Category Archives: BFI Player

I Start Counting | BFI Flipside releases the British coming-of-age psychological thriller classic on Blu-ray

Psychological thriller meets coming-of-age drama in the long-unavailable 1969 British feature, I Start Counting, which is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 2k restoration print, from BFI Flipside in the UK.

Jenny Agutter stars as Wynne, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in a new-town tower block with her adopted family. Her latest infatuation is her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but after finding a jumper she made for him dumped in a bin and covered in blood, she wonders if he might be the killer strangling teenage girls in the nearby woods. However, when Wynne starts investigating, she gets a stark introduction to adulthood. 

I Start Counting was director David Greene’s third film, and came hot on the heels of his equally offbeat features, Sebastian (with Dirk Bogarde) and The Strange Affair (with Michael York). It adapted for the screen by Richard Harris (who was then working on The Avengers at the time) based on Audrey Erksine Lindop’s 1966 thriller novel.

Together with Alex Thompson’s evocative camerawork, Brian Eatwell’s modern art direction and Basil Kirchin’s atmospheric melodic score, Green and Harris have crafted an engrossing, intelligent drama that’s well worth a revisit.

Part ‘kitchen sink’ reality – part dark fairytale, the film not only follows Wynne’s journey out of childhood but also offers much comment on Britain taking its first awkward steps towards a new, modern future.

Thanks to Green’s gentle direction, Agutter gives a compelling, genuinely touching performance as Wynne – and such was her joy at working on this film, that it convinced her to become a professional actor. There are also winning turns from the supporting players, including Clare Sutcliffe as Wynn’s flirty school friend Corinne, Madge Ryan as Wynne’s mum, and Simon Ward as the bus conductor hiding a terrible secret.

A bona-fide British classic, that would also make a great double-bill with another thriller bearing similiar themes, director Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Feature newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive.
  • A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting! (2020, 20 mins): a new interview with the actress (wonderful memories, but there are spoilers so watch this after seeing the film).
  • An Apprentice With a Master’s Ticket (2021, 40 mins): screenwriter Richard Harris looks back over an eclectic career in television and film, ranging from The Avengers to A Touch of Frost
  • Worlds Within Worlds (2021, 33 mins): Jonny Trunk on the life and art of ambient music pioneer Basil Kirchin (this was the extra I was most looking forward to as I’m a big Kirchin fan and have collected all the Trunk Records releases of his work (but damn it, Jonny shows some rarities that I now need to add to my collection). Interestingly, Jonny doesn’t touch on Kirchin’s The Abominable Dr Phibes score.
  • I Start Building (1942-59, 25 mins): Two archive films recalling the ‘New Town’ dream.
  • Danger on Dartmoor (1980, 57 mins): two children land in peril (in a Hound of the Baskervilles kind of way) in this Children’s Film Foundation feature, written by Audrey Erskine Lindop. It also features Hammer veteran, Michael Ripper, the wonderful Patricia Hayes and Barry Foster (Frenzy, Van de Valk).
  • Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973, 8 mins): A cautionary film designed for adolescent viewers back in the day about having sex before marriage. It’s rather sexist by today’s standards, as it puts the entire blame on women, rather than also being a lesson for young men.
  • Loss of Innocence: a video essay on I Start Counting! by filmmaker Chris O’Neill. This is a well-crafted analysis of the film that sums it up perfectly in a few minutes.
  • Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle.
  • Illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr Josephine Botting, a curator at the BFI National Archive, and biographies of David Greene, Jenny Agutter and Clare Sutcliffe by Jon Dear.

Dementia | A strange and surreal 1950s noir horror that’s a must-see

If you are a fan of surreal, experimental fare such as Carnival of Souls and Night Tide, then you are going to ‘get’ Dementia, which is now out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from BFI.

Waking from a nightmare in a seedy LA hotel, the terrified woman (Adrienne Barrett) heads into the night-time streets and into the arms of lecherous men. Haunted by a childhood trauma involving her abusive father, she enacts her revenge by stabbing to death a wealthy trick (Bruno VeSota). But her world closes in on her when she cuts off his hand in order to retrieve a pendant that will identify her.

A highly stylised fusion of horror, film noir and expressionism, this 58-minute ‘dream within a dream silent’ is one of the most unique slices of American independent cinema.

Featuring a weird score from avant-garde composer George Antheil (and wailing from the legendary Marni Mixon), a cool West Coast jazz interlude from Shorty Rogers, and stark monochrome photography from Ed Wood’s go-to guy William C Thompson (that makes atmospheric use of Venice Beach’s dingy alleyways), this is the only film to be made by John Parker (using money from his mum, who owned a theatre chain). 

Dementia started out as a short, but when Bruno VeSota came on board, it was expanded into a longer film, and many believe that it was VeSota (who would go on to join Roger Corman’s milieu) who was the actual mastermind in charge of the visuals and underlying Freudian themes. 

Originally banned by the US censors, it got a limited release in 1955, then was acquired by producer Jack Harris who re-released it as Daughter of Horror in 1957, with added dialogue by Ed McMahon. But its biggest claim to fame is that it features in a crucial scene in The Blob (1958) – also produced by Harris. Here’s a pic from that cult fave.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Presented in Standard Definition and High Definition
• Audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
Daughter of Horror (1957, 55 mins): the alternative cut with narration by Ed McMahon
Alone with the Monsters (1958, 16 mins): a study of people’s unconscious cruelty to others, this experimental film was directed by Nazli Nour with cinematography by Walter Lassally
Trailers From Hell: Joe Dante on Daughter of Horror (2013, 2 mins)
Before & After: Restoring Dementia (2020, 3 mins): A look at the work done by the Cohen Film Collection for the 2015 restoration
Dementia trailer (2015)
Daughter of Horror trailer (1957)
• Stills and publicity gallery
• Collector’s booklet with new essays by Ian Schultz, William Fowler and Vic Pratt

Catch Abel Gance’s revolutionary silent masterpiece Napoleon on the big screen and on Blu-ray

Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927)

Painstakingly restored by the BFI National Archive and Photoplay’s Kevin Brownlow as part of a 50-year project, Abel Gance’s 1927 five-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Napoleon, is now screening again accompanied by the longest score ever written for a silent film from composer Carl Davis before heading to Blu-ray, DVD and BFI Player on 21 November.

Originally conceived by Gance as the first of six films about the French military leader, this five-and-a-half-hour epic features full scale historical recreations of episodes from Bonaparte’s personal and political life, that see him overcome fierce rivals and political machinations to seal his imperial destiny. The film is also famed for its groundbreaking technical innovations – including its triptych finale.

The BFI Blu-ray will include the following special features…
• New 2K restoration
The Charm of Dynamite (1968, 51 mins): BBC documentary on Gance’s silent films, narrated by Lindsay Anderson.
Composing Napoleon: An Interview with Carl Davis (2016, 45 mins)
• Feature-length commentary by Paul Cuff
• Digital restoration featurette (2016, 5 mins)
• Gallery
• Alternative single-screen ending
• Individual triptych panel presentations
• Illustrated collector’s booklet

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Frank (2014) | Music, madness and a giant papier-mâché head collide in the oddball, anarchic comedy drama

Frank (2014)

With the offbeat comedy drama premiering on Film4 today at 10.40pm, here’s my take on Frank…

Don’t stop believing in your dreams
Following a chance encounter with the avant-garde Soronfrfbs rock band and their eccentric front man Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant papier-mâché head 24/7, wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) finds himself propelled on an anarchic journey of self-discovery.

Recruited as a replacement keyboard player, Jon struggles to connect with the other band members, especially distrusting Theremin-player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but ends up using his inheritance to produce the band’s latest concept album. While cooped up in a log cabin on a remote island, the social media savvy Jon posts videos on the internet and ends up scoring the band a big gig at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. When a disastrous warm-up gig causes the band to fall out, Jon manages to convince Frank to take to the stage as a duo. But is he doing it for Frank, or himself?

Frank (2104)

Will it push you to your furthest corners?
It’s not often I come across a film that really connects on a personal level, but comedy drama, Frank, from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson really hit home. Loosely inspired by the cult figure of Frank Sidebottom (aka the late Mancunian singer-comedian Chris Sieves), in whose Oh Blimey Big Band one of the writers, Jon Ronson, played keyboards in the 1980s, the film also adds elements of notorious rock legend Captain Beefheart and schizophrenic Texan singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, but sets the action in contemporary Ireland.

Michael Fassbender gives a nuanced performance as the titular outsider artist, whose absurd headgear hides a fragile soul which Domhnall Gleeson’s callow fan boy Jon ends up shattering (its their journey that’s at the heart of the film). And Maggie Gyllenhaal is a real standout as Clara. She’s like a female Syd Barrett, whose permanent scowl actually hides a deep love for Frank.

Frank (2104)

The film’s first half is a crazy road-movie-styled delight (the opening titles span a very post-modern 10 minutes btw) and I found myself helplessly drawn into Jon’s bromance with Frank, while his onscreen tweets are #hilarious (but you’ll never make them out if watch the film on a mobile). But when the comedy gives way to more serious matters (and the truth about Frank is revealed), the film’s fun factor comes to a screeching halt. While those introspective scenes put a dampener on the oddball adventure, the home truths that are revealed are food for thought – especially on the nature of the artist versus the cult of celebrity, maximising our online presence, and mental illness vs true genius.

Oddball, yet deep (in sentiment), passionate, yet punk-spirited (about the creative process), there’s a lot going here, just like there’s a lot going on behind Frank’s papier-mâché cartoon face. It’s also got some bonkers brilliant toons.

Frank (2104)

Frank is also available from Curzon Film World on Blu-ray and DVD, which includes audio commentary with Lenny Abrahamson, Domhnall Gleeson and composer Stephen Rennicks; commentary with writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straugaan; behind the scenes featurette, sound promo, deleted scenes and trailer.

Also available from ArtificalEyeFilms on YouTube and BFI Player

The Frank soundtrack is released by Silva Screen, check it out here: http://www.soundtrack.net/album/frank/

Three Otto Preminger film noir classics get a limited edition BFI Blu-ray release

Otto Preminger Film Noir CollectionThis essential collection brings together three of acclaimed director Otto Preminger’s greatest films for the first time on Blu-ray, delivering a unique combination of intrigue, moral ambiguity and stylish black and white photography, which truly defines this much loved film noir genre.

In Fallen Angel (1945), Dana Andrews stars as a down-on-his-luck press agent turned amateur sleuth, investigating the murder of the sultry waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell).

Whirlpool (1950) is a fascinating blend of noir and woman’s picture starring the beautiful Gene Tierney as a troubled socialite who falls prey to the machinations of a sinister hypnotist (José Ferrer).

Whilst in the down beat Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Dana Andrews again stars, as a tough cop whose brutal methods leave a trail of murder, deceit and cover-ups.

Special features include audio commentaries by film scholar and critic Adrian Martin and The Guardian Lecture: Otto Preminger interviewed by Joan Bakewell (1972, 80 mins, audio with stills), plus an illustrated booklet.

Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection released on Monday 28 September from BFI

Les yeux sans visage (1959) | Georges Franju’s classic horror masterwork shocks again on Blu-ray

Les yeux sans visage

French director George Franju’s 1959 Les yeux sans visage (aka Eyes Without a Face) reigns supreme as a masterpiece of cinéma fantastique, and is now available in a new high definition release in the UK for the first time from BFI.

Obsessed Parisian plastic surgeon Professor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his devoted assistant Louise (Alida Valli) abduct young woman to graft their skin onto the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). But with each surgery, the isolated Christiane begins losing her sanity and her will to live…

Les yeux sans visage

Les yeux sans visage caused outrage on its release in 1959 where its gruesome scalpel scenes exert a shocking fascination, while it’s poetic visual style (where noir meets Cocteau), shadowy monochrome cinematography (by Eugen Schüfftan) and disconcerting circus-style music (by Maurice Jarre) imbue the film with a heady atmosphere of menace, anxiety and unflinching horror.

Les yeux sans visage

Much has been written about Franju’s artistically-made shocker, and its influence has informed generations of genre filmmakers, including Jesús Franco, John Carpenter and Pedro Almodóvar. Every re-visit is not only a reminder of Franju’s artistic precision, but also offers up new insights and readings into this most-perfectly executed horror film. And nothing can match the hauntingly beautiful final scene in which Scob’s Christiane walks through a moonlit wood surrounding by fluttering doves.

Les yeux sans visage

The BFI Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) release features the film re-mastered in High Definition and presented in its original aspect ratio (1:66:1), made available by Gaumont. The release also includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary by Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas.
Monsieur et Madame Curie (Georges Franju, 1953, 14min): a study of the life and work of the Curies, told through the words of Marie Curie.
La Première nuit (Georges Franju, 1958, 20min): a young boy spends a night in the Métro.
Les Fleurs maladives de Georges Franju (2009, 50min): an overview of Georges Franju’s career.
For Her Eyes Only (2014, 17min): An interview with Edith Scob.
• Booklet featuring essays and full film credits.

 

Bicycle Thieves (1948) | Cinema re-release – Vittorio De Sica’s celebrated postwar drama back in UK cinemas

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Italian Actor/director Vittorio De Sica is best known for his celebrated 1948 film Bicycle Thieves, which tells the story of a simple man called Antonio who scours the streets of Rome looking for his stolen bicycle, which he needs to be able to secure work.

Ranking high in almost every Top 20 film poll imaginable, Bicycle Thieves is neorealism at its best, making excellent use of non-actors and real locations. But this is no improvised documentary, rather a tightly woven drama about humanity surviving the devastating after effects of war and poverty. Unforgettable.

• Bicycle Thieves screens at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season until Thursday 27 August (so catch it while you can)

• The 2014 Arrow Academy Dual Format release features a restored, high definition transfer of the film; feature length documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini; documentary portrait of De Sica; trailer; and booklet.

Miracle in Milan (1951) | Vittorio De Sica’s sublime Italian fantasy parable is a ray of sunshine in a cynical age

Miracle in Milan (1951)In between making his gritty neo-realist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, Italian director Vittorio De Sica lensed the fantasy parable Miracle in Milan, that would earn him the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1951.

Francesco Golisano (who tragically died at the age of 29 in 1958) gives a beautifully, understated performance as Toto, an orphan possessed by eternal optimism. Abandoned at birth, Toto was raised by the elderly Lolotta, who taught him to find joy and wonder in the simple things in life. Following her death, he is placed into an orphanage, but when he leaves, he ends up wandering the streets with the city’s beggars.

Finding refuge at an old rubbish tip on the outskirts of the city, Toto’s optimistic approach to life infects all those he encounters. Soon he and his fellow poor are creating their own mini-town, complete with street signs, main square and water fountains, and all is happy until Toto receives a magical dove that grants wishes. When the shantytown residents use the dove for materialistic purposes, two angels steal the dove back just when Toto needs it most – to stop the town from being razed to the ground by the new owners.

Miracle in Milan (1951)

In the 1950s, Italy experienced an economic miracle with industry booming and living standards rising sharply. However, there was still acute poverty throughout the country – especially in the south. De Sica’s fantasy is a direct response to this and to the universal themes of the great rich and poor divide – something that has special resonance today – especially if you think of the worldwide Occupy movement.

But unlike de Sica’s other neo-realist films – especially Il Tetto (The Roof), this is not a harrowing tale of misery, but a lesson in the power of optimism in the face of adversity. And while the later half of the film does become somewhat farcical, it is Golisano’s gripping performance as the Christ-like Toto that carries the film.

Miracle in Milan (1951)

Miracle in Milan screens Saturday 8 August and Monday 10 August at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season and is available as a Dual Format and Blu-ray release (both including Il Tetto) from Arrow Academy

 

Orson Welles at 100 | Six of the Best from The Great Disruptor

Welles at 100

Throughout July and August, BFI Southbank in London will screen a comprehensive season of Orson Welles’ work in both film and TV, including his big classics, Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), and less familiar titles like The Trial (1962), The Immortal Story (1968) and F for Fake (1975), kicking off with StudioCanal’s restored print of The Third Man (1949) this coming Friday (26 June).

It will also include his three adaptations of Shakespeare: Macbeth (1948), Othello (1952) and Falstaff Chimes at Midnight (1966), which is widely considered a highpoint of Welles’ remarkable career, and which also gets a 50th Anniversary Restored Edition is released on 29 June on DVD and Blu-ray from Mr Bongo Films.

Also screening are some rarities, including the recently discovered Too Much Johnson (1938) – which is also set for a Blu-ray/DVD release from Mr Bongo Films – and six compilation programmes, featuring shorts, trailers, TV productions, theatrical adaptations, documentaries, and unfinished projects.

Here are the six that I’m most looking forward to…

THE LADY OF SHANGHAI (4k restoration)
The 1948 hall of mirrors noir thriller is charged by the on-screen chemistry between Welles and his ex-wife Rita Hayworth. This definitive restoration from Colorworks at Sony Pictures, scanned at 4K from the original nitrate negative, recently appeared in the Official Selection Cannes Classics lineup, and will be screened during BFI’s Welles centenary celebrations on Friday 17 July and Thursday 23 July.

Lady from Shanghai

THE THIRD MAN (4K restoration)
This 1949 noir classic is a consummate production, from Graham Greene’s witty, disturbing screenplay to Robert Krasker’s evocatively skewed photography and Anton Karas’ unforgettable zither score. But, despite his minimal screen time, Orson Welles’ amoral Harry Lime steals the show – thanks partly to the famous ‘cuckoo clock’ speech penned by Welles himself. Re-released by StudioCanal in a new 4K restoration in cinemas on 26 June and on DVD and Blu-ray on 20 July.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9yyDEDGlr0%5D

Touch of EvilTOUCH OF EVIL (1998 version)
The last feature Welles made in Hollywood, 1958’s Touch of Evil is a virtuoso foray into film noir, exhibiting his extraordinary sense of cinematic style, vivid characterisation and an almost Shakespearian flair for tragedy. The 1998 version is a re-edit of the original by Walter Murch based on a 58-page memo Welles wrote to Universal with his suggestions of alterations to the studio’s cut. This 2013 re-master is released in selected cinemas UK-wide on 10 July.

AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES (DVD release)
In 1955, Associated-Rediffusion commissioned Welles to write, direct and host this ground-breaking mini-series filmed in Europe. Part home-movie, part cinematic essay, each of the six episodes takes the viewer on a fascinating journey across Europe. In Paris, we are introduced to famous artists such as Jean Cocteau; in Madrid, we attend a bullfight; and in Vienna, in an episode which was long believed lost, we are taken to the locations of The Third Man. Released on BFI DVD and limited edition Blu-ray on 24 August.

Mr Bongo Orson Welles Releases

FALSTAFF CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (50th Anniversary Restored Edition by Orson Welles)
One of the most radical and groundbreaking of all Shakespeare adaptations, 1965’s Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight was Welles’ favourite of his films and gets a DVD and Blu-ray release on 29 June 2015 from Mr Bongo Films, along with the legendary director’s first feature, Too Much Johnson (1938) and his second-to-last feature, The Immortal Story, starring Jeanne Moreau.

MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES (2014)
Released to mark Welles’ centenary, awarding-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman’s documentary is an illuminating portrait of one of cinema’s most extraordinary personalities. Expect my big review real soon. Released in selected UK cinemas on 3 July and on DVD on 24 August.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeVptmz9Q5o%5D

 

Sherlock Holmes (1965) | Douglas Wilmer’s celebrated BBC TV series gets a UK DVD release

Sherlock Holmes (BBC TV)Douglas Wilmer gave a career-defining performance as the Baker Street sleuth in the classic 1964-1965 BBC TV series, Sherlock Holmes, which is now getting its first-ever UK DVD release from the BFI. The 4-disc set includes a number of special features, including two reconstructions of lost episodes, five audio commentaries, and an interview with Douglas Wilmer (who turned 95 in January).

Bearing a striking resemblance to the original Sidney Paget illustrations, Douglas Wilmer’s portrayal is possibly the closest to Conan Doyle’s original vision, and by playing him as ‘unsympathetic, vain and dangerous’, he’s widely regarded as ‘the only actor who ever got it right’ – although I do think Peter Cushing was also spot on when he took on the role for 16 stories in 1968. In 2012, Wilmer’s iconic status within the Holmes’ pantheon was cemented when he turned in a cameo appearance in the second series Sherlock story, The Reichenbach Fall, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Conan Doyle’s incumbent sleuth.

Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes

Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes in the 1965 BBC TV series and as the Diogenes Gent in the BBC1 Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall (2012)

The first story in the 1960’s BBC series, The Speckled Band, was originally produced as part of the 1964 drama strand, Detective, but 12 cases followed, beginning in January 1965. Alongside Wilmer, Nigel Stock played Holmes’ loyal companion, Dr John Watson – a role he continued to play alongside Peter Cushing in 1968, while the supporting cast included Peter Madden as Inspector Lestrade and Derek Francis as Mycroft Holmes.

Peter Wyngarde in The Illustrious Client

Peter Wyngarde with Douglas Wilmer in The Illustrious Client

The roll call of guest stars included Peter Wyngarde and Jennie Linden in the dark and disturbing The Illustrious Client; Patrick Wymark and Sheila Keith in the Gothic melodrama The Copper Beeches; Trevor Martin (aka the first stage Dr Who) in the three pipe problem mystery, The Red-Headed League; Anton Rodgers in the opium-tinged The Man with the Twisted Lip; and Joss Ackland and Roger Delgado in the final story, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.

Roger Delgado in The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax

Douglas Wilmer, Nigel Stock and Roger Delgado in The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax

WHAT’S IN THE 4-DISC SET
• All surviving episodes from the 1965 series (in black and white, and in their original broadcast ratio, with Dolby Digital 10.0 mono audio).

• Original 1964 Detective pilot episode The Speckled Band.

• Alternative Spanish audio presentation of The Speckled Band.

• Alternative title sequence for The Illustrious Client.

The Abbey Grange episode reconstruction, featuring a newly-filmed sequence of Douglas Wilmer reading the first half of the story, followed by all surviving original footage.

The Bruce-Partington Plans episode reconstruction, using all surviving original footage and original shooting scripts.

Douglas Wilmer … on Television (2012, 22 min): From his earliest days at RADA and the Old Vic to working at the BBC and his recent cameo in Sherlock, Wilmer looks back at his career and at the character that has won him a place in British TV history, recalling the highs and lows, and also pays homage to his old mate, Nigel Stock.

• Five audio commentaries, with director Peter Sasdy on The Illustrious Client, Douglas Wilmer on The Devil’s Foot and Charles Augustus Milverton, director Peter Cregeen on The Abbey Grange, and actors Trevor Martin and David Andrews on The Red-Headed League.

• Illustrated booklet with full episode guides, articles on Conan Doyle’s sleuth and Douglas Wilmer, and restoration notes.

Available everywhere and online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

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