Reviews

An Autumn Afternoon

Ozu is at once alien and ordinary, without allowing this atypical film to be assimilated into some pop culture fashion.


An Autumn Afternoon

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Shima Iwashita, Daisuke Kato, Kyoko Kishida, Shin-Ichiro Mikami, Kuniko Miyake
Distributor: Criterion
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 1962
US DVD Release Date: 2008-09-30

Yasujiro Ozu will never be a “cool” director. No matter how many years pass between his death and some future present, Ozu will never be reclaimed by some artsy collective. There will never be Ozu tote bags next to the Godard collection at Hot Topic. I will never be able to win the affections of a lovely young lady with the size of my Ozu anthology and, for the life of me, I cannot think of a single Ozu quote that would nicely compliment the mash-up of Emerson and Alkaline Trio in the social networking profiles of most young adults.

Ozu is damned to an eternity of being judged on the quality of his works rather than the trendiness of his name drop due to one simple fact: Ozu’s films are among the least far-reaching pieces of cinema ever to hit the can. It is not that they are easy or lazy films, it’s just that Ozu largely fixates on the quotidian affairs of very ordinary people. Even the Italian Neo-Realists, who claimed such a goal, cannot avoid marshalling certain grandeur with the ordinary character of their film worlds. Whereas De Sica and Rossellini give us epic mediocrity and the overwhelming despair of an absolutely unmarked existence, Ozu traffics in much more subtly. His banal is never epitomic.

Furthermore, the delicate beauty of an Ozu film is that, despite all of its stylization, the hand of the director is never intently felt. Ozu employs a still-life aesthetic with long takes of environments, a full 180-degree shot reverse shot, and a camera which only reluctantly, if ever, moves. This creates a placid world in which the spectators feel abandoned, encroached upon by their indifferent surroundings.

An Autumn Afternoon is, in many ways, the capstone of this style. His last film before his death, An Autumn Afternoon tells the story of aging businessman and widower Shuhei Hirayama. His eldest son is newly married, his daughter takes care of the family, and his younger son is little more than set-dressing as a workman. The film charts Hirayama’s coming to grips with the choice he has to make between letting his daughter go and marry or declining into old age with the guilt of his daughter being an old maid. The stories of similar aging businessman interweave and the film becomes a meditation on the twilight of life.

If the film’s plot seems flimsy it is because the narrative appears as almost a side-thought. Continuing with the non-discursivity of his style, Ozu’s stories lack impetus. This is not to say that An Autumn Afternoon drags; it merely delights in presentation rather than enunciation. In fact the whole piece feels a bit like a dream: elegiac, deliberate, and wandering. The viewer is continually put in the perspective of the graying cast as they are forced watch the world revolve without any of the control that a traditional narrative affords the viewer. We simply must bide our time.

If the movie does not sound particularly entertaining—if your ideal viewing experience doesn’t involve sublime inertia—that’s because Ozu isn’t particularly entertaining. Beautiful, yes; fun, no. Even the most dull French New Wave film contains a germ of fun in knowing that you are part of a cultural sea change. Ozu is at once alien and ordinary, without allowing his atypical An Autumn Afternoon to be assimilated into some pop culture fashion. I challenge any viewer to have a good time watching his films.

As is common in the Criterion catalogue, An Autumn Afternoon is a worthy collection piece and a brilliant display of artistry. As is equally common the Criterion catalogue, this film should appeal to few beyond the ranks of film aficionados. Perhaps, though, this is a blessing. At least I will never have to see collegiates who try too hard wearing Ozu tote bags.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Confessions of a Recovering Headbanger by Adrien Begrand: We were the few, the proud, the true. And each in our own individual way, not quite right in the head.

The Music in Me
Metal Thrashin' Mad: Confessions of a Recovering Headbanger
[8 November 2005]


We were the few, the proud, the true. And each in our own individual way, not quite right in the head.


Slayer
Haunting the Chapel




by Adrien Begrand

On a deathly cold December night in 1986, as the small Canadian city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan endures an abnormally brutal cold snap, a group of about three dozen of us huddle around the doors of the city's old hockey barn. Some pass around bottles of rye to keep warm, while the rest of us shiver pathetically, the thought of frostbite overshadowed by the thought of what was waiting for us on the other side of those doors: Metallica, one of the best metal bands on the planet, are in town, and not even the most dangerously cold night in ages could keep us away. We were so starved for good metal concerts, we'd risk life and limb, not to mention our hearing, to see our beloved bands in person. We'd fill only a tenth of the arena's capacity, but we didn't care, and neither did the band, as they would perform with a ferocity they wouldn't come close to equaling two decades later. Exiting a couple hours later, our ears ringing badly, bracing ourselves against a frozen prairie wind that threatened to slice us in two, we'd know we had just witnessed something special. We were the few, the proud, the true. And each in our own individual way, not quite right in the head.

From the age of 13, when a schoolmate played me Motley Crue's scary spoken word track "In the Beginning", to when I was about to turn 19, when I suffered serious hearing damage from the front row at a triumphant Metallica show, between 1983 and 1989, my entire world revolved around heavy metal music. Numerous huge posters of Iron Maiden's "Eddie" adorned my bedroom walls, while cassettes and metal magazines were strewn everywhere. My journal from English class was loaded with reviews of metal albums, and I started copying my favorite mags' year-end issues by compiling my own Best of the Year lists, completely unaware of how much of an obsessive geek I was becoming. Today, little has changed: I'm surrounded by piles of unsorted CDs, and I'm writing reviews for a website, not a high school English class.

A painfully awkward fit in junior high, I couldn't find a place in any of the multitude of cliques that existed, and the fact that I spent most of my time in school alone only made the "loser" tag fit even more. Bullying and derision occurred on a daily basis, and the worse it got, the more defensive and bitter I became, withdrawing into myself, unable to channel my intensifying anger in a healthy way. It was stifling, as my grades dipped, and self-esteem plummeted. Little did I know there were other kids in other junior high schools going through the same thing, and by the time we had all collected at high school, like hairs accumulating in a shower drain, we losers had unknowingly formed a clique of our own, our one thing in common being a borderline unhealthy obsession with heavy metal.

As I headed into my final year of junior high hell, I began to grow more and more preoccupied with all things metal, but with the lack of music videos and radio airplay, it wasn't long before I became stuck, not knowing where to go next. For a kid with zero friends, no older siblings, no one to guide me at all, the only way I could figure out just what band I should listen to was to continue reading the magazines, and blindly take a stab at whatever band caught my eye. After moving from a tiny town to a tiny city the previous year, I was overwhelmed by all the distinct, memorable band logos I had never seen before, of bands I had never heard of. In 1983, I didn't know who Judas Priest were, but that big freaky bird thing on the cover of Screaming for Vengeance looked pretty slick. I had never heard of Iron Maiden until I saw a shirt with that fascinatingly creepy, staight-jacketed mascot of theirs on a T-shirt. And I didn't know Ozzy Osbourne from a hole in the ground, but he sure had a cool logo.

One afternoon during the early fall of 1984, I was perusing new-release cassettes on a shelf at a small local record store, with eight bucks burning a hole in my pocket. In a recent issue of Hit Parader, they had printed a small paragraph on their "new bands" page about a young Los Angeles band called Slayer. Earlier that year, they printed a similar blurb about a San Francisco band called Metallica, but something drew me to Slayer. I don't know what it was, maybe the silly photo that accompanied the blurb, the four scruffy guys trying their damnedest to look as mean as possible, but what really caught my eye in that record store was the cover of their just-released EP, Haunting the Chapel: those cartoonish, bloody swords forming an incomplete pentagram, with "SLAYER" drawn through the center, in jagged, angular lettering. It was the first big music-related decision of my life; do I buy this, based on one glowing review, without ever having heard a note of it? Why not, I thought, as I picked up the little tape, and went to pay for it.

So imagine the shock my 13-year-old ears got, after nearly a year's worth of melodic hard rock and nothing else, when I heard the opening bars of "Chemical Warfare". One guitar in one speaker kicks off with a very muddy, staccato riff, then a second guitar joins in, doing the same thing. Pounding drums follow, a sinister, tribal beat. Then, the snare is hit with a crack, the hi-hat counts in, one two three, then BANG, a snare on the fourth beat, and off they go, riding what I perceived to be a wave of senseless noise. It sure didn't help at all when the singer came in, growling a completely indecipherable chorus. What on earth was this crap? How could I have been so stupid? I was absolutely crushed, as the tape continued through the second track, an equally speedy mess, and the third, a slower, only marginally interesting tune. Turning the tape over, any hope of redemption was seemingly dashed as it was nothing but three sloppy live tracks recorded in front of a small group of howling fans. I was furious. I expressed my dissatisfaction at being duped to my mother, but she had some valuable advice: "Just let it grow on you." Yeah, right, I thought, returning to my Ratt and Twisted Sister albums.

That little Slayer tape hung around, as I went into 1985 a little more wise in the world of popular metal and hard rock, having procured other albums, such as Iron Maiden's Powerslave, Helix's Walkin' the Razor's Edge, Kiss's Animalize, and the first W.A.S.P. album. Every so often, I revisited that Slayer tape, but I still found the music difficult to get into, especially when stacked against more accessible songs like Iron Maiden's "2 Minutes to Midnight" and W.A.S.P.'s "Hellion". In fact, because of my instant aversion to Haunting the Chapel, I foolishly assumed Metallica's new album Ride the Lightning would sound just as lousy, something I would deeply regret a year later. Slowly, over the course of ninth grade, I got to know some fellow metal obsessives, and one day, when I was mentioning how that Slayer EP just wasn't cutting it for me, someone suggested I listen to his copy of the first Slayer album, Show No Mercy, saying it would be a better introduction to Slayer, as it sounded more like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest than anything else. And you know what, the dude was right, the simpler arrangements of "Evil Has No Boundaries" and "The Antichrist" drawing me in instantly. I immediately dug "Black Magic" and "Die By the Sword", realizing that those were two of the live tracks on the tape I had. So, I put on side two of Haunting the Chapel, and then side one, and noticed, "Hey, this isn't half bad."

As the '80s wore on, I quickly learned that the most ideal form of musical rebellion was underground metal. Living in a town of 30,000, with only a small handful of dinky record stores, it was impossible to get into the hardcore punk scene. We all knew who Black Flag (we all thought the cover for Family Man was awesome), Hüsker Dü, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat were, but none of their albums were available in smalltown Canada. Hip-hop was in its infancy, and would not explode in our part of the world until 1986, and although we thought Run-DMC's "Rock Box" was really cool, it was nothing more than a mild curiosity to us. We knew a handful of friendly people who liked college rock bands like the Cure and the Smiths, but neither the acid wit of Morrissey nor the fey affectations of Robert Smith was aggressive or angry enough for us to channel our frustrations (in much broader terms, the Cure were pussies). However, it was very easy for young Canadian kids to get into the metal underground, and all the credit goes to a quirky indie label called Banzai Records.

The brainchild of Montreal record store owner Michel Meese, Banzai brought the very best of European, American, and Canadian underground metal to kids in every corner of the vast country. Aware of the growing number of innovative new metal bands, knowing there was a hunger for cutting-edge heavy music, and frustrated by the exorbitant prices of import LPs, Meese put his numerous connections in the metal industry to good use, ingeniously finagling a distribution deal with national label PolyGram (a major label distributing an indie label was unheard of then), enabling Banzai to handle the Canadian distribution for such blossoming international labels such as Neat, Megaforce, Metal Blade, Noise, and Combat. Plus, not only would the albums be pressed using PolyGram's high-tech duplicating facilities (many people today still claim the original Canadian pressings boast the best sound), but with a major label fully behind them, Banzai would reach every record store in the country.

Looking back today, the list of bands released by Banzai is staggering: in addition to Slayer and Metallica, the label released albums by the likes of Venom, Anthrax, Megadeth, Raven, Trouble, Celtic Frost, Voivod, Fates Warning, Metal Church, Exodus, Kreator, Helloween, Lizzy Borden, Flotsam and Jetsam, among many others. As a result, the years between 1984 and 1987 were the glory days for we Canadian metalheads (Venom's 1985 EP Canadian Assault was even certified gold in Canada), and our growing musical tastes were reflected in our own personal stacks of Banzai cassettes: I wasn't a huge fan of the sloppy Venom and the wildly inventive Celtic Frost yet, preferring the crazed sounds of England's Raven, the shock rock of Lizzy Borden, and of course, the American Big Four of Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Sadly, Banzai would go under suddenly in 1987, but people still speak fondly of how that label helped galvanize the Canadian metal community during the mid-1980s.

We all came from different backgrounds, but heavy metal was what united us, and the growing camaraderie gave us all a sense of safety in numbers. We'd loiter in the hallway of the high school basement, ignoring the popular kids, debating which metal bands sucked, just how great the new Metallica album was, or just the usual insipid banter you'd hear from any group of teenage boys. Although I made several great friends in my teens through metal music, most of whom turned out to be the cleverest, most creative kids at school, I was into metal mostly for the escapism of it all. I never cared for the booze-drenched vomit parties, with guys running around trying to emulate Bender from The Breakfast Club. Instead, I preferred to go home from school, sit in my room, and blast my Walkman as loud as I could, losing myself in Iron Maiden's bombastic historical epics, Slayer's horror movie imagery, Megadeth's eloquent rage, and the emotional power of a song like Metallica's "Fade to Black", in an attempt to purge myself of the negative feelings from school, a place I loathed deeply. School hours were a blur of boredom and loneliness; my real day began at four in the afternoon, as I lost myself in a maelstrom of power chords, double bass beats, and siren-like screams.

When people bring up memorable images from '80s metal, the hilarious documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot is often mentioned, and for good reason, too, as it's a frighteningly accurate look at the seedier side of the metal crowd. However, the majority of us were just regular, everyday, teenage kids. Some of us formed bands of our own, while others, like yours truly, enjoyed reading and writing about the music. We killed time during boring trigonometry classes by practicing drawing band logos in the margins of our notebooks. We convened at each others' homes to watch bootlegged concert videos. We swapped tapes with mad obsessiveness, building word of mouth about new underground bands, and collectively learning about older bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. We convinced our English teachers to examine Iron Maiden's adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". We exchanged copies of W.A.S.P.'S "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" in Catholic school hallways. We convulsed with laughter at the ingeniously comedic Speak English or Die, by the Stormtroopers of Death. We wrote English essay assignments with such titles as, "Fuck the P.M.R.C." We discussed the convoluted plotline of Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime ("Who killed Mary?" ... "'Spreading the Disease' is some deep shit, man"). And if a noteworthy band came to the larger city near our town, it was a major event, as not even the nastiest, coldest Canadian prairie winters could keep us from attending.

As my musical interests have grown by leaps and bounds since 1984, my interest in Slayer, and metal, has ebbed and flowed over the years, peaking in the late '80s, thanks to such seminal albums as Reign in Blood and South of Heaven, nearly coming to a dead halt during the mid-'90s, and returning with a vengeance in 1998, this time for good. All the while, my little cassette of Haunting the Chapel has been with me, and to this day, the tape plays so well, that I still have yet to replace it with a CD copy. I'm always tempted to substitute the now 21-year-old tape with the remastered CD version, but somehow, I just can't bear to retire my beloved black cassette emblazoned with the little "Banzai" label quite yet. It's one of the only relics from my teenage years that I still cling to. There are many other albums from that period that I consider personal favorites, but that title in particular was the one that kickstarted an obsession that is as strong today as it was 21 years ago.

With the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, and Anthrax touring this summer, it's impossible for those of us who somehow survived the 1980s not to feel a twinge of excitement knowing we can revisit these bands once again. Yeah, it's the kind of shameless nostalgia we Gen Xers scorned the Baby Boomers for going through two decades ago, but the bond between metal bands and their fans is stronger than any other in popular music, and although we all know that these bands never "saved our lives", they did provide a much-needed catalyst that unlocked our surpressed imaginations and ambitions. And the music kicked some serious ass, too.

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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9

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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