Martin Scorsese, Paramount Back MoMA Republic Pictures Screening Series

Dade Hayes

1/11/2018 11:00:00 AM

EXCLUSIVE: Martin Scorsese and Paramount Pictures are backing the Museum of Modern Art’s screenings of 30 restored films from Republic Pictures, a small but creatively resourceful studio that turned out a range of influential genre films from 1935 to 1959. The screening series will run in two parts, in February and August.

Martin Scorsese Presents Republic Rediscovered: New Restorations from Paramount Pictures is a two-part series organized by MoMA in association with Paramount and The Film Foundation, a preservation outfit created by Scorsese in 1990. The 30-film program begins on February 1 with Alfred Santell’s seldom-seen That Brennan Girl, and continues through February 15; the second installment is scheduled for August 9 to 23.

Curated by Scorsese, the program marks a rebirth for the Republic library, which is being restored and returned to wide distribution by Paramount. Republic Rediscovered is organized by Dave Kehr, a longtime film critic and historian who is now curator of the film department at MoMA.

“From the ’30s through the ’50s, the different studio logos at the head of every picture carried their own associations and expectations,” Scorsese said. “And for me, the name Republic over the eagle on the mountain peak meant something special. Republic Pictures was what was known as a ‘poverty row’ studio, but what their pictures lacked in resources and prestige they made up for in inventiveness, surprise, and, in certain cases, true innovation. Among the many ‘B’ pictures produced at Republic in the studio’s heyday, there are so many titles that have been overlooked or forgotten; waiting for decades to be seen again.”

Jim Gianopulos, Paramount’s chairman and CEO, said the studio has devoted resources to the Republic titles. “As part of our commitment to honor the art of cinema and our legacy, Paramount Pictures has preserved more than 800 Republic Pictures films,” he said. “Thanks to the efforts of Martin Scorsese and The Film Foundation, audiences will see Paramount’s work to restore these films has been done with attention to every detail. The world will get to see them as they have not been seen since their original release.”

Often described as the “biggest little studio in Hollywood,” Republic is largely remembered today for its Saturday matinee serials and B Westerns shot in Encino and Studio City before suburban sprawl overtook the San Fernando Valley. (Its former lot in Studio City is now CBS Studio Center.) The studio had a far broader range than cowboy pictures, however, producing films across genres and budget levels, from gritty crime films like John H. Auer’s City that Never Sleeps to lush Technicolor romances such as Frank Borzage’s I’ve Always Loved You.

In the 1940s, Republic became a haven for several leading directors, including Borzage, John Ford and Allan Dwan. It also popularized a two-color process called Trucolor, a low-cost alternative to the three-color Technicolor process.

Andrea Kalas, VP of the archives at Paramount, will present “Republic Preserved,” a lecture with film clips on the Republic library and the process of revitalizing it, before the 2PM ET screening of Trigger, Jr. on February 4.

Here is a trailer for the program:


My favourite Blu-ray and DVD releases of 2017

Aidil Rusli

1/6/2018 12:00:00 AM

I think 2017 was the year Malaysians finally got to witness first-hand the much vaunted “death of physical media.” 

Sure, we’ve been downloading and streaming content for years already, but 2017 was the year where so many of our beloved CD and DVD shops (like Rock Corner and so many Speedy Video branches) started to close down. 

It felt even more real when even pirated DVD shops called it a day, forcing so many of us stubborn film geeks to finally make full use of our internet access.

All this doom and gloom, however, is when you look at the big picture. Look closer into the smaller and more niche areas of physical media consumption and you’ll find that things are actually pretty vibrant. 

Vinyl and cassettes have made pretty incredible comebacks, and over here in DVD and Blu-ray land, smaller publishers are having a field day producing releases that are targeted at a more select group of film lovers.

In fact, there’s no better time to be alive than right now if you’re a physical media-collecting film junkie (like yours truly). Well established boutique labels like Criterion, BFI, Arrow, Eureka and Scream Factory, always reliable when it comes to outstanding and quality releases, now face some serious competition from newer kids on the block like Indicator, Second Run, Grasshopper, Twilight Time, 88 Films, Code Red and Vinegar Syndrome. 

Obviously I will never be able to afford to get my hands on every single thing my heart desires, but of those I did manage to acquire and after plenty of consideration, here are my favourite home video releases of 2017.

Ice Cream Man (Blu-ray)

A curious cult oddity from the mid-90s, directed by a former porn director (Norman Apstein aka Paul Norman) and starring Ron Howard’s brother Clint, Vinegar Syndrome’s glorious release of Ice Cream Man is exactly why I said that there’s no better time to be alive than right now if you’re a physical media-collecting junkie. 

Giving a premium, red carpet treatment (a beautiful new 2K scan) to an almost forgotten 90s curio is simply something that wouldn’t happen even 10 years ago. 

But here we are, blessed with an extras-packed new release (including a complete episode of MonsterVision!) of a great cult film that will hopefully win it lots of new fans, as it did with me, making this my favourite home video release of 2017.

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Blu-ray)

Before Terry Gilliam and before Tim Burton, there was Karel Zeman, and Zeman’s intoxicating version of The Fabulous Baron Munchausen from 1961 will leave your jaw on the floor once your eyes savour the immense beauty of this new 4K restoration. 

Its blend of “live” action and animation still provokes a sense of wonderment even in 2017, and Second Run’s Blu-ray release does full justice not only to the film, but also to Zeman himself with its many smartly produced supplements.

Two Films By Lino Brocka (Blu-ray)

I still long for the day when a Malaysian film-making legend gets the kind of lavish treatment that Filipino legend Lino Brocka got from the British Film Institute with this essential limited edition double pack of two of his films — Manila In The Claws Of Light and Insiang

Beautifully restored in 4K by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project and supported by a host of illuminating extras to introduce Brocka to the rest of the world, this is one of the absolute must-buy releases of 2017.

Casa De Lava (Blu-ray)

I’m such a huge fan of Portuguese genius Pedro Costa that I already own two versions of this film on DVD. But a chance to see this in glorious HD is definitely one that I’m not going to pass up, and as expected, Grasshopper Film’s Blu-ray release makes the already gorgeous film even more beautiful to behold. 

Costa’s sense of composition and colour stands out even more here, which makes this release a particularly addictive one for me as I simply can’t stop staring at the beautiful images that he managed to conjure up here.

Housekeeping (Blu-ray)

I’ve always loved Bill Forsyth and his quiet, understated yet emotionally nimble films like Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, but Housekeeping is one film of his that I’ve only ever read about because it’s so hard to track down, even back in the days of VHS. 

Who’d have thought that it’s in the supposed death throes of physical media that we finally have the chance to experience this film at home in all its quiet glory. 

Not content with putting out such a valuable gem, Indicator Films was even generous enough to include interviews with Forsyth, author Marilynne Robinson and the film’s cinematographer and editor, in addition to an onstage interview with the director at the National Film Theatre.

Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project Vol. 2 (Blu-ray)

When you’re gifted with a boxset that contains beautifully restored films from countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Turkey and Taiwan, enriched by a host of interview programs and a booklet of essays from many of the world’s leading film critics, you know that what you have in your hands is an important object that will teach you a thing or two about films and cultures from parts of the world that are not that well known for their film-making. 

And when the films are this good (how can they not be when you’ve got the likes of Edward Yang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Lino Brocka in it), how can anyone say no?

A New Leaf (Blu-ray)

Olive Films has already released a bare bones Blu-ray of this classic of 70s American cinema a few years back (which I of course dutifully bought), but a new 4K restoration has brought about a surprise extras-laden new release, this time on their Olive Signature label. 

And since everyone knows how much I love Elaine May’s small body of work as a film director, this new release is simply a no-brainer for me. And the film is still as fresh as a daisy, and probably looks even more beautiful than during the time of its initial release with this new 4K restoration.

Doctor Dolittle (Blu-ray)

Talking about looking beautiful, Richard Fleischer’s much maligned and old-fashioned musical Doctor Dolittle (probably more due to the fact that it was so hopelessly square and twee in the era of Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, In The Heat Of The Night and Valley Of The Dolls than because of its quality) gets a stunning Blu-ray release from the ever reliable Twilight Time. 

It has reference quality AV, with its shot on 70mm Todd-AO format proving a perfect fit for widescreen HD and its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix making the orchestrations sound even bigger and grander than you remember.

Three Sisters (DVD)

Sometimes all you want (or need) is for a film to exist in a physical format, for you to experience and revisit any time you want, and with the knowledge that you can do so if you wish to. 

Chinese director Wang Bing is already a pretty big name in international festival circles, but to track down any of his films on English-subtitled DVD is something of a challenge. 

It took me a fair amount of digging before I finally managed to secure an official DVD of his 9-hour documentary epic West Of The Tracks. So imagine my surprise when a casual search on Amazon about two to three months back led me to this release by Icarus Films. 

It’s a bare bones release of his two and a half hour Venice prizewinning documentary Three Sisters, but the fact that I can finally watch it is more than enough for me to be really thankful for this release.

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (Blu-ray)

When it comes to extras or special features, I doubt there are that many releases in 2017 that can match the sheer volume of documentaries, interviews and extra good stuff that are on offer in this Arrow Video release, especially if you managed to grab the Limited Edition version. 

The Sam Peckinpah: Man Of Iron documentary (previously available on Criterion’s 2-DVD release of Straw Dogs) now gets a Director’s Cut release on the Limited Edition Bonus Blu-ray, which contains more than 10 hours of previously unseen interview footage. 

That’s probably a whole one or two week’s worth of viewing pleasure, if you’re up to it, which is frankly complete madness!!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Read more here


‘4 Little Girls,’ ‘Titanic’ and ‘Die Hard’ added to Library of Congress registry

Michael O'Sullivan

12/13/2017 3:00:00 AM

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has announced the addition of 25 films to the library’s National Film Registry, selections deemed worthy of preservation for their “cultural, historic and/or aesthetic” significance. This year’s collection brings the number of registry films to 725 and includes such beloved mainstream movies as the historical romance “Titanic” (1997) and “Die Hard” (1988).

Other popular works include “Dumbo” (1941), “Superman” (1978), “The Goonies” (1985), “Field of Dreams” (1989) and “Memento” (2000). Among this year’s more esoteric fare is “The Sinking of the Lusitania,” a 1918 short by cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay about the German submarine attack that contributed to the United States’ entry into World War I, and an archive of amateur home movies from the 1920s and ’30s about life in the Mexican American community of Corpus Christi, Tex.

Hayden selected the films with input from members of the National Film Preservation Board and other specialists at the library. The public also was invited to weigh in.

As timely as it may be to see this honor bestowed on “Titanic” — now celebrating its 20th anniversary — or “Die Hard” — a holiday staple — there could be no more opportune selection than “4 Little Girls.” Nominated for a best documentary feature Oscar, Spike Lee’s 1997 film about the Birmingham church bombing of Sept. 15, 1963, was met by a reopening of the long-dormant criminal case by the FBI — a case that just so happens to have been subsequently prosecuted — successfully — by an Alabama lawyer named Doug Jones. At press time, Jones was locked in a close race for the U.S. Senate with the controversial former judge Roy Moore.

On Tuesday — Election Day in Alabama — Lee phoned from New York to say that he always cherishes the National Film Registry honor. (Two of his narrative features were previously selected: “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X.”) Lee also said he wanted to dedicate the film’s selection to the murdered girls: Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

But mostly, the filmmaker took the opportunity to unleash a torrent of unfiltered invective about Moore. After making a few circumspect comments about the power of storytelling to “hold a mirror up to the ugliness that we have become,” Lee acknowledged that he was troubled by what’s happening in America today, epitomized by the Alabama election, before acknowledging that the word “troubled” was probably too mild.

But Lee said current affairs had not caused him to lose hope, as a human or as a filmmaker. “Like my man Jesse [Jackson] says, you’ve got to keep hope alive,” he said. Never modest, the cinematic bombthrower said he thinks that this latest honor may not be the last time one of his films enters the registry and that his 2006 Hurricane Katrina documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” could be the next.

Then there’s Lee’s drama “Black Klansman,” a fact-based biopic, due out next year, about a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.

“Just wait until you see that one,” Lee said. “It’s set in the early 1970s, but you can’t watch it without thinking of today.”

Films selected for the 2017 National Film Registry:

Ace in the Hole (a.k.a. “Big Carnival”) (1951)

Boulevard Nights (1979)

Die Hard (1988)

Dumbo (1941)

Field of Dreams (1989)

4 Little Girls (1997)

Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (1920s and 1930s)

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

The Goonies (1985)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)

La Bamba (1987)

Lives of Performers (1972)

Memento (2000)

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)

Spartacus (1960)

Superman (1978)

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)

Must Reads

Time and Dreams (1976)

Titanic (1997)

To Sleep With Anger (1990)

Wanda (1971)

With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-1938)



Martin Scorsese leads effort to save lost African cinema

Thomas Page

11/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

Through the night, for many nights, Martin Scorsese sat ensconced in an edit suite. It was 1981 and the director was in post-production for "The King of Comedy," his dark satire of the stand-up circuit.

As he worked, a TV in the background pulsed with the sounds of Nass El Ghiwane, a Moroccan band and the subject of "Trances," a concert movie by Ahmed El Maanouni. Over and over, night after night, the same channel repeated its broadcast, the film's hypnotic rhythms seeping into the New Yorker's soul.

"It's been an obsession of mine," Scorsese has said. In the years since, he hunted down the band's music, heaped praise on El Maanouni and in 2007 orchestrated a full restoration of the film.

Scorsese is part of a generation that includes George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola: titans of Hollywood who gorged on a diet of foreign cinema. Its influence is telling. Just as the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa filtered down into "Star Wars," Ingmar Bergman's picaresque narratives find a companion in "Apocalypse Now." For Scorsese, African cinema comprised part of his vernacular.

"Trances" was an inspiration behind 1988's "The Last Temptation of Christ," and elsewhere the director has described the "incredible impact" of "La Noire De..." ("Black Girl," 1966) by Ousmane Sembene. First watched in 1969, the Senegalese movie "was unlike anything that I'd ever seen," he recalled. "It was like a door had opened in the West and it was the first time we could feel a truly African voice in the cinema."

Scorsese took note, but not many heard this African voice, or its contemporaries -- particularly in Africa itself. Part of the problem is distribution, another is politics, say advocates. The result is a generation of cinematic giants left in slumber, and vital pieces of cultural heritage missing.

Now, an international effort including Scorsese is aiming to revive these figures -- and revise what we thought we knew about African cinema.

Lost, missing or hidden away

Scorsese established The Film Foundation in 1990, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting historic cinema. A decade ago it launched the World Cinema Project, focusing on films outside the Western canon. It was around then that Scorsese took a trip to West Africa.

"In 2007, I visited my friend (the director) Souleymane Cisse in Mali," he told CNN. "Our discussions during that trip highlighted for me the urgent need to preserve African films, many of which are not known or even available, leaving a chasm in our understanding of world cinema."

The project has sought to fill this chasm, but so far African films remain outliers. Of over 750 restorations overseen by the foundation, only seven were from the continent at the beginning of 2017. That dynamic is changing, however.

In June, the foundation, UNESCO and the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, known as FEPACI, in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna, signed an agreement formalizing the African Film Heritage Project, or AFHP. The initiative "will locate and preserve 50 African films, and make them available to audiences in Africa and around the world," Scorsese explains.

It's a daunting task, agree all involved. Some of the films identified for restoration are, for all intents and purposes, lost. "If you Google search some of these titles nothing comes up," says Margaret Bodde, executive director of the Film Foundation. "There's no kind of writing about these films."

Very rarely were film negatives developed in Africa in the 1960s and '70s, with most taken to laboratories in Europe or the United States. "Sometimes documentation is lost or never existed," says Cecilia Cenciarelli, a curator at Cineteca di Bologna. It can take years of phone calls and emails to find a negative or 35 millimeter print. Often assets are incomplete and scattered, she adds, recalling a Soviet-era title where one reel was found in Cuba and the others in the former East Germany.

Each restoration costs anywhere from $100,000-250,000 according to Bodde, which is expensive for a nonprofit. Negotiating access is an additional issue, says Aboubakar Sanogo, lecturer and North American regional secretary of FEPACI.

"I won't name the filmmaker, but one entity in Britain has been storing the films of an African filmmaker since the 1960s," Sanogo says as an example. "He's a filmmaker we're interested in working on. That entity just said '...well you have to pay about £100,000 ($132,000).'"

"This is completely unethical as far as I'm concerned, but these are some of the difficulties that we are going to be facing in the next decade."

'So important yet so unknown'

The first fruits of the project came to light in May when "Soleil O" ("Oh, Sun," 1970) screened at the Cannes Film Festival under the Cannes Classics sidebar.

The debut feature by Mauritanian director Med Hondo "depicts issues that are still relevant today," says Scorsese, describing to CNN "a powerful film about a young man who emigrates from West Africa to France in search of a better life. Instead he finds racism, hostility and hypocrisy."

It's a deeply personal film, based so entirely on Med Hondo's own experience," says Bodde. He's typical of the directors the project is targeting. Lauded in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the spiritual home of African cinema, Hondo, now 81 years old, is "so important yet so unknown," says Cenciarelli. (His most-seen work has been as a voice actor in dubbed versions of "Shrek" and the "Star Wars" prequels.)

"(Restoring "Soleil O") seems a good way to start this project, by honoring a filmmaker who's still alive, (who) contributed in a less classic way -- a more avant-garde way -- to building big chapters of (a) cultural revolution for Africa," she says.

Five more films have been earmarked for restoration, but the foundation is only now revealing the first two titles: "Le Vent des Aures" ("The Wind of the Aures," 1967) by Algerian Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina, and "La Femme au Couteau" ("Woman with the Knife," 1969) by Ivorian Timite Bassori. Both will be the first titles from their countries restored through the foundation.

"Restoration and preservation is really only half the battle," said Scorsese in February. "African films need to be seen by the audiences they were intended for: the African people." The aim is for the five films to screen at FESPACO in 2019, when Africa's biggest film festival in Ouagadougou celebrates its 50th anniversary.

But the festival circuit can only reach so far. "We want as many people to be exposed," says Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO. "It's very important ... to work with African media, television providers, owners of cinemas, theaters, to show these films."

"We won't be dogmatic," Sanogo adds. Despite plans to create 35 millimeter prints, he describes the format as "dead," outlining DVD, Blu-ray and streaming options for future releases.

UNESCO will include AFHP titles as part of its Memory of the World Program and the General History of Africa, the latter "a giant project that UNESCO started in 1964 in order to deconstruct the false premises and prejudices attributed towards African history," Bokova says.

Some of these have arguably been formed or perpetuated in movie theaters.

"From the beginning, African filmmakers were using cinema as a means to raise awareness about its past, about the aspirations of their people, about their histories, but also educating them to meet the challenges of newly found independence," says the UNESCO director-general. But many films were left to gather dust far from home. Meanwhile, Sanogo speaks of a period of cultural neo-colonialism when "Hollywood used to dump their films on African countries," undercutting homegrown productions with lower distribution costs.

The absence of these self-determining African voices has left a void, and an opportunity for non-African filmmakers to impose a fanciful view of the continent: "a reductive mode of representation that we see in most European and American films, frankly," says Sanogo. (China has recently shown willingness to imagineAfrica as a war-torn playground, too.)

Sanogo believes that if more people -- and filmmakers -- had access to African cinema, such stereotypes would be less pervasive on and off screen. "We always knew that Hollywood was the best ambassador for the US," he adds. "We believe the same can be done with African cinema."

Part of the hope is that African filmmakers today will connect with their lost or forgotten cinematic roots. The slow burn of a Sembene film may be a world away from the cut and thrust of a Nollywood action flick, but there's still a dialogue to be had between past and present.

"Even if you view the films of Med Hondo and you're going to take a completely different approach, that's part of the vernacular," argues Bodde. "Knowing history is part of the continuum of art."

By reclaiming its cinema, its stories and its history, Africa's filmmakers of tomorrow will be creating from a firmer platform.

I'm aware, more than ever, that we know very little about African cinema," Scorsese said at the launch of the project. We're about to find out a lot more.


Want to delve in to African cinema, but don't know where to start? Aboubakar Sanogo, film scholar and regional secretary of the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, is here to help. Here he introduces six gems restored by The Film Foundation...

"La Noire De..." ("Black Girl," 1966), dir. Ousmane Sembene
The arrival of "Black Girl" not only announced the emergence of one of the great talents of world cinema, but also inaugurated the spread of the global influence of African cinema beyond the continent's shores. Sembene's way of filming (lead character) Diouana, Senegal, Africa would go on to create cinematic vocations and emulations across the world including infiltrating Hollywood's own backyard through its influence on the Los Angeles Rebellion school of filmmakers, including Charles Burnett, who paid homage to the film in his own brilliant first feature, "Killer of Sheep."

"Al Momia" ("The Night of Counting the Years," 1969) dir. Shadi Abdel Salam – Alongside Jean Vigo in France, Mohamed Zinet in Algeria and of course Djibril Diop Mambety in Senegal, Shadi Abdel Salam belongs among the exclusive club of cinematic geniuses who are renowned for making very few films. With its gorgeous colors, delicate costume design and sumptuous mis en scene, in other words, its quasi-mathematical adequation of theme and form, Abdel Salam's monumental "Al Momia" disembalms time and sanctions the drive to invest value in the past, to preserve it, to be literate about it in order to transmit it to generations to come. An absolute must-see.

"Alyam, Alyam" ("Oh the Days," 1978), dir. Ahmed El Maanouni – An offering by Casablanca-born Moroccan film director, writer, director of photography, and producer, Ahmed El Maanouni, Alyam Alyam is a master class in non-western filmmaking. Breaking down the shot-reverse shot grammar, interspersing live action with still images to move the story forward and breaking down the continuity style, creating deeply poetic images of the ordinary, the film is an invitation to awaken our senses to other ways of making films. Its haunting final shot makes the gravity of the decision to leave the home for the elsewhere intensely and acutely felt, with all the pain and loss of separation and the uncertainties about the tomorrows yet to come.

"Touki Bouki" (1973), dir. Djibril Diop Mambety – In African cinema, there are names that resonate like charms. They have something of a talismanic overtone to them. Djibril Diop Mambety is one of them. Mambety's films resonate more with surrealism, with the kingdom of dreams, with the realms of madness and excess, in other words, the spaces that push boundaries and approach art and life from original and unusual points of view. To put is schematically, Mambety's cinema eschews prose for poetry, classicism for experimentalism, wisdom for rebellion. With "Touki Bouki," one of cinema's genuine poets offers us a love letter on the beauty and unbounded possibilities of youth

"Borom Sarret" ("The Wagoner," 1963), dir. Ousmane Sembene – As Ousmane Sembene's first major film, "Borom Sarret" represents many of his cinematic themes. At once an in-depth meditation on the limitations of the postcolonial African state, a lucid assessment of the first years of African independence, an uncompromising critique of the ruling class, and an unparalleled way of tracing of the emergence of homo modernus Africanus. "Borom Sarret" is a compassionate, empathetic yet highly disciplined and rigorous film.

"Soleil O" ("Oh, Sun!," 1970) dir. Med Hondo – Med Hondo is one of the founding figures of African cinema who, together with Ousmane Sembene and others, very much personified the political and ethical compass in the aesthetic project of African cinema. "Soleil O" is a bold proposition about cinema; what it can be and what its relationship to our lives ought to be. It is at once an affective, effective and reflexive cinema, a manifesto against calculated and deadly indifference. It is a work several decades ahead of its time.



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