Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: 'Bride of Re-Animator' Blu-ray

Re-Animator was a splattery, campy take on Frankenstein for the eighties. The next logical step was to follow in the original monster’s hobnail boot prints and bring some female energy to Herbert West’s attempts to reanimate dead tissue. And so, Brian Yuzna, who’d produced Re-Animator and was now directing too, gave us Bride of Re-Animator in 1990. The predecessor’s zany humor and absurd gore attracted an adoring cult that could only be appeased by an escalation of such elements, and Bride delivered that while also paying very explicit homage to Bride of Frankenstein. West (king of low-key looniness Jeffrey Combs) is Dr. Pretorius to Dan Cain’s (Bruce Abbott) Henry Frankenstein, constantly luring Cain away from normalcy and into the batshit-nuts realm of corpse reanimation. Cain can’t resist resuming the experiments when West reveals that he possesses the heart of Cain’s girlfriend from the first movie and intends to put it in a new body of his own making. Kathleen Kinmont is the head and pilot of that body, and the actress clearly studied Elsa Lanchester’s performance. She gets an A+ for recapturing the more famous bride’s jerky movements and innate pathos.

The rudimentary plot Bride of Re-Animator —directly reanimated from an original idea for Bride of Frankenstein that would have found Elizabeth Frankenstein murdered and her heart placed in Elsa Lanchester’s body—is mostly an excuse for Yuzna and his special effects team to indulge in all sorts of monstery mayhem. There’s a sort of spider creature assembled from an eyeball and fingers, a group of cackling zombies, dog and bat parts mixed-and-matched with human bits, and some seriously nasty gore that necessitated two cuts of the movie. Both are included on Arrow Video’s new Bride of Re-Animator blu-ray. The unrated version lingers on several gore scenes a little longer than the R-rated one does, but the trajectory and running times of both films are identical. Bride of Re-Animator may be a slab of cheap-o exploitation, but it’s a great-looking one, and Arrow presents it with rich color and organic fidelity, though there are a few elements from the uncensored cut that look washed out (they only constitute seconds of the movie, so don’t fret too much about that). I’ve read that there were some audio problems with Capelight’s previous blu-ray edition of Bride, but there are no such issues with Arrow’s.

Supplements include three audio commentaries that find Yuzna and the special effects team providing insight into their film’s inspirations and production and Combs and Abbott just having a ball rewatching the thing, as well as an hour of new and archival video content. “Brian Yuzna Remembers” gives the filmmaker the opportunity to discuss his movie on camera for ten minutes, while “Splatter Masters” allots fifteen minutes for the special effects team to do the same. The archival stuff includes a vintage making-of featurette, a deleted scene captured from behind the scenes that brings back Cain’s girlfriend but settles for a Barbara Crampton lookalike, and the cast and crew discussing another deleted scenes to still-photo accompaniment. All of this is very nice treatment for an often-underappreciated episode in one of the very, very few horror franchises that’s actually worth a damn.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 183

The Date: March 31

The Movie: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

What Is It?: Stanley Kubrick films the unfilmable, but in a much different way than he did with Lolita or 2001. Kubrick makes a profound statement about the morality of extreme versions of punishment by introducing the world to one of cinema’s most grotesquely immoral characters. Malcolm McDowell plays him with so much charm that you’ll feel really icky for enjoying his company.

Why Today?: On this day in 1930, the Motion Picture Production Code is established. 41 years later, it slapped an X on A Clockwork Orange. Deserved or undeserved? Feel free to debate below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 182

The Date: March 30
The Movie: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
What Is It?: Quite possibly the first great horror movie, quite probably the ultimate expression of German expressionism. A distorted fantasy land of artificial sets, mad mesmerism, and monstrous somnambulists. I bet this movie made Max Fleischer drool.
Why Today?: Today is  Doctor’s Day. I hope yours is more professional than this one.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 181

The Date: March 29

The Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

What Is It?: God sends King Arthur on an epic quest for Jesus’s favorite cup. The king is menaced by a most persistent Black Knight, a very nasty bunny, some rather demanding knights who say (cover your ears) “ni,” a taunting French castle guard, and the cops. Watching this movie is like having hilarity smack you in the face with a herring for 90 minutes.

Why Today?: On this day in 1943, Eric Idle is born.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: 'Ramones at 40'

So much about the Ramones Story was flat-out, bug-eyed, pinhead crazy. The inter-band animosity. The mental problems. The drugs. The violence. Dee Dee. However, I contend that the craziest thing about the band that broke through the wall of the punk era like the Kool-Aid guy busting through a wall was the fact that they never considered themselves successful. The thing is The Ramones didn’t want to be a punk band. They wanted to be The Bay City Rollers, with all the hits and record sales that group enjoyed. But what is The Bay City Rollers’ legacy? Sure, “Saturday Night” was a terrific pop song, but the Rollers did not pioneer one of pop’s key genres. They are not instantly recognizable by their faces, their clothing, or the symbols associated with them. The Bay City Rollers are not icons. The Ramones are.

Sadly, none of the four original Ramones are with us anymore. If they were, they might take a great deal of pleasure in knowing that their legacy is still mighty and enduring…so much so that there is a new coffee table book devoted to them. Ramones at 40 is basically what you’d expect from a book of this sort. It tells its subject’s essential biography in a mere 200 pages busting with a multitude of big, color photos that also require especially tight storytelling. Martin Popoff’s book does not replace previous Ramones bios, although the writer’s new interviews with the likes of band members Marky Ramone, the boastful Richie Ramone, and the particularly insightful CJ Ramone (who also handles the foreword), photographer Roberta Bayley, and producers Graham Gouldman and Andy Shernoff add some new colors and details to a story told enough times to dispel the misconception that The Ramones weren’t successful.

Popoff also supplements the main story, which deals with the band’s records more than anything personal, with side-road inserts on topics essential (CBGBs, Ramones house artist and beloved cohort Arturo Vega, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), interestingly off-the-main-road (a Ramones museum in Berlin, Ramones schwag, the political clashes between Joey and Johnny…with a funny summation of the situation by Marky), and frankly, inessential (I’m not sure what a feature on what a bunch of musicians from metal bands think of The Ramones adds to the story). Certain topics barely get a mention. For example, Ramones roadie Monte Melnick, who also wrote one of the best books on the band, gets little more than a fleeting mention. Dee Dee’s infamously toxic relationship with Connie Gripp doesn’t even get that. But the complete story is not what we expect from a coffee table book. We expect the basic story briskly told, a shitload of great pictures, and a lot of commemorative reverence. The Ramones at 40 delivers all of that. I like to think Joey would have dug it.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 180

The Date: March 28
The Movie: The Omen (1976)
What Is It?: The antichrist is a very naughty little boy who inspires a nanny to hang herself in disturbingly audacious fashion, baboons to go berserk, and priests to get in the way of falling lightning rods. 
Why Today?: Today is Something on a Stick Day... something such as a priest.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 179

The Date: March 27

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What Is It?: Do you really need to know this? OK, rock dweller, it’s only the most enchanting musical fantasy ever made, full of color, terror, and lovely characters. Its only flaw: the main character’s motivation. Why would anyone wants to flounce around in the pig slop of a sepia Kansas farm when they could be grooving with lions, scarecrows, and flying monkeys in fantasy land?

Why Today?: For many of us growing up way back in the twentieth century, The Wizard of Oz was a TV staple at Easter time thanks to NBC.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 178

The Date: March 26

The Movie: Purple Rain (1984)

What Is It?: All the egomania, tackiness, misogyny, and idiocy of Albert Magnoli’s movie melts away every time that Purple Motherfucker (as Miles Davis called him) takes the stage to sweat along with some great track from the greatest soundtrack ever made. Whittle away the drama and you’ve got one hell of a sequence of amazing music videos.

Why Today?: Today is Purple Day.

Friday, March 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 177

The Date: March 25

The Movie: The Harder They Come (1972)

What Is It?: The first homegrown Jamaican film introduced midnight movie audiences to the sounds of reggae and the star power of Jimmy Cliff, who rules the screen and soundtrack as a singer-turned-gangster. Amazingly, Toots and the Maytals upstage him just by lip-synching “Sweet and Dandy”. What a fucking great song!

Why Today?: On this day in 2005, the Theatre Royal Stratford East first stages a musical version of the film with a script by original director Perry Henzell.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 176

The Date: March 24

The Movie: The Breakfast Club (1985)

What Is It?: A criminal, a princess, an athlete, a brain, and a basket case explore their feelings while serving Saturday detention. You know, just like you did in high school. Oh, your high school wasn’t a puppet theater masterminded by John Hughes? Never mind, then.

Why Today?: It was on this day that a criminal, a princess, an athlete, a brain, and a basket case explored their feelings while serving Saturday detention.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 175

The Date: March 23

The Movie: Mad Love (1935)

What Is It?: MGM couldn’t top Universal’s horrors in terms of pure iconography and majesty, so instead the studio swiped Karl Freund and Colin Clive, topped up the kink and craziness, and tossed in Peter Lorre as a mad doc in this nutso adaptation of Maurice Renard’s The Hands of Orlac.

Why Today?: On this day in 1964,  Peter Lorre dies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 174

The Date: March 22

The Movie: The Rutles in All You Need Is Cash (1978)

What Is It?: Eric Idle unites members of Monty Python, SNL, and Rock’s elite to send up The Beatles with a true fan’s attention to details and a Python’s attention to hilarity. Stig is dead, man. Miss him. Miss him.

Why Today?: On this day in 1978, The Rutles airs on NBC for the first time.

Monday, March 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 173

The Date: March 21

The Movie: Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

What Is It?: François Truffaut’s kitchen-sink gangster picture goes for humor, heartbreaking pathos, action, and experimental audacity, and nails everything it attempts. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, your mother will drop dead in a sight gag worthy of Monty Python.

Why Today?: Today is National French Bread Day. Eat some while watching a classic of French cinema.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 172

The Date: March 20

The Movie: The Producers (1968)

What Is It?: A schlub and an aging gigolo fall in love while attempting to bilk a bunch of horny little old ladies by staging a hippie musical called Springtime for Hitler. Don’t blame me if you accidentally watch the one with Matthew Broderick.

Why Today?: Today is the first day of spring—but not for Hitler. We hate that guy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 171

The Date: March 19
The Movie: Faust (1926)
What Is It?: F.W. Murnau used the hoary parable of Dr. Faustus selling his soul to Old Scratch as a leaping-off point for some of the director's most striking images. Forget the proselytizing and focus on puppet demons galloping through the cosmos on horseback, a demonic contract flaming into existence without pen ever touching parchment, and a Godzilla-sized Satan looming over the village he is about to plague with the plague.
Why Today?: On this day in 1859, Charles Gounod’s Faust opera premiers at Paris’ Théâtre Lyrique.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Review: 'Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion'

Adored for its loving restorations of cult movies and copious supplemental material, Arrow Video is that rare home-video distributer that has earned a cult of its own. That cult is surely the audience for Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion, though the most hardcore Arrow acolytes might find a lot of this book’s essays a little too familiar. That’s because twenty of its thirty pieces were culled from the booklets of Arrow releases such as House of Usher, Deep Red, Coffy, and The ’Burbs. For some readers, that might be a somewhat dodgy premise, especially since Cult Cinema is not inexpensive. For those who don’t snap up every release, Cult Cinema is actually a pretty cool book because it doesn’t always follow the expected DVD-booklet essay formula. That kind of writing is often informative yet dry, cramming the basic history, synopsis, analysis, and legacy into ten pages or so. Some of the essays in Cult Cinema follow that format, but others go for a more personal voice, such as Vic Pratt’s essay on Withnail & I in which he relays his quest to find an overcoat just like the one Richard E. Grant wears in the inebriated comedy classic. David Hayles paints a vivid first-person portrait of Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, while Robin Bougie’s piece about pornochanchada (I’m still not really sure what that is) is written in the adolescent horn-dog voice of a review in an adult video trade mag.

The essays are divided among five topics—films, directors, actors, genres, and distributers—but this format is pretty loose considering that Pratt’s piece on Boris Karloff is more concerned with the slight horror-comedy The Raven in general than the actor’s extremely extensive career and Graham Rae’s one on Nekromantik is filed under “distribution” even though there’s nothing about distribution in it.

Also, because this book is exclusively linked with the select film’s Arrow distributes, a lot of essential cult films and filmmakers— David Lynch, John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Richard O’Brien to name a few— barely get a mention or get shut out of the discussion completely, so don’t throw away those Danny Peary books yet, kids. However, Cult Cinema earns serious points for scoring an introductory essay from the twenty-first century’s most audacious new cult filmmaker, Ben Wheatley. Maybe Cult Cinema Vol. II will include an essay on the psyche-scarring Kill List.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 170

The Date: March 18

The Movie: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

What Is It?: It’s a two-day Charles Laughton fest! And today he is behind the camera for the one and only time. His film in which Robert Mitchum plays a demonic, child-hunting preacher is appropriately unique... like watching the most beautiful and most terrifying dream come to life on screen. The riverboat escape sequence may be cinema’s single finest sequence.

Why Today?: On this day in 1932, Harry Powers, the real killer who inspired demonic preacher Harry Powell, is hing-hang-hunged.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 169

The Date: March 17

The Movie: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

What Is It?: Considering how full of cinematic possibilities H.G. Wells’s Island of Dr. Moreau is, it’s quite impressive and a bit confounding that Erle C. Kenton’s 1932 adaptation still has not been topped. Charles Laughton is the portrait of self-delighted evil as the beast-rehabilitating doc. Richard Arlen is all sweaty angst as the lone survivor of the shipwreck of the Lady Vain.

Why Today?: On this day in the novel, the Lady Vain wrecks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 168

The Date: March 16

The Movie: Performance (1970)

What Is It?: Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg make their directorial debut and Mick Jagger makes his acting debut and the results are certainly without precedent: a pop flick that plays more like a Bergman art house flick than an episode of “The Monkees”. Jagger only gets one chance to do his thing, but the “Memo from Turner” sequence is wild enough to sustain an hour and 45 minutes of personality swapping, sleazy sex, and queasy sound effects.

Why Today?: Today is Lips Appreciation Day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 167

The Date: March 15

The Movie: The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

What Is It?: Oh, Ted North. You made one terrible mistake. You picked up a hitchhiking Lawrence Tierney. Didn’t you know he was the king of psychopathic film noir? You will after this movie, daddy-o!

Why Today?: On this day in 1919, Lawrence Tierney is born.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Psychobabble's 100 Favorite Songs of the Fifties!

Attention, attention: Psychobabble is having a hop tonight, and you and yours are invited. So grease up your D.A. and pull on your boogie shoes. Those soles are gonna get a real work out because we’ve lined up the hottest rockers, hippest jazzbos, and wailingest blues bruisers to make you flip your lid. Get ready to jive and jump to… 

100. “Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)” by Bill Haley & His Comets

The party starts now, so let’s get this shack together, Daddy-O! Nail down the furniture, snap the lock off the liquor cabinet, and for christ’s sake, dim, dim those damn lights… I want some atmosphere. Bill Haley eases us in with one of his smoothest unions of rock and swing, but don’t worry, things are about to get crazy, man, crazy.

99. “Rockin’ Bones” by Ronnie Dawson

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 166

The Date: March 14

The Movie: Baby Doll (1956)

What Is It?: All the weirdness of a midnight movie fifteen years ahead of schedule. All the wildness, eroticism, and wit of a Tennessee Williams script. All the high-energy brilliance of a power-trio cast featuring Carroll Baker as a raging young-bride, Karl Malden as her gross husband hot to take advantage of her twentieth birthday, and Eli Wallach as an unlikely sexy suitor and cotton gin tycoon.

Why Today?: On this day in 1794, Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 165

The Date: March 13

The Movie: Pink Flamingos (1972)

What Is It?: John Waters gave the still-new Midnight Movie phenomenon a high-colonic by shooting it full of competitive murder, coprophagia, incest, infantilization, hardcore fellatio, castration, forced pregnancies, black-market baby dealing, chicken fucking, shrimping, and poop mailing. Somehow, Waters and Divine make it all amusing, weirdly charming fun even as Pink Flamingos hasn’t lost its ability to shock in 40-plus years. Personally, the only thing I find tough to watch is the singing anus.

Why Today?: On this day In 1781, William Herschel discovers Uranus.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 164

The Date: March 12

The Movie: The Graduate (1967)

What Is It?: Dustin Hoffman graduates college, decides against a career in plastics, can’t decide between Anne Bancroft and her daughter Katherine Ross, and drifts around looking adrift to a soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel classics. Classic!  

Why Today?: On this day in 1969, “Mrs. Robinson” wins the Grammy for record of the year.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Review: 'Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949-2003'

Oh, how many of us misspent our youth by rushing home from school and forgetting all about our homework to vegetate in front of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” or ancient reruns of “The Flintstones”? Well, the idea of reading a hernia-inducing, two-volume encyclopedia of such animated trifles may actually seem like homework. At least it might until you delve into Hal Erickson’s delightful though dryly titled Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949-2003. The great surprise of these books is not that their 950-plus pages bulge with history (I was unaware of how troubled the first season of “The Simpsons” was…or that Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, who’d address his Nickelodeon bosses as “scum-sucking pigs,” was as irreverently outrageous as his dog and cat team), production info, trivia (Wait… “Scooby Doo” was patterned after “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”? Jodie Foster voiced Pugsley on the “Addams Family” cartoon? Belgium produced nine Smurfs feature films in the sixties?), and criticism; it’s that Erickson captures the fun of his topic with writing that is polished and informative but also cracks wise quite regularly. What a relief.

I defy anyone to pick up these books and not immediately leap to her or his favorite shows, and Erickson generally does not disappoint by giving due room and attention to cult items such as “Duck Man” and “Liquid Television” as well as perennial favorites like “Space Ghost” and “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”. If there’s a significant flaw to this collection it's that it does not live up to its “Illustrated” designation a bit more, but I guess more pictures would have necessitated a third volume, and I’m not sure my puny, sunshine and exercise-deprived, “Groovie Goolies”-weakened muscles would be capable of lifting it.

Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949-2003 was originally published in 2005, and it is now going be reissued in its third revised edition. I received the second edition for review, so I'm not sure about what those new revisions entail.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 163

The Date: March 11

The Movie: Nosferatu (1922)

What Is It?: The first Dracula movie worth mentioning is still the scariest and most atmospheric. It’s always refreshing to watch a Drac who doesn’t even try to exude an iota of smarmy charm. Max Schreck’s looks like a shaved rat.

Why Today?: On this day in 1931, F.W. Murnau dies.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 162

The Date: March 10

The Movie: Swamp Thing (1982)

What Is It?: Wes Craven’s goofy adaptation of a comic book about a monstrous professor haunting the swamps of Louisiana was an afternoon HBO staple when I was a kid. Yes, it’s dumb. Yes, Adrienne Barbeau’s potentially interesting character is sacrificed to the creature’s need for a damsel to constantly rescue. Still, it isn’t boring and the creature has a definite Frankenstein-Monster charm.

Why Today?: On this day in 1804, the two-day ceremony in honor of  the U.S.s purchase of Louisiana from France begins.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Farewell, George Martin

Without him, there would have been no Beatles as we know them. George Martin didn't just produce their records--filling such tall orders as John's request that the listener could "smell the sawdust" on the fairground fancy "Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite"--but also giving the band the thumb's up so they could record for Parlophone in the first place. As a fine musician, his piano skills also brought genuine Rock & Roll life to "Money" or baroque elegance to "In My Life". 

Martin's legacy will forever be tethered to that of The Beatles, but he also produced records for a wide range of artists, including the Goons' comedy discs (which greatly impressed super-fan John), Shirley Bassey's orchestral pop, and Cheap Trick's hard rock. Needless to say, it is very sad that George Martin died yesterday at the age of 90, but he sure used those 90 years well.

Review: 'Experiencing The Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion'

Ever since I read Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why: The Beatles Album by Album, Song by Song, The Sixties and After, I’ve been hoping some song scholar would write a similar book about The Rolling Stones. In the twenty-five-or-so years since then, there have been similar serious-yet-lively track-by-track analyses of the music of The Who, The Smiths, and quite a few other artists, but never one about the Stones. When I saw the title of Experiencing The Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion, I was hoping that musicologist David Malvinni had written that book. He hasn’t.

It’s unfair to criticize a book for what I was hoping it might be with no more promise than a provocative title, but Experiencing The Rolling Stones is frustrating because there’s enough stuff in here to conclude that with more focus, patience, objectivity, and joy, Malvinni could have written the book I wanted to read. The detailed, historically informed attention he gives to “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Midnight Rambler”, and a few others songs could have also been applied to “19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Citadel”, “Time Waits for No One”, and all the other classics and oddities that barely get a mention in these pages. Instead, Malvinni spends too much time repeating the basic history printed in a thousand other books, getting mired in dry music theory that doesn’t really deepen one’s appreciation of the songs, and in an eccentric move that doesn’t bring anything valuable to the discussion, adopting a second-person voice to tell you how you first heard the Stones’ music in the sixties.

Furthermore, some of Malvinni’s analyses fail to convince because he is so smitten with his topic. As a fellow fan, I like the fact that he doesn’t trash acquired tastes like Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request, but his attempt to dilute the band’s notorious misogyny with a theory that Jagger’s lyrics “empower women to embrace their passion and seek pleasure beyond their narrowly defined societal roles” overreaches farther than Plastic Man’s right hand. Malvinni’s attempt to dismiss the misogyny of “Yesterday’s Papers” because it is about a real person (Jagger’s recently and cruelly discarded girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton) is borderline offensive. Other odd offerings include an attempt to cast Satanic Majesties as a concept album, a notion the author repeats a few times but never explains.

A book like this should also inspire the reader to listen to its topic’s music in fresh ways, but Malvinni goes the conventional route by only seriously analyzing the four LPs that are most often seriously analyzed: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. He zips through the Stones’ first six albums over the same number of pages he devotes to Beggars. He can only be bothered to spend ten pages on the eight albums that follow Some Girls. I’d never suggest those records constitute prime-era Stones, but ten pages? I just hope it isn’t another twenty-five years before someone else writes the Rolling Stones book of my dreams.
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