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Archive for the ‘author Allan Fish’ Category

Happiness (USSR; 1934)

by Allan Fish

Happiness (USSR 1934 90m)

Aka. Schastye; Le Bonheur

Living like a Tsar

p none d/w Aleksandr Medvedkin ph Gleb Troyanski m Modest Moussorgsky (reissue) art Aleksei Utkin
Pyotr Zinovyev (Khmyr), Mikhail Gipsi (Taras Platonovich), Yelena Yegorova (Anna), Nikolai Cherkassov, Viktor Kulakov, Lidiya Nenasheva,

After seeing this comedy Sergei Eisenstein reputedly said “today I saw how a Bolshevik laughs.” Not only a Bolshevik, of course, for there’s still much to amuse, perhaps surprisingly so for western audiences, in Medvedkin’s film. The director had been a forgotten figure in Soviet film history prior to both his and the film’s rediscovery by Chris Marker in the early seventies. His films were made with the purpose of touring them round the villages of the Soviet Union to show to the local populaces. Its anti-authority stance may make one wonder how it ever escaped the damnation of the hard-line Stalinist authorities of the period, but one can only be happy that it did.

Happiness begins with an old man peeping through a fence at his neighbour eating Vareniki while his wife watches on. He swears to eat Vareniki before he dies, only to die in the attempt of doing so. His grandson is then sent off by his wife to find happiness and not to return until he has found it. After claiming the lost purse of a merchant, he returns to set up a farm, only to lose it all in back taxes and sundry other blood-sucking authorities. Returning from the wars he finds happiness in a collective farm, though not before his old enemy neighbour tries to set fire to the place. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Broken Lullaby (USA 1932 77m) DVD1/2 (France only)

Aka. The Man I Killed
La guerre est finie

p Ernst Lubitsch d Ernst Lubitsch w Samson Raphaelson, Reginald Berkeley, Ernest Vajda play “L’Homme que J’ai Tué” by Maurice Rostand ph Victor Milner ed Merrill White m W.Franke Harling art Hans Dreier cos Travis Banton
Phillips Holmes (Paul Renaud), Nancy Carroll (Elsa), Lionel Barrymore (Dr Holderlin), Zasu Pitts (Anna), Tom Douglas (Walter Holderlin), Lucien Littlefield (Walter Schultz), Louise Carter (Frau Holderlin), Emma Dunn (Frau Miller), Reginald Pasch (Fritz’s father), Frank Sheridan (priest), George Bickel (Herr Bresslauer),

There’s something about funny men wanting to be taken seriously. Think of Chaplin, who may have made comedies about serious subjects but who also made a straight film that, though the critics loved it, the public hated. That film, A Woman of Paris, was made the year that Ernst Lubitsch arrived in Hollywood after a glittering rise in Germany. He made his star rise still further in Hollywood with a string of comedies and operettas that still preserve his legend today. Yet even he got the serious itch and, making as much money for Paramount as he was at the time, they let him have his head with this. It was a commercial flop, but several critics were euphoric; one recalls Robert Sherwood, who called it “the best talking picture that has yet been seen and heard.”
Paul Renaud is a French soldier who kills a German in the trenches and is racked with guilt. The church absolves him from blame on account of his patriotic duty, but he feels compelled to visit the town where the German lived. He seeks out the deceased’s family – mother, father and fiancée – to try and make sense of it and, after an initial hatred of his being French, they adopt him as a surrogate son, though they don’t know that he was the man responsible for their beloved son/fiancé’s death. (more…)

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London (UK 1994)

by Allan Fish

London (UK 1994 81m) DVD2

A testimony to Rimbaud

p Keith Griffiths d/w Patrick Keiller ph Patrick Keiller ed Larry Sider narrated by Paul Scofield

The style is a familiar one. Patrick Keiller’s equal part billet doux and j’accuse to the capital introduced us to the fictional alter ego of Robinson, or at least did so by proxy. Keiller would make more films about Robinson, but the first remains easily the most poignant.

A narrator, a weary traveller, working as a seaman on a cruise ship, docks back in London on the request of his old friend, cohabitee and lover Robinson, whose urgent summons has our traveller guessing at what is troubling him. He hasn’t seen Robinson for seven years when he arrives in January 1992, and finds him in despondent mood, hoping for a change of government in the forthcoming General Election, but fearing the worst. We are told that Robinson lives meagrely, not because he has to, but because he prefers it that way, eking out an existence on the money he earns lecturing in art and architecture at the University of Barking.

What follows is a document of the expeditions, as they are termed, and events of 1992 in London, as seen through the eyes of a melancholy narrator, who feels he’s there to chronicle the upcoming months in Robinson’s life, acting as Plato to his Socrates, Boswell to his Johnson, Watson to his Holmes, Virgil to his Dante. Yet he’s not only delivering Robinson’s death sentence for London but his own, referring to “dirty old Blighty; under-educated, economically backward, bizarre, a catalogue of modern miseries.” It would be easy to dismiss these as the rants of a grouchy old man, but there’s a real sense of the elegy to Keiller’s film, a sense of something passing. History is always there on hand in London, and ‘Robinson and I’, as it might have been called, takes time to visit the site of the execution of Charles I outside Banqueting House, as well as visiting landmarks only notable for being places where writers, artists and philosophers once stayed when in London, stopping off occasionally to engage in something altogether English, like a session’s play in a county championship game at The Oval, with the now gone gas tower casting its shadow over the ground. Then there are remembrances of the Blitz, either via recollections of Humphrey Jennings documentaries with the then Queen listening to a Myra Hess concert with Kenneth Clark, or via the erecting of a statue to Bomber Harris, and our commentator remarks on the Queen Mother being heckled at the ceremony. No monarchist, then, but that was taken for granted, for we’re told early on that Robinson is a passionate believer in constitutional reform, and mourns the failure of the 1649 revolution and how it still casts a shadow on the imperialism that led to the troubles in Northern Ireland. And while on the subject let us not forget that this was documenting the height of the IRA mainland bombing campaign.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

Red Psalm (Hungary 1971 86m) DVD2

Aka. Még Kér a Nép

Johnny is my darling…

p Miklós Jancsó d Miklós Jancsó w Gyula Hernadi ph Janos Kende ed Miklós Jancsó m Ferenc Sebo art Tomás Banovich
Lajos Balázsovits, András Bálint, Gyongyi Bürös, Andrea Drahota, Jószef Madaras,

When he was asked about his preponderance of blood in his Pierrot le Fou, Jean-Luc Godard, in typically abstract fashion, disagreed, saying that it was not blood but red. One director who would have understood exactly what he meant was Miklós Jancsó, and this 1971 film – the title is not there for nothing – would prove that very notion. It’s a challenging film, a dizzying enterprise which ravishes the senses while irritating them at the same time. There are times one longs for a rest from its symbolic repetition, and yet the final cumulative effect is unlike any other film of its era.

Red Psalm is set in the late 19th century on a small Hungarian estate owned by a count, and on which peasants are gathered to celebrate harvest while awaiting a response to their demands following their decision to strike. The government sends troops to quell the uprising, but at first the violence takes a cessation so the troops can join the peasants to celebrate the harvest. Soon after, however, and following the failed intervention of the increasingly ignored church, the troops round up the peasants, surround them, and shoot them en masse.

It begins in a tone which both exemplifies rural tradition and revolutionary fervour, with peasants singing along to the tune of ‘La Marseillaise’ (indeed other French, Irish and Eastern European revolutionary anthems would be heard throughout the rest of the film). The camera style is familiar from Jancsó’s earlier work, roving around, back on itself, and in between groups, stopping to listen to individuals reading Engels, in and out of haystacks, water
vats, farm buildings, cavalry and grazing cattle. It’s a restless camera, as restless as any since Ophuls, and yet it’s groundbreaking in that editing is kept to an absolute minimum. There are only 28 shots in the entire film, which emphasises not only the genius behind his camera control, but his fastidious attention to detail and the choreography, for that is the term, of his cast of deliberately anonymous ciphers. From comparison to the litanies of Vlacil in Czechoslovakia and the majesty of Tarkovsky in Russia, Jancsó was taking cinema in a different direction in a way to rival Rossellini and Godard before him, and the style would finally reach its zenith with Sokurov’s magnificent Russian Ark three decades later. One can also see, quite clearly, the genesis of the erotic nihilism of his later, misunderstood Private Vices, Public Virtues. (more…)

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Note:  This is the second of many planned unpublished reviews from Allan Fish that will be appearing at this site over the coming months and even years.

by Allan Fish

The Profound Desires of the Gods (Japan 1968 173m) DVD2

Aka. Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubo

Waiting for the rock to fall

d Shohei Imamura w Shohei Imamura, Keiji Hasebe ph Masao Tochizawa ed Mutsuo Tanji m Toshiro Mayuzumi art Takeo Kimura
Rentaro Mikuni (Nekichi Futori), Choichoro Kawarazaki (Kametori Futori), Hideko Okiyama (Toriko Futori), Yoshi Kato (Ryugen Ryu), Kanjuro Arashi (Yamamori Futori), Yasuko Matsui (Uma Futori), Kazuo Mitamura (Futomo Hitaya), Sen Hara (Unari Ryu),
Considering that he spent his career looking at the underbelly of society and characters that crawled insect-like from under rocks, nothing Shohei Imamura presents audiences with should be a shock to the system, and yet The Profound Desires of the Gods was certainly just that. What was surely intended to be his magnum opus sank without trace at the box office, despite being hailed the best film of the year by Kinema Junpo. It was his tenth film and his first in colour, and in some ways could be interpreted as a successor to the documentaries by Schoedsack, Flaherty and Woody Van Dyke back in the 1920s. After its failure, he’d return to documentaries for a decade.

The film takes place on the fictional island of Kugare, off the south coast of Japan (it was shot in the Ryukyu Islands near Okinawa). Here superstition and legend keep the primitive islanders in check. The oldest family, the Futoris, were once deeply respected but were then shunned by the islanders on account of their incestuous habits. The old patriarch Yamamori decided that, as his daughter was rejected by her husband, it was his duty to make love to her. His son Nekichi is a savage who is always breaking the island rules and loves his sister, Uma, a shaman. His daughter, Toriko, is a wild, sex-mad imbecile, a village idiot in search of a wall. His son, Kametori, just wants away from the island to make a new life in Tokyo. He sees an opportunity to escape when an engineer is sent from Tokyo to hasten work on a well to provide water for a dying sugar mill. The engineer becomes a catalyst for change, and eventually immerses himself in the lifestyle so much that he loses sight of what he was originally sent to do. When the sugar mill goes out of business, the community elder brokers the selling of the land to a potential investor wanting to build an airport.

Those familiar with Imamura’s oeuvre will not be surprised to see as many shots of animals as we do – everything from poisonous snakes to lizards to wild water buffalo to sharks patrolling the waters in the hope of catching some human or animal prey that may fall off a boat. The islanders are a primitive people, little more than feudal serfs, working for nothing on big projects, following the orders of the town elders and listening to the songs of a cripple on a portable chair who sings about the old days and the brother and sister gods who ‘created’ the island. There’s a sense not only of time standing still but time disappearing altogether, with the trappings of civilisation melting away like ice on the beach. Kurage’s populace have not just gone back to nature but have their backs against nature. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Christmas in July (USA 1940 67m)  Note:  this is the first of a number of Allan Fish reviews that have not previously been published at Wonders in the Dark.  I plan to add two per week.

Grand to the last gulp

p Paul Jones d/w Preston Sturges ph Victor Milner ed Ellsworth Hoagland m Sigmund Krumgold art Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick

Dick Powell (Jimmy MacDonald), Ellen Drew (Betty Casey), Ernest Truex (Mr Baxter), Raymond Walburn (Dr Maxford), William Demarest (Bildocker), Alexander Carr (Shindel), Franklin Pangborn (Don Hartmann), Al Bridge (Mr Hillbeiner), Jimmy Conlin (Arbuster), Torben Meyer (Schmidt), Rod Cameron (Dick), Adrian Morris (Tom), Julius Tannen (Zimmerman), Georgia Caine (Mrs MacDonald), Lucille Ward (Mrs Casey), Robert Warwick (juror),

When the writer of Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living and Remember the Night was offered a chance to direct one of his own scripts it was a turning point in Hollywood history. Preston Sturges may have beaten Orson Welles to the writer-director’s chair, but the likes of Rowland Brown had been there before him. But who remembers Brown now? Both Sturges’ first two efforts have the feeling of sketches compared to his later masterpieces, like a master chef experimenting with a new dish. The Great McGinty is now more of interest as a precursor to The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, while Christmas in July seems an off the cuff frivolous piece. One could imagine Sturges sitting in the Paramount studio canteen, ordering a coffee, seeing a typical slogan and then proceeding to sketch out its outline on the back of a cigarette packet.

So enter Jimmy MacDonald and Betty Casey, lovebirds on a New York rooftop, arguing over their intentions to get an apartment, and even over whether a one room place is an apartment at all. Jimmy’s tetchy because he’s awaiting an announcement on the radio, an announcement from Maxford House coffee to see who wins the $25,000 first prize for writing their new slogan. Millions of others across the country are listening impatiently, but in Jimmy’s case it’s an obsession. He can’t stop entering contests, and his latest effort ‘If you can’t sleep at night, it ain’t the coffee, it’s the bunk!’ is hardly one to make Don Draper adjust his tie. His enthusiasm is kept on ice because the grand announcement is delayed; the twelve jurors are locked, eleven to one. And while Jimmy waits with the 2,947,582 other hopefuls, his anxiety leaves him open to pranks at his place of work. His colleagues send a telegram telling him he’s won the first prize. He proceeds to go out to the biggest department store and splash the works on gifts for his mother, neighbors and an engagement ring for Betty. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1964 1,040m) DVD2

This business may last a long time

p  Tony Essex, Gordon Watkins  w  John Terraine, Corelli Barnett, Anthony Jay, Ed Collins  ph  various  ed  Barry Toovey  m  Wilfred Josephs  narrated by  Michael Redgrave (with Ralph Richardson (Field Marshal Haig), Emlyn Williams (Lloyd George), Marius Goring, Sebastian Shaw, Cyril Luckham)

The Great War is the sort of television event that truly deserves the epithet milestone.  It’s the first truly great documentary series produced not only by the BBC but arguably anywhere in the world.  It really has, the best part of half a century later, stood the test of time.  And time itself is very much to the forefront here; the achievement all the greater for contriving to remain in the British public consciousness for the forty years it was unseen on TV after its first broadcast.  It was the template from which such later documentaries as The World at War and even Ken Burns’ The Civil War took their cue, but it was more than that.  The most remarkable thing about it is that, for all the black and white interviews with the survivors of the calamity, it’s an incredibly modern achievement. 

The series covers, over twenty-six episodes, with suitably sombre narration from Michael Redgrave, and in enthralling detail, the story of the greatest calamity the world had yet seen (and, to these eyes, would ever see).  It discusses the events that lead up to the war, the uneasy peace of the Belle Epoque and the shaky alliances that would soon be tested to hitherto undreamt of levels; as we are told, “the peace of Europe in 1914 was a fragile thing.”  All the events and battle places that have gone down in horrific infamy – the Marne, Ypres, Champagne, Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele – are here, along with extended sequences involving such factors as the home front, the role of women in the war, the war in the middle east, the Russian withdrawal, the Italian/Austro-Hungarian front and, of course, the ultimate personification of the pointlessness of war, the Western Front.  More than that, however, is the illustration of the little things that made this war the most poignant of all; the 24 hour armistice of Christmas 1914 where the notion of fighting for freedom becomes all the more blurred, the soldiers hardened by the experience of Passchendaele singing “we’re here because we’re here“, images of ant-like armies crawling out of the crater-infested mud baths, the sardonic singing of “hangin’ on the old barbed wire“, and the description of how soldiers on leave thought the outside world was the one that wasn’t real.  It’s a war that has always captured the imagination, and the screen has done it justice, at least in spirit if not in reality, with the likes of The Big Parade, The Last Flight, Paths of Glory, Verdun, Les Croix de Bois, La Grande Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front.  Most touching of all, perhaps, is how we are shown how both sides not only shared a “companionship of mud“, but grew to feel solidarity with the enemy far more than their own brass hats and politicians, for here was the ultimate expression of what Shakespeare once called a “fellowship of death.”  Though it does offer possible underlying reasons for the war’s beginning and end, in the end it could be argued that Edmund Blackadder summed it up by saying “it was too much trouble not to have a war.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish
The Son of Hades
p Robert Papazian, Eleanor Moran, Frank Yablans, Marco Valerio Pugini, John Milius d Michael Apted, Allen Coulter, Julian Farino, Jeremy Podeswa, Alan Poul, Mikael Salomon, Timothy Van Patten, Steve Shill, Adam Davidson, Alik Sakharov, Roger Young, John Maybury, Carl Franklin w Alexandra Cunningham, David Frankel, Bruno Heller, Adrian Hodges, William J.MacDonald, John Milius, Todd Ellis Kessler, Mere Smith, Eoghan Mahony, Scott Buck ph/ed various m Jeff Beal art Joseph Bennett, Christina Onori, Anthony Pratt cos April Ferry
Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus), Ray Stevenson (Titus Pollo), James Purefoy (Mark Antony), Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar), Polly Walker (Atia of the Julii), Kenneth Cranham (Pompey Magnus), Lindsay Duncan (Servilia), Kerry Condon (Octavia), Max Pirkis (younger Octavian), Simon Woods (older Octavian), David Bamber (Cicero), Lyndsey Marshall (Cleopatra), Tobias Menzies (Brutus), Indira Varma (Niobe), Alice Henley (Livia Drusilla), Nicholas Woodeson (Posca), Karl Johnson (Cato), Haydn Gwynne (Calpurnia), Suzanne Bertish (Eleni), Paul Jesson (Scipio), Guy Henry (Cassius), Pip Torrens (Metellus Cimber), Allen Leach (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), Lorcan Cranitch (Orestes Pulman), Zuleikha Robinson (Gaia), Ian McNeice (Forum announcer),
It’s with a certain amount of regret one comes to acknowledge Rome. It’s a series that ultimately falls just short of the heights scaled by The Wire, Deadwood and Game of Thrones, but while Deadwood was left cut off mid-stream a season early, one was left with imagining what season four might have brought. With Rome we have an idea what season three and four would have brought, for the writers, told early in Season 2’s production that it would be the last, crammed as much of the next two lost seasons in before it ended, creating a rush effect that went against the intricacy and plotting of the first series.
Needless to say, some complained at the excessive sex and violence – little did they know what was to come in Spartacus: Lust in the Sand – perhaps dreaming of the glories of The Caesars and I,Claudius, forgetting the latter had its share of nastiness, too. It did play around with history a little, having characters hardly age after 20 years and largely fictionalising the pivotal rival characters of Atia and Servilia, while centring on two Roman legionnaires, Titus Pullo and Licius Vorenus. They are to their times rather what Dumas’ Musketeers were to 17th century France, fiction based on actual characters (mentioned in Caesar’s writings). It gave it a personal heartbeat that made us care about the events unfolding around them, and were helped by the wonderful interplay between the two actors playing them, Ray Stevenson and Kevin McKidd, who form its very soul.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2015 350m) DVD1/2

Attempting a three card trick

p  Mark Pybus  d  Peter Kosminsky  w  Peter Straughan  novels  Hilary Mantel  ph  Gavin Finney  ed  David Blackmore, Josh Cunliffe  m  Debbie Wiseman  art  Frederic Evard, Pat Campbell  cos  Joanna Eatwell

Mark Rylance (Thomas Cromwell), Damian Lewis (Henry VIII), Bernard Hill (Norfolk), Claire Foy (Anne Boleyn), Anton Lesser (Thomas More), Jonathan Pryce (Wolsey), Mark Gatiss (Gardiner), Jessica Raine (Lady Rochford), Mathieu Amalric (Chapuys), Joanne Whalley (Katharine of Aragon), Natasha Little (Liz), Monica Dolan (Alice More), Charity Wakefield (Mary Boleyn), Bryan Dick (Richard Rich), David Robb (Thomas Boleyn), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Rafe), Harry Lloyd (Harry Percy), Saskia Reeves (Johane), Richard Dillane (Suffolk), Will Kane (Cranmer), Kate Phillips (Jane Seymour), Aimee-Ffion Edwards (Elizabeth Barton),

We’d be forgiven for thinking we’d had enough of Henry VIII.  How many have there been?  Charles Laughton, Robert Shaw, Richard Burton and Keith Michell (four times!!!), we all know them, they were memorable.  Not forgetting The Tudors, but we’ll leave the final apologies to cover what was wrong with that; what Wolf Hall gave us was the antidote to The Tudors; no sex or bodice ripping here, no time for that nonsense.

Henry wasn’t always the centre of attention as played by all those actors listed above, sometimes he was a mere sideshow.  Even the famous Keith Michell TV series told its six episodes through the eyes of his six wives.  What Wolf Hallattempts though is even more ambitious, maintaining the entire narrative through the eyes not of his wives in turn but those of that embodiment of Machiavellian ambition Thomas Cromwell.  This is a very different Cromwell; he’s not the villain, not even an antihero, but Virgil to our Dante, guiding us through the maze of hedgerows, courtyards, alleys, corridors and other dimly lit interiors of Tudor England.  Oh, there’s splendour, naturally, but there’s always a chill in the air; it’s always a good day for an execution. (more…)

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(UK 1962 60m) DVD1/2

Aka. Elgar – Portrait of a Composer

We walk like ghosts

p  Humphrey Burton  d  Ken Russell  w  Ken Russell, Huw Wheldon  ph  Kenneth Higgins  ed  Alan Tyrer  m  Edward Elgar

Peter Brett, Rowena Gregory, George McGrath, Huw Wheldon (narrator),

It seems strange to think that when Ken Russell’s groundbreaking and career pointing dramatised documentary went out in 1962, the lives of composers on screen was limited to cinematic biopics such as the awful A Song to Remember and Gance’s moody Un Grand Amour de Beethoven.  Half a century on we can look back and see it as a watershed; without it we wouldn’t have had the other Russell composer pieces on large and small screen that would occupy most of his work for the next decade or so.  

Elgar was different to what would follow.  The Debussy Film had the irreverence that would characterise, and to some flaw, The Music Lovers and Lisztomania, while Song of Summer – Deliustook a look at the composer that would look ahead to his Mahler.  Elgar was more than any of these, but watching it fifty years on, with its strait-laced account of a man unable to make a name for himself in pompous late Victorian and Edwardian England, it reads remarkably like the spoof documentaries so common today.  What it succeeds in doing is dextrously mixing still photos and newsreel and early film footage with silent tableaux recreations, all accompanied by the great man’s music to create a symphonic melding of music and visuals, including rolling tracking shots of Elgar as a boy on a pony or a man on a boneshaker moving through the Malverns.  It not only gets to the heart of Elgar, to whom, as Wheldon’s narration tells us, “musicis in the air…all around me”, but in doing so he also succeeds in creating a quite literal family album of Britain at the height of its imperial power and at the start of its imperial decline.  The composer is seen to be an artist in tune with the mood of the time, but in a country whose hierarchy are out of step with it, a composer who is feted in Germany but not at home, and who came to taste a bitter irony in the years that followed, almost prophesying the cataclysmic doom to come with the death of Edward VII.  Here was a man who wrote the most patriotic of all British pieces, only to loathe what it had come to represent, abhor the idea of his country at war with the country he held such affection for and gratitude towards, given honours that meant little to him and which he had buried with his wife in her coffin.  (more…)

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