Even in a year of crazy films like The Wicker Man and Touki Bouki, ain’t nothing crazy enough to sit with The Holy Mountain. This was the last of Jodorowsky’s fully-realized features until Santa Sangre (nobody, AJ included, seems to like The Rainbow Thief or Tusk).

Third shot of movie: Director/Alchemist with women who will soon be shaved:
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First half-hour is free-flowing. A Thief (who I didn’t realize never speaks) wanders with a deformed dwarf, getting beaten up and attending a toad-and-chameleon circus, while around them dissidents are executed, riot police hold a dead-animal parade, and priests pick up underage prostitutes. Finally the thief breaks into a mighty tower occupied by The Alchemist (Jodorowsky himself) who cleanses him, turns his shit into gold, and then introduces our other characters and their corresponding planets:
– Fon/Venus – narcissist who runs fashion & cosmetic companies, slave to his dad
– Isla/Mars – major arms manufacturer
– Klen/Jupiter – sex-obsessed artist
– Sel/Saturn – makes war toys to prejudice kids vs. countries we plan to invade
– Berg/Uranus – murderous bureaucrat
– Axon/Neptune – ruthless mohawked police chief with testicle collection
– Lut/Pluto – futuristic architect, designing sleep-chamber apartments
(I had to look some of those up – movie is sensory overload, I forgot stuff)

Three chameleons prepare to defend Mexico from the toad invasion:
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Kind of a Jesus/disciples thing, but is the Thief Jesus or is the Alchemist? They go through intensive spiritual training, then Alchemist leads them to the Holy Mountain atop which nine ancient immortals control our planet, with the goal of deposing them and becoming immortal themselves. Each traveler has a dream of their own bizarre death, but they continue to the table at the summit, where they find dolls in the seats. Sitting down, camera pulls back to reveal Jodorowsky’s lighting and sound crew, and he proclaims the truth: “We are images, dreams, photographs,” freeing them from the film itself.

Atop The Holy Mountain:
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Haven’t checked out the commentary yet (tried to listen at work, but of course it’s in Spanish), but in a modern interview online, Jodorowsky says he never killed animals for his movies – not even the rabbits in El Topo. That’s surprising, but I’ll take the guy at his word. He also says he became a feminist during the making of Holy Mountain, and indeed it’s hard to think of movies less feminist than his previous two. He’s a fan of Lynch, Cronenberg and Starship Troopers, and I wish him luck with his long-delayed Lynch-produced next movie.

Alchemist & Thief in chamber of mirrors:
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Cinematographer Rafael Corkidi shot The Mansion of Madness the same year. A few of the actors have popped up elsewhere… Lut/Pluto had a small part in The Exterminating Angel, Axon/Neptune was an Oliver Stone collaborator throughout the 90’s, and Fon/Venus plays the lead girl’s dad on the show Rebelde.

Our director:
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After Calvaire and Frontier(s), it’s the third movie this week with a hair-shaving scene.

“Send this by pneumatic tube, quickly!”

This is now the earliest feature film I’ve ever seen (and the next two runners-up are also by Feuillade). Really this is five movies, each a multi-part serial, so maybe it’s the five earliest feature films I’ve seen…


PART ONE: IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE

The criminal master of disguise Fantomas is introduced robbing a rich woman of her jewels in a clumsy-ass fashion… he gets caught in her house then just walks up, looks at her threateningly, and walks away with them. They couldn’t think of a better scenario for the opening of their movie? I guess it shows that he’s an imposing character, and his appearing-ink business cards are cool (see bottom of page). Then it’s on to introduce Inspector Juve with his funny mustache and his reporter buddy Fandor. A man has been found murdered, so Juve questions his widow (Lady Beltham), who it turns out is having an affair with Fantomas. When inspector and reporter discover this, they easily capture the criminal, who is imprisoned to await the guillotine. But through a convoluted scheme, the widow springs Fantomas – she flatters an actor celebrated for portraying Fantomas on the stage to agree to meet her, and pays off the incredibly dense prison guards to spring Fantomas to come meet her at the same place (with the understanding that he’d be returned to prison within an hour) and they do the ol’ switcheroo – but Juve notices before the actor can be mistakenly executed (in the novel he was too late).

The regular Feuillade style is apparent here – people with comical mustaches who look conspiratorially into the camera, lots of crime, outdoor scenes with actors in cool black capes, convoluted scenarios and a plot that seems to be making itself up as it goes, helping the cliffhanger feeling.

Some nice outdoor shots in this movie. Feuillade is fond of long walls. I like them too.
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The actor has all these admiring women, yet he sneaks off eagerly when he gets the letter from Lady Beltham? I guess her letter made her seem more “loose” than the ladies in his dressing room.
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Juve, triumphantly stymied. Fandor (on left) looks on.
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PART TWO: JUVE VERSUS FANTÔMAS

Opening credits are cool, showing the main actors crossfade into their characters-in-costume (in Juve’s case it’s changing into a hat, a fake mustache and a less-nice suit). At the start, Lady Beltham is presumed dead – but actually she’s organizing a gang of bandits who rob passengers on a train car then cause a train accident to cover up their crimes. Or was that another woman? Either way, our reporter is on the train and escapes with another passenger. He and Juve are lured into a gun trap, but they escape and tail the woman, getting her to lead them to Fantomas, who escapes by putting on his suit with false arms then simply running away, leaving Juve and Fandor each holding an arm. Brilliant! Okay, then Fantomas has a list of people he’s having mysteriously squeezed to death, so Juve wears spiked bands over his body when he goes to sleep and has Fandor hide in the room – wakes up being choked by a boa constrictor, ouch. Later, they’ve figured out where Fantomas hides out, so they storm the house and kill the boa (for real, on camera, uncool) but the criminal mastermind was hiding in a tank of water in the basement, escapes, and blows up the house!! Will the cops survive?? Great episode, action-packed.

great train robbery:
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wrestling a boa – notice the spiked suit:
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awwwwwesome closing shot – note sprocket holes:
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PART THREE: THE MURDEROUS CORPSE

Oh man, this is not gonna be a strong plot summary. I was tired, and I thought it’d be 50 minutes but it was 90. Wasn’t doing anything else while watching but somehow I still got confused. So Juve is missing presumed dead from the house explosion and Fandor is investigating stuff on his own. Fantomas I think is dressed as an old woman who trades stolen goods, or maybe that was an actual old woman, and Juve is made up as a retarded homeless guy who helps her out. A dude is framed for a murder, then killed in prison, then abducted from the prison… WHY this happens I never figure out, but Fantomas makes gloves out of the man’s hands (seriously) and commits a bunch more murders leaving the dead dude’s fingerprints behind. The cops are, of course, mystified, but Fandor comes across a list of the murder victims in the order they’re killed. He finally hooks up with Juve again, Lady Beltham reappears for a minute, probably some other stuff happens but our heroes end up tracking Fantomas to a house and cornering him in the one place where there was a secret trap door. Whoosh, through the trap door and our heroes are empty-handed (actually they got the skin-gloves). NOT as radical an ending as the previous part, and maybe a bit long and convoluted.

Fandor on the rooftops of paris:
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Juve (in disguise) approaches Fandor (studying list of victims):
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They’ve got him cornered! Note trap door and icky gloves:
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PART FOUR: FANTÔMAS VERSUS FANTÔMAS

Juve is arrested straight away on suspicion of being Fantomas (what, because he couldn’t catch the guy?). The movie is telling us that the written situations are more important than the characters, since our hero Juve sits out most of the movie, making Fandor the hero by default. Fantomas reappears as Tom Bob (seriously, that’s his name!), American Detective. Lady Beltham has remarried and become the Grand Duchess Alexandra. She organizes a costume ball to collect reward money for the capture of Fantomas, and Fandor, not thinking things through, goes to the ball dressed as Fantomas. So do a police captain and Fantomas himself. A Fantomas-fight ensues, the master criminal escapes and the captain is killed.

After Juve is finally released, he’s captured about ten seconds later by Fantomas’s men, who believe that Juve is really Fantomas and want their share of the loot that they’ve helped steal (Fantomas ripping off his own men is a running theme). Fandor is on top of the plot and helps bag the men, capture the loot, rescue Juve and even capture Fantomas, but F. slips the men by walking them into two holes in the ground, the silliest escape in the whole series. I’m starting to doubt that this is a planned five-part series which is building up to something… think it’s just a regular movie franchise that makes it up as it goes along (nope, turns out they are closely based on a series of novels).

Left: “Tom Bob” Right-center: blood leaking from hole in the wall, 70+ years before Evil Dead 2
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Fantomas vs. Fantomas at the costume ball:
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Juve, kidnapped, hears Fandor hiding in the barrel. People are always hiding in barrels and baskets in these movies.
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Juve fingers the crooked guard, an inside man who works for Fantomas:
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PART FIVE: THE FALSE MAGISTRATE

I was hoping for an awesome ending but it seems the series peaked with part two. The plot gets more ludicrous, with Juve voluntarily taking Fantomas’s place in a Belgian prison under the logic that F. was gonna break out anyway, and Juve’s men can just catch him at the border to France. Of course Juve’s men suck at catching Fantomas, so F. runs around impersonating a judge while Juve rots in jail for the first hour of the movie. Fandor buzzes around of course, but doesn’t do all that much… this one is mostly about the criminal, with his disguises and lucky breaks, ripping off the wealthy and his own gang members.

These gang members scammed a rich guy and his jeweler, no big deal. F. takes it a step further, killing the thief with the jewels in a horrible way (he is rung to death inside a giant bell), killing the rich woman’s husband then blackmailing her for more money. Fandor finally figures out what’s up, Juve is released and they corner Fantomas… but a few hours earlier, as the judge, he’d told the warden to release the master criminal Fantomas secretly at midnight because it would actually be Juve in disguise. Juve, unwittingly this time, helps Fantomas escape again!

Fantomas helps dude up into the bell where jewels are hidden. Dude throws empty jewel case down and Fantomas takes away the ladder. The next day at a funeral when the bell is rung, blood and jewels rain down on the crowd. Wiiicked.
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Note how the Belgian prison looks awfully like the French prison (above):
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Fantomas, as the judge, feeling the pressure:
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So is this one of the first great features of cinema? Does it meet expectation? Is it still a good movie today almost a century later? Is it as cool as that classic poster which now graces the DVD box cover? Well, no to that last one, but yes to the others. I still enjoy Judex better, but Feuillade’s crime serials are amazing fun, winking at the audience (sometimes literally) at times, getting cruel and serious at others, but always a good time to watch. And you can probably find someone who claims that they changed cinema forever… let’s see… yep, J. Travers says it introduces “not just the idea of a film series, but also [establishes] the crime thriller. The essential ingredients of film noir and the suspense thriller can be seen in this film which, remarkably, (when you consider when the film was made) still appears surprisingly modern.”

He qualifies the five movies: 1. most dreamlike and innovative, 2. best action, 3. most sophisticated, 4. most convoluted, 5. the weakest, comparatively mundane Each movie was divided into chapters with title cards – I didn’t realize each of these was a different serial episode! That means to see the complete Fantomas at the time of release, you would’ve had to go to the theater twenty-one times!

People are always mentioning how much the Surrealists loved these movies… I just read a whole website about it. Watched the bonus feature, wherein K. Newman immediately pronounces it “Phantom-ass.” Now I have to rethink the whole series, imagining Juve, wide-eyed, telling cops “this is the work of phantom-ass!” No wonder they eventually locked him up. Newman says the authors originally wanted to call it “Phant-o-moose” and now I think he’s just messing with us, under the “nobody watches DVD extras so we can say whatever we want” theory. Ahh, he says Diabolik was Fantomas-influenced – I can see that.

Edmund Breon (Juve) was in Les Vampires, took the 1920’s off, then appeared in fifty-some mostly British movies for the next two decades, waiting to die until after he’s been in Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, a good move. René Navarre (Fantomas) was in movies through the 40’s, including a sound version of Judex. Georges Melchior (Fandor) barely made it into sound films. Renée Carl (Lady Beltham was in 180+ silent films – her only sound role was in Pépé le Moko (but last-billed).


“Did you folks in the audience just SEE that?”
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This just in: a great article by David Bordwell on the series.

People in line behind me:
– “You know I’ve seen this movie already, saw it last year.”
– “So… ‘What Is It’?”
– “I’m still not sure.”

Actor Crispin Glover (not to be confused with director Crispin Hellion Glover):
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CH Glover brought his travelling show to our fair city, and hopefully attendance was high enough that he’ll return in a couple years with the follow-up. Started around 8:15 with The Big Slideshow, an actual slideshow during which Glover narrates from eight of his books. This was the highlight of the night – the books were fun, and the performance was mostly great (sometimes it seemed like he was speeding through a page as fast as he could make the words come out). Crowd seemed to like it – big applause after each book. I’d definitely watch that again. Then the notorious cult film What Is It? followed by a 90-minute Q&A.

I did not bootleg the film – all images are from the trailer
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The experience of watching the film was unique. As far as I could tell, CH Glover was not in front of the theater scanning the audience for cameras during the whole screening, as I’d heard rumors that he’d do. There wasn’t enough story or atmosphere to make the film totally engrossing, so it felt less like something I am watching, more like something I am looking at. Certain parts seem intended for laughter or revulsion, for some audience reaction, but our audience was all cool cats, cultists, tattooed giant-earlobed punk hipsters (and there would’ve been even more of them if not for Drive-Invasion), so we got some of the laughter but little of the shock. Truly, I’ve sought out shocking movies before, some very good (Simon of the Desert), some very bad (Salo, Cannibal Ferox) but most bizarrely entertaining (Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Sex & Zen, El Topo, etc). This has got actors with Downs syndrome making out in the park, snails being killed on-camera, a blackface minstrel, the Johnny Rebel song “some n**gers never die (they just smell that way)”, Charlie Manson and Anton LaVey contributions, weirdo Glover himself playing some kind of underground king, S&M fantasies of Shirley Temple, and a man with cerebral palsy being masturbated by a topless woman in an animal mask. So nothing uniquely shocking except for that last one.

The inner sanctum:
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Only “name” actor besides Glover is Fairuza Balk (the intense girlfriend in American History X), who plays the voice of a snail, distraught when her snail friend is smashed to bits by our hero. Ah, our hero, an actor with Downs syndrome playing a character who does not necessarily have Downs syndrome, he goes on a minor snail rampage then heads for the park, where he kisses a girl and gets in a fight. Tries to get back home but there are problems with the key. Finally he gets back home. Looking over the press notes, there’s also the outer sanctum (I guess that’d be the cemetery and other outdoor locations) the inner sanctum (where Glover sits above the masturbating of Steven C. Stewart, who plays “the young man’s uber ego”) and hangs out on a couch with two concubines where he presides over the killing of unfortunate Eric Yates (the far-out-looking guy wearing a garland in the press photos). Stewart topples Glover from the throne towards the end, which both represents the young leading man’s triumph over his difficulties with the key and the insects, and sets us up for the next film, which Stewart wrote and stars in.

The minstrel, injecting his face with snail juice:
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The Q&A was very good and in-depth. CHG has some vocabulary tics though – if you removed all the times he said either “actors with downs syndrome playing characters who do not necessarily have downs syndrome” and “corporate-funded and distributed films”, you could shave twenty minutes off the talk. Discussed, in no order: the complete history of the making of What Is It?, the trilogy and the next film, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. (we watched the trailer for it), Glover’s future as a director (he’s going to make some small films in his new Czech studio before tackling the third trilogy feature It Is Mine), the disparity between his commercial acting and non-commercial directing careers (says he came to embrace the big-studio acting jobs after his Charlie’s Angels paycheck enabled him to shoot Everything Is Fine), Glover’s day narrating Brand Upon The Brain, and so on.

I think this is the basement of the inner sanctum:
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So, back to the film itself, the camera and sound work were not stunning, the acting and story were not stunning, the symbolism and meaning were obscure, and ultimately it was just a weird movie. But it’s not necessarily a bad movie, like I’d feared it would be. I’m very glad I saw it, and seeing it around the same time as fellow outsider film Brand Upon The Brain and fellow critique of corporate media product La Commune makes it seem more interesting and important. Still, I’m hoping its just an introduction (like CHG said, he’s getting all the taboos out of the way now so people won’t focus on them in his next films) to two even better films.

From the director’s notes:
“Most of the film was shot on locations around my house, in my house, or on the set in SLC. One Graveyard was a location in Downey and one Graveyard was a set made with a backdrop in front of my house.” David Lynch may be an uncredited executive producer, or maybe that’s for part three, I’m not sure. The final edit of the film got caught up at an uncooperative post-house for five years! This is a good answer: “I will often be asked why I chose to work with people with Down’s Syndrome. I would say there are quite a few reasons but the one of the most important is that when I look in to the face of someone that has Down’s Syndrome I see the history of someone who has genuinely lived outside of the culture. When peopling an entire film with actors that innately have that quality it affects the world of the film.”

Katy wanted to close out 1930’s Month with something Great, an acknowledged classic, something she is supposed to have seen but hasn’t, so I picked the one-time Greatest Film of All Time, Rules of the Game.

An amazing looking film indeed, with some fabulous, intricate staging. Some character, actor and plot notes before I forget them yet again:

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from left to right:
1 Andre the pilot (Roland Tautain, played “the sailor” in Lang’s Liliom) just completed some impressively long news-making flight in order to impress Christine.
2 Octave (Jean Renoir, in his final role as a film actor. He wouldn’t make another film in France until The Golden Coach 14 years later). Friend to all, father figure and wannabe-lover to Christine, a short-lived fantasy. He turns darker (along with everything else) towards the end, realizing he’s a comic figure leeching off his rich friends, goes off to make a belated attempt to be self-sufficient.
3 Robert (Marcel Dalio, had appeared in Renoir’s Grand Illusion and would later have smallish parts in films by Hawks, Fuller (China Gate), Huston and Wyler), very rich but insecure, likes noisy mechanical inventions, has a gorgeous wife in Christine but also a long-standing affair (which he is trying to break off) with Genevieve (Mila Parély, would play one of Belle’s selfish sisters in Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast).
4 Austrian Christine (played by Austrian Nora Gregor, had been a star in the 20’s and 30’s, starring in Carl Dreyer’s Michael, killed herself ten years after Rules of the Game only having appeared in one movie since), a bit naive, thinks she belongs with Robert and that Andre is just a friend, until she catches Robert with Genevieve and it shakes her up.

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Robert (right) with his “double”, Marceau the poacher (Julien Carette, my favorite actor in the group. He also appeared in the previous three Renoir films, later died from smoking in bed). Marceau wants respectability, gets hired by Robert as an indoor servant, but that doesn’t work out so well, goes off on his own at the end.

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Christine again (left) with servant/friend Lisette (Paulette Dubost, was in Truffaut’s The Last Metro forty years later, also a couple by Max Ophuls in the 50’s), who is more devoted to Christine and her own position than she is to husband Edouard Schumacher (below). She’s Christine’s lower-class double, married to one man but wanting another.

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Gaston Modot (Edouard) had been in films since 1909 and would keep it up till the 60’s, appearing in one of Renoir’s final films The Testament of Doctor Cordelier (and previously in Elena and Her Men, Grand Illusion and a couple others), also The Lovers and Children of Paradise. Even cooler, he played the main guy in L’Age d’Or. Edouard is jealous for his wife for good reason, since she’s happy to flirt with Marceau. He blasts through the house with his shotgun aiming for Marceau, later teams up with Marceau and aims for Octave, whom he suspects of hooking up with Lisette in the greenhouse. But due to costume changes he doesn’t realize it’s Andre with Christine in the greenhouse, and Edouard kills Andre.


Katy was disappointed, and disputes it being the greatest film of all time. Personally it’s only my third-favorite of the six Renoir films I’ve seen. I do love it, but I wonder about the best-film-ever label (recently surpassed by the new Batman on the all-time lists, actually), so let’s go to the DVD extras.

Ah, my old nemesis P.Bog reads the commentary, but it was written by Alexander Sesonske.

Renoir called it “a frivolous story” shot to avoid talking about the war… about “a rich, complex society where we are dancing on a volcano.”

Of André Jurieux’s radio speech in the opening scene: “His angry charge of disloyalty violates the rules of the game from the very start.”

Critics cried that Renoir cast an Austrian actress and a French jew to represent the French aristocracy.

“In a society of sharp class distinctions, Octave appears as a classless character.”

Plot shows two matched sets of husband/wife/lover/mistress and interceding friend:
1. Robert/Christine/Andre/Genevieve – Octave
2. Edouard/Lisette/Marceau/Christine(?) – and maybe Octave again.

Initially “The servants seem more sensitive to impropriety than their masters.”

“Those who know Renoir films may recognize a familiar figure, for Marceau is the incarnation of that nature god or pan figure who often graces those films from Tire-au-flanc in 1928 on. In a world where nothing is natural, it only appropriate that the nature god should appear as a little poacher in disguise and be pursued with deadly intent by a gamekeeper… But his influence remains the same. When he appears, erotic influences stir in human hearts. That these impulses are destructive rather than creative becomes one more Renoir comment on the corruption of this world.”

Les Miracles de la cene (1988, Pascal Aubier)

Jesus as cheap magician. The water-into-wine and one-loaf-into-many tricks impress the Last Supper crowd, but yanking out the tablecloth doesn’t work as well. Very short, wordless comedy – lovely.

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Blood of the Beast (1949, Georges Franju)

Wowie, I’d put off watching this short doc because I figured it would be intense and horrifying. Then I had some time to kill at our hotel in Virginia, and there it was on my laptop, so I put it on… a slaughterhouse documentary, hours before going to a fancy restaurant with steak and veal dishes, stupid. So I had to order the fish. Movie has the same fascinating combination of beauty and horror, poetry and death which permeated Night and Fog. A classic, but not one to watch very often.

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