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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page)
to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.
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Thanks again. I'll definitely try to make this new year as rewarding
as possible, and hope that your's goes well too. If my calculations are
correct, as of some time later this year it will have been ten years
since I read The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism,
and the Movies and had my entire conception and understanding of art shaken
up and redirected, so, happy anniversary to me, and thanks again for
the Ozu retrospective in Berkeley was all but a total bust. The films
themselves were remarkably and consistently brilliant (Surprisingly so.
Even the early college comedies and crime melodramas were, without exception,
wholly elegant, and assured, and affecting.), but the audience response
was absolutely miserable. So much so that, as much of an obsessive weirdo
and complete-ist as I am, I finally just gave up in the final few days
and stopped going, missing the last six or seven films.
audiences were largely made up of tweedy, beret wearing, middle-aged Berkeley
types and listless students who were obviously being forced by their professors
to attend the screenings. The enlightened tweeds snorted and tsk'd at
every mention of an arranged marriage and the students snickered and giggled
at the melodrama. I know I shouldn't be surprised by a certain amount
of crowd stupidity but, given the subtlety and overall excellence of these
films, this was just too much to bear.
It just kills me that people's idea of multiculturalism somehow fails
to take into account that gee, maybe a movie made 70 years ago in fucking
Japan might have an understanding of values and family life and interpersonal
relationships that just might differ slightly from our own wised-up
all-knowing sense of postmodern irony.
Speaking of which, the ultimate irony is that, in these films, Ozu was
infinitely more tolerant and accepting and less judgmental of each
and every one of his characters than are the tskers and snorters who
I'm sure, to a person, pride themselves on their tolerance and acceptance.
You know all this. I'm just venting. Now I just wait for the films I
missed to come out on dvd in Hong Kong or where ever, buy 'em on Ebay,
and watch them by myself or with friends who aren't emotionally retarded.
It's bad enough dealing with my own stupidity and stubborn denseness
without having to listen to the snorting jackass sitting next to me
who gets up and leaves half a minute before the last scene actually
ends. (This happened A LOT. People so desperate to beat the "rush" and
be the first out the door that they grabbed their coats, slammed their
seats up, and headed for the exit in the final shot or scene of the
film. !?! What's more important than the last minute of an Ozu picture?!)
For now I'm going to focus on book reading and writing and let the audience
wear themselves out. Anyway, in response to your comment about sometimes
feeling that only students should be allowed access to these films,
right now I don't think ANYBODY should get to see them. Lock 'em up
until we all learn to grow up a little. We don't deserve them.
Wow, you are writing on Henry James and 19th century painting. Do you
realize how much of a wasteland is out there? How they are encouraging
cultural amnesia (or trauma, depending on your perspective)?
I belong to the generation
that was willfully mistaught and led astray. The mere mention of the
word "canon" leads to accusations of
hegemony or telelogical narratives (as if Aristotle is no better or worse
than Stuart Hall). To experience art, one should always be suspicious
of theory. Always. Without art and critical aesthetics, there is no intuition
or feeling. Only cold analysis and political one up man woman transgender
hetero homo western sub altern white black brown yellow red ship.
There IS a high and a low. We don't shit where we pray.
Of course, if I hadn't attended BU and encountered iconoclasts like
you, George Bluestone, or Tag Gallagher I wouldn't be questioning the
system. Go figure...
Thanks for responding,
Just a quick note. I really liked the Mike Leigh book and would
thank you for writing a book about his movies. I have read the
book once and
I feel I know so much more about film, life and so on from reading
don't understand everything but as I re-read it I'm sure I will learn
I live in Daytona Beach but I from a coal mining town in Wales so I
relate to the British characters in Leigh's films, I grew up around them.
I'm 35 years old and don't have that much education, I was refused entry
a British art school because i didn't have the necessary qualifications,
suprising when you come from a place that relies more on machismo, manual
work and is often anti-book.
But the great thing is that by reading books
like this it doesn't seem to matter so much that I haven't been to film
school or University, because for a couple of dollars I learn't that
doesn't matter where you come from but where you seek out knowledge to
improve your education. And that a film class that was only for middle
students is on a few dollars away ,and then up to myself to make the
to learn. I feel stupid that I thought I was inferior because i didn't
such and such a school and so on.
Thanks for making such knowledge available, it's a shame I grew up
around people who hardly read books (like I used to be) they are
missing out on so much. Thanks again,
dear ray carney
firstly i would very much
like to thank you for your book - "cassavetes
on cassavetes". reading this book gave me strength to get through
an incredibly tough time in my life.
now i have read you have just
found an 18min extra version of faces! will you be doing something
about releasing this to the public, i hope
take care and best of luck
many thanks once again
It's been far too long since
we corresponded - and the last time was via "snail mail."
Anyway, as a too often tired, stressed out mother of an almost two-year-old,
I've decided to expose all the other Moms to John Cassavetes. (I just
hope they can handle it) It's not easy to get his films on video, and
any help or direction you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Really,
some of these women have never seen anything even resembling an independent
film - not to mention a brilliant film like any one of John's...
Believe me, the passion lives.
I will say, without a doubt, you were the most influential professor
I ever knew at BU, and I'm itching to spread the zest for real independent
On a more personal side - my son is almost two years old now. And, I
am so elated with each and every sunrise to know that I have all this
time to spend with my little guy -- (a not so jaded and doesn't know
who Noam Chomsky or President G. W. Bush is) little individual.
I would love to hear your latest news and to know that things are well
with you and those you care for...
BU COM '91
I've been reading Flannery O'Connor's essays, and have been quite floored
by them, and wanted to share this with you:
"There are those who
maintain that you can't demand anything of the reader. They say the
reader knows nothing about art, and that if
you are going to reach him, you have to be humble enough to descend to
his level. This supposes that the aim of art is to teach, which it is
not, or that to create anything which is simply a good-in-itself is a
waste of time. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic;
it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo
the effort needed to understand it. We hear a great deal about humility
being required to lower oneself, but it requires an equal humility and
a real love of the truth to raise oneself and by hard labor to acquire
Hope all's well.
I read this in a
Flannery O'Conner essay recently and thought of you:
don't know if I am setting the aims of the teacher of English too high or too
I suggest that it is, partly at least, his business
to change the face of the best-seller list."
Another Flannery O'Connor
quote I wanted to share. This will be my last, I promise:
" The great
novels we get in the future are not going to be those that the public thinks
it wants, or those that critics demand. They are going
to be the kind of novels that interest the novelist. And the novels
that interest the novelist are those that have not already been written.
are those that put the greatest demands on him, that require him to
operate at the maximum of his intelligence and his talents, and to be true
the particularities of his own vocation."
Hope all's well.
My name is Felim Mac Dermott, I am writing to you from Ireland. I have
no doubt that you receive many emails every day from students and filmmakers
- and rightly so.
There are few books on filmmaking
that I have found more interesting than 'Pragmatism and Modernism'.
I feel that so often, books on cinema
draw on surface values - insubstantial values. Good filmmakers can create
work that inspire me to look at life differently. A simple gift maybe,
but so powerful. Imagine, looking at the world differently. These film
are rich in ideas - and are reflected in the work of great writers or
philosophers: as you very deftly noted in your book. In college, I re-read
your book & underlined it. It has been a source of information.
Anyway, the occasion for the email, is that in addition to work on books,
I run a bi-annual festival called Visions. This year we focused on Kieslowski.
We may focus on Cassavettes for 2005. I would value the opportunity to
discuss this with you. I hope that the prospects of travelling to Ireland
to be involved in the festival will be of interest to you.
My number is below, please feel free to ring or maybe drop me an email.
Felim Mac Dermott
My name is Matthew Newton and I am a recently educated Cassavetes
devotee--the work and the artist. I have just directed my first film
became overwhelmed by the universe shoving John Cassavetes under my nose
I took a whiff. Loved him and started to seek him out.
To say that Mr Cassavetes work and influence (albeit in a couple of
viewing and reading) kicked me up the ass to raise whatever funds I had
just shoot would be a massive understatement. Thank-you for your books,
insights and obvious love for someone who means so much to me.
Can you suggest any further research I could do--his way of working
resonates powerfully with my contemparies here in Australia and I'm keen
Hello Mr. Carney,
this is a message from a german cassavetes fan.
For any reasons I have found
your Cassavetes website not before some days ago,
though I`ve known some of your books for years.
I first want to thank you
very, very much for your work and your fight for
Cassavetes`legacy. Your book "C. on C." is one of the few books
I can open at
any page, whenever I feel depressed, read any sentence and feel much
because then I know again: there is something it`s worth living and working
and that the lies are not everywhere and almighty. It`s SO important
made the experience that it is POSSIBLE to do honest non-bullshit work,
there was and is somebody who DID it.
Last year there was a Cassavetes
retrospective here in Cologne and at last I had
the opportunity to watch LOVE STREAMS and HUSBANDS (in the original versions,
well I mean undubbed at least). I`ve been there with some friends and
HUSBANDS we could`nt barely talk: It was as if someone just had given
me back my
body and my living soul. It was a shock to feel so deeply ALIVE. And
Thank God I`m released from watching a MOVIE; AT LAST NO MORE MOVIE!
It was no
movie, it was something that saved my life and it would have been a bit
ridiculous to critisize it in terms of form etc. As if you critisized
itself ("well, you know, I think it`s a bit dumb everybody has to
die in the
end, he better should have..."). For me it`s a similar experience
writing: AT LAST somebody tells it how we all know it IS!
I was extremely pissed, when
I read your interview about the state of the
existing prints. ("Couldn't he send someone to Al Ruban or whoever,
him an offer he can't refuse...?"). In the best world there would
be at least a
DVD-Box-Set, which comprised each version of HUSBANDS Cassavetes ever
Dreyer-like version of "woman", the unabridged "faces"...
Well, I will shut up
and look forward to the Director`s Cut of Matricks... Why can`t you kidnap
Gates and force him to... I'd be the first to engage in fundraising for
Well, anyway. I think
what I`m trying to do is to encourage you not to give up
the struggle for Cassavetes`work and to tell you that this work MUST
It´s literally a question of life and death. Okay, YOU know that,
But there are many who don`t, and I think I was one of them.
I wish you all the best and good luck for your efforts!
Dear Mr. Carney,
|In all of this vastness, we are one of only 27,000 (according to the Verdants). Oh, miracle of miracles. One bright pearl. Rejoice at the good fortune. And work for change.
grown increasingly tired of my unfulfilling office job and I would like
to do something about it. Four years ago, I saw my first John Cassavetes
film, " Faces," and to say that it changed my life sounds corny,
dramatic, and trite, but it did. Within two months, I watched every Cassavetes
film. Then I bought copies of every film, spending time and money I didn't
have to track down rare copies of "Love Streams" and "
Too Late Blues." These films did something to me I can't put into
words. My thought processes evolved, not only about how I watch films,
but about how I live my life. I had always loved film, but I didn't know
movies could do that. I was beginning to dabble with writing, but the
confluence of Cassavetes' influence and other serendipitous life events
pushed me to write more seriously, nearly every night. My interest in
Cassavetes led me to your website and books. I can't thank you enough
for leading me to so many wonderful films and filmmakers and for pushing
me into new ways of thinking about old favorites, such as Mike Leigh,
Elaine May, and Jim Jarmusch. I find a voice in your writing that is missing
from much of both journalistic criticism and academic thinking. Which
leads me to the point of this e-mail. I have been seriously contemplating
applying for admission into the master's program for film at Boston University.
I would like more information about the program, and I have a question.
I'm torn between applying for film studies or film production. I'm seriously
interested in making films someday, but I'm not sure if academia is the
place to learn this. I'm not interested in establishing a career. I want
to explore what I'm capable of and push myself to try to create a lasting
piece of art. I just feel a bit daunted at learning to use the equipment
and figuring out ways to finance a film. I'm also deeply interested in
the film studies program, which seems to be one of the few alternatives
to the intellectual, politically correct stranglehold placed on most film
studies programs in the rest of the country. Is there any possibility
of completing both programs, or mixing classes from both?
Thanks for your time.
My name is Jay Bowen and recently we have been studying some of your
viewpoints in my film class at Florida State University. As an amateur
screenwriter who will likely never sell a single script because I'm incapable
of writing the kind of garbage typically gobbled up by studios, I have
to tell you what a breathe of fresh air your thoughts were. I particularly
enjoyed the following quote:
Besides being the world's most boring TV show, the Academy Awards obviously
have nothing to do with art. It's a three-hour commercial for bad movies.
Actors who can't act, writers who can't write, and directors who can't
direct get together and give each other little trophies congratulating
themselves on how wonderful they all are.
Words more true I rarely hear. Though I'm sure Hollywood probably looks
at your thoughts like college students do Joe Lieberman, you've got a
classroom full of people in North Florida who commend you for your pursuit
of salvation for the art we all love.
Dear Mr. Carney,
I'm a filmmaker from Portugal
and I have been a frequent visitor of your site for a couple of years
now. I've also read your book on
Cassavetes (Pragmatism, modernism and the movies) and your book on
Dreyer. I have to say that both readings were events that helped
change my perception of life and of art. It helped me understand why
Cassavates films affected me so much and that understanding was crucial
in finding my own way of creating films. I'm still finding, searching
the way, and that's great.
I so very much agree with
your observations about the way the press works to prolong the power
and influence of those that already possess
it. It's amazing how such a thing works in exactly the same way, even
in a small country like Portugal. Being an independent filmmaker
myself, I suffer the difficulties of trying to show my work in my own
country or having the press interested in what I am doing.
I know that you probably won't
have the chance to answer this email, but anyway, I would like to ask
you what are or views on contemporary
European cinema. I ask this because I haven't found any references to
it on your writings and interviews. Also because I think European
cinema lacks someone with your clarity and straightforwardness writing
about it - even though there are some very good critics still. If you
find the time, I would be very much interested in knowing your views
Subject: Cassavetes, et al, cost me a job!
Thanks for your wonderful insights into film, art and the human soul;
while I don't agree with everything you say, I do agree that Hollywood,
for the greatest part, acts as a domicile for idiots and the brain-dead.
This proved quite true when
a "producer" wanted to hire me
to write a screenplay; I've written several screenplays, most of them
much too controversial by today's Hollywood standards; people have likened
my writing to that Yukio Mishima's early work. (I suppose I don't have
a businessman's mentality when it comes to art; then again, I don't write
to pander to a common denominator; I write because I love to write, which
explains why I craft daily.)
Anyway, the producer said
he wanted to show the real world, wanted to show the truth and didn't
want to follow the typical Hollywood party
line. (In his words, no "Scooby Doo"s or "Scary Movie"s
or "American Pie" trash.)
He asked me about my favorite
filmmakers; I mentioned Jean Renoir, Billy Wilder and John Cassavetes,
in fact, I pointed to "Husbands" as
my favorite Cassavetes film, "Rules of the Game" as my favorite
Renoir film and "Sunset Boulevard" as my favorite Wilder film.
I never heard from this "producer" again; from what I understand,
he made a B-grade slasher film. So much for not following the typical
Hollywood party line. I suppose he sees "The Matrix" as the
antidote to all things crassly Hollywood; the reality here is that "The
Matrix" acts as a vehicle of enslavement, not as a vehicle of liberation;
Neo, as you say, is no more real than Bugs Bunny; my alternative to "The
Matrix" was a cyberpunk television show upon which I worked when
I lived in Seattle; I wanted to show how science, electronics, etc.,
can actually move a person away from personal liberation; I wanted to
show how humanity can exist and survive in a hostile world of make-believe,
that each person is unique, that each person has a soul that cannot be
happy as long as it's enslaved by anything, especially the status quo;
as the "Tao Teh Ching" teaches, I wanted to work from the internal,
not the external; the "producer" on this project opted to scrap
my work and use a storyline that focused on the main character acting
like Ayn Rand's John Galt -- perfect robot man or Mr. Roboto -- and having
an "obligatory scene" where two women initiate a lesbian relationship;
when I mentioned it might be more interesting for the male protagonist
to have a homosexual relationship, the "producer" scoffed;
needless to say, I didn't last very long on this gig. (It didn't off
the ground, by the way.)
And I've got to tell you about
this one; I wrote a commissioned piece about a Jewish boy whose uncle
buys a professional football team in the
60s; I didn't base the work on "The Titans" or "Bull Durham" or "The
Natural"; I deal with the relationship the boy had with his uncle,
who did everything in his power to deny his Jewish ethnicity in a Gentile
world, and with a friendship the boy develops with a fledgling quarterback,
a Floridian with a wife and kids and who attends a Baptist church; the
boy learns the reality of several worlds -- Jewish, Gentile, athlete,
lover, etc. -- with each world showing a unique truth to the boy.
My friends (those who love
Renoir, Wilder, Cassavetes, Haynes, et al) loved the work; the guy
who commissioned the piece asked if we could
make it into a "teen comedy"; I asked if he was kidding; no,
he said, he was quite serious; he thought it would be "cute" if
we showed the boy in the locker room handling dirty laundry (jockstraps),
and that we could use the dirty laundry as a "metaphor" for
the boy's world, and as a "metaphor" for how he felt about
his Jewish ethnicity.
I quit the project the next day.
At the moment, I reside in the greater Las Vegas area (out of necessity,
not desire); I do plan to move to LA, not to work in the studio system,
but to meet real actors; LA still has quite a few good ones around, and
I plan to make my own feature; I have the screenplay completed; I plan
to shoot in August or so; screw the studios; studio or not, I will craft
art; if not screenplays, then I'll write short stories or novels or work
with puppets; I don't give a damn; just as long as I craft on a daily
basis, I stay happy.
Thanks again for your work; take care, Dr. Carney, and have a great
I just wanted to let you know
that I think your book "Cassavetes
on Cassavetes" is one of the most organized and helpful tools to
understanding the mind of a filmmaker that I've ever seen. I didn't know
anything about Cassavetes except for the fact that he directed "A
woman under the influence" when I came to the NYU Film Program.
No one really talks about him here. It's surprising because he drew on
neo-realist styles like that of de Sica, Rosselini, and Fellini, (for
a film like Shadows) who are constantly talked about by Antonio Monda
(NYU italian cinema professor/pundit). But Cassavetes is simply neglected
in discussion here.
Anyway, I've been digging through the Cassavetes catalog and I think
his films are absolutely brilliant. In your book, I particularly love
the section that explains his method for directing and his differences
from Strassberg in what he likes/dislikes about character development.
I think that's extremely helpful. You never find stuff like that in other
books on directors. Your book is essentially a tour through Cassavetes'
life while giving thorough information on directing/acting for aspiring
If you know of other books that get into detail as much as yours, I
would love to know about them. I'm an aspiring actor/director and Cassavetes
is quickly becoming a model for my own personal artistic development/career.
(Name withheld by request)
Dear Mr. Carney,
I am a huge fan of your work! Your essays on Cassavetes and beyond
have really changed my outlook on film and life.
I have a question concerning the alternate prints of Husbands and
Bookie. In Pragmatism, modernism, and the movies, you wrote that they
exist". Are they at all accessable?
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for your time.
Dear Mr. Carney,
Why do you suggest that "Academic Animadversions" is
Ray Carney replies:
It's a joke. A wall to climb. A piece of barbed wire to get your overalls
caught on. Why else do you think I picked a word like
Animadversions? What kind of word is that? Since professors are
stupider than ordinary people, I wanted to scare them off. Or prick
their brains. Conjugations, confabulations, conundrums. Alliteration
is the enticement. Assonance the astonishment. It's the
pons asinorum. The fifth postulate. The
non-Euclidean dimension. Lobachevski rules! The white rabbit. The
red pill. The Bead Game. Magister Ludi. Three card Monte on a card
table house of cards.The Ithaca chapter of Ulysses. Energy is
eternal delight. A hundred heavenly hosts hurling hosannas in the
Highest. Te Deum. Tedium?
Dear Mr. Carney,
My name is Judd Apatow. I
was one of the producers of "The Larry
Show". I currently produce a television program entitled "Freaks
It is a realistic look at high school life in the early nineteen eighties.
I just wanted you to know that I have been inspired by your books about
Cassavetes. I came to his work late in my creative life, but I find him to
be an important influence. Our program was recently cancelled by NBC,
probably because it did not follow the rules of storytelling that television
follows religiously. While far from Cassavetes like in style, our show was
shot in a way that allowed the actors a lot of freedom to improvise and our
stories were not afraid of showing shades of our charcters that led to deeper
Thank you for calling attention
to this incredible body of work. Whenever I
read your books it inspires me to look deeper into myself and to find
courage to risk being bad in my attempt to seek honesty in my work.
Hello, cub reporter Adam Shea here with the scoop on the soundtrack tampering
that we discussed last night. I did some checking and have some interesting
findings to report. The tapes that I'll be referring to are the early
90's Touchstone Video releases (which I'll call the old tapes), and
last year's "re mastered letter boxed" tapes released as "The
John Cassavetes Collection" (I'll call these the new tapes). In
the love scene immediately following the argument after the spaghetti
breakfast, the old tape has Puccini on the sound track. On the new
tape this same scene has Bo Harwood piano music. I am absolutely certain
of this. Same scene, same edit, different music. Strangely, the earlier
scene where Mabel is waiting for Nick to return for their date has
the same opera music on both tapes. So the Puccini hasn't been totally
excised from the new tape, but is definitely missing from the love
The Chinese Bookie thing is a little trickier. Last night Chris Chase
said that he thought there had been music added to the scene where Comso
returns to the club, walks down the street to a cafe and meets the woman
that auditions for him. The same Harwood keyboard music is on both tapes,
but is used differently on each. On the old tape the music is very subtle
and quiet, and fades in and out of audibility. The music can be heard
faintly as the limo pulls up to the curb and Cosmo gets out, but fades
out as he walks to the cafe. In the new tape the music is much louder
and continues at a constant volume until Cosmo sits down. The opening
shots of the film where Comso is standing outside the club also have
this disparate volume level between the tapes. The music on the old tape
is very subtle and at times almost subliminal, while on the new tape
it's quite loud and very jarring to my ears after having seen the old
tape so many times. This volume disparity seems to be consistent throughout
the film, and I don't know which version to trust as being authoritative.
There is also a problem with the image quality on the new tapes. In
certain respects the colors are much richer and deeper on the new tapes,
but they are also so dark in some spots that you can't see much of the
image. An example that springs to mind is the scene at the beginning
at the bar where Nick argues on the phone. Most of the shots of the workers
are impossibly dark (compared to the old tape), and Hugh Hurd in particular
all but vanishes.
The Cassavetes Collection" also included Minnie, Opening Night,
and Mikey & Nickey. I haven't looked at these as closely as I have
the others so I'm not sure if these tapes have problems as well. I think
I'm going to take a closer look a Minnie and Opening Night this evening
after Lancelot is over.
If you need more details or
can think of particular trouble spots to look for on the tapes please
call me anytime. I'm extremely eager to
provide any and all assistance and help to you and your work that I can.
Today I was sort of half jokingly (but half seriously) thinking about
how there should some kind of "Carney's Raiders" type of advocacy
group. If there's anything that I can do- endless pestering letters and
e-mails, chaining myself to the theater door if that fucking Chinese
Bookie remake actually happens, embassy bombings, whatever- I'm game.
You lead and I'll follow.
You seemed a little beleaguered and exhausted when you were talking
about the C on C book on Friday. I'm assuming that you know that what
you do is important, and I'm sure(or at least hoping) that you get a
lot of positive support to counteract the negative. But I also know that
your work must be extremely hard and maybe even enervating at times,
and that it might be hard to always keep sight of whether or not you're
getting your message through. WHAT YOU DO IS IMPORTANT. Any body that
tells you otherwise is wrong. I find endless inspiration and energy in
your work. I don't always hear what I want. It's not always easy. But
it's important and has enormous and lasting value. Never let the discouragement
of all the fuckers that wish you would just shut up and go away let you
lose sight of the importance of what you're doing. Keep pushing. Keep
telling the truth.
And just for laughs, and with
no disrespect to the great Eric Clapton, also see
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