind. He has many affairs with women, and there is no problem. She has no choice but to become a prostitute and she is a disgrace, and a slut. As far as we’ve gone in society, this image is persistent. A man is a “player” while a girl is a “slut”.

A very admirable character, with the help from an old boyfriend Thymiane is able to pull herself out of this life of prostitution. She goes looking for her child and receives her father’s inheritance. There is a very tragic moment when she finds out the child her family made her give away had died, and matched very closely with a scene where she finds out her father has left her with all his money without leaving anything for his wife and children. Her step mother’s daughter, bears a very uncanny ressemblance to Brooks; the black hair, short hair and the glowing smile. She is reminded of what could have been, but even if she wasn’t I don’t think her decision to give most of the money to the woman she had hated when she was younger would have changed. Again, the message that woman have to help themselves and each other is reinforced. In the final scene when Thymiane returns to the school she was after her pregnancy, now as a woman of society she keeps her eyes to the floor. They bring in a young woman who used to be Thymiane’s friend, and scold her for trying to escape this “haven”. Thymiane can’t take it, and in an ourburst she not only defends her friend but condemns those that would support this establishment. Taking her friend by the hand she storms out.

The film is no doubt one of the most empowering films about women I’ve ever seen. Although there are several men in this film who are ruthless, disgusting and hypocrits they are not all as such. Thymiane’s childhood sweetheart helps save her, and after his untimely death his father takes in Thymiane and treats her as his own daughter. He even understands and helps her in her causes to rallying to help other women in the end. It’s a very well made film, and is quite subtle in it’s execution and message.

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In other news, I’ve convinced my little sister to get a blog. She’s a huge anime/manga fan, and it seems that’s what she will be focusing on primarily. Here is the LINK

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 2, 2007

Les Vampires (Feuillade, 1915) Chapters 1 & 2

I figured I might as well keep track of my progress on this one over time, instead of waiting until I finished all 700 minutes to recapulate my thoughts. The episodes vary in length so it’s somewhat difficult for me to decide to sit down and watch one in a limited span of time, as I’m not always sure how much will be needed. It’s my first introduction to serialized films of any sorts, and so far I’m loving it. The use of colour prints is spectacular, and is not done half hazardly like I’ve seen in some silent productions. Already, compared to the only other “feature” length I’ve seen pre-Caligari (The Birth of a Nation, 1915) this is a lot fresher and more fluid. The content is also far more interesting, as it’s a crime/mystery/thriller. The story is rather unpredictable, and one gets a real sense of the fear and mystery surrounding the Vampire gang. I was also surprised by the way media and reporting is portrayed, as it isn’t as much of a far cry from our own existence today, albeit on a much smaller scale. There is even a play being put on about the Vampires, showing just how fascinated the publis is with their mystery. The camera, which is unsurprisingly rather stagnant still manages to evoke a very peculiar visual atmosphere. While there are many medium shots, they are very well staged and always visually interesting. I only hope the rest of the series continues at this pace, because it’s very enjoyable.

Posted by: philosopherouge | November 1, 2007

November’s Theme: Silence

I asked a little while back on people’s thoughts for a theme, and the most popular seemed to be silent cinema. Already, several of my favourite films are silent movies, but still I’ve seen barely any comparitively to any other decade, and have missed out on many of the greats. Obviously, I’m not going to be watching exclusively silent films this month, but any other reviews I may have that are not on topic I’ll be posting at Chicks on Fire. I aim to see at least 10 feature length silents I had never seen before, as well as several shorts. I’m happy to take suggestions for films you think I’d enjoy, or should see. I’m not only going to post reviews but additional thoughts, and notes on silent stars, practises, etc. I aim to have at least one post a day.

To start, this is a list of my 10 favourite feature lengths

1. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
2. Pandora’s Box (Pabst, 1929)
3. La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
4. Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
5. Foolish Wives (Stroheim, 1922)
6. Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)
7. The General (Keaton, 1927)
8. Diary of a Lost Girl (Pabst, 1929)
9. Greed (Stroheim, 1924)

10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, 1920)

Twenty films I’d like to see the most:
Les Vampires (Feuillade,1915)
Sunrise (Murnau, 1927)
Faust (Murnau, 1926)
Broken Blossoms (Griffith, 1919)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robertson, 1920)
Orphans of the Storm (Griffith, 1921)
The Phantom Chariot (Sjöström, 1921)
Joyless Street (Pabst, 1926)
Paris qui dort (Clair, 1925)
La Boheme (Vidor, 1926)

Beggars of Life (Wellman, 1928)
A Girl in Every Port (Hawks,1928)
Street Angel (Borzage,1928)
The Crowd (Vidor, 1928)
Napoleon (Gance, 1927)
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (Lang, 1921)
The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1922)
7th Heaven (Borzage, 1927)
Where East Is East (Browning, 1929)
The Big Parade (Vidor, 1925)

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