Benjamin (serbanj) wrote,

B-fest 2016: They deafened me with SCIENCE!

I’m still juggling the same mix of exhilaration and fatigue as when I finished B-fest 2016 every time I sit down to write about B-fest 2016.  Plusses abounded, starting with the increased presence of family and friends that allowed this to be a real weekend vacation, not just one movie marathon.  No coming in off a work day.  No consecutive sleepness nights in a row.  I got a few days off for Chicagoland and made them count.  And the Fest itself had some amazing chances to see people who make for great “single serving friends.”

But make no mistake about it, by the end of the festival itself – wiped.  Not so much of the pure exhilaration that accompanies the best of the B-fests.  There was something about this particular run of movies that was thoroughly draining (I know, who’d have thought force-feeding oneself bad cinema would do that)?  Will definitely be back for another round, but this is one of those years when I’m glad it won’t be happening again for awhile.  But as everyone is pointing out, when B-fest 2016 got memorable, it was… well, not one I’ll forget anytime soon.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the pre- or post-fest festivities just because I think although they’re more interesting to me than to anyone who might read about them on the Internets.  But quick shout outs to a few people and places:  First, Elissa, my awesome wife, who managed a personal record of nearly nine hours’ worth of B-fest in her third year of attendance.  Quite a lot of B-fest considering how Not One Of Us she is when it comes to SF/F.  Second, to Jeremy and Sarah for, respectively, Fest attendance and just being an awesome person who we hadn’t seen in way too long.  Third, to Tuscano’s, Orange, Pick Me Up, and Chicago Diner for the good eatings.  Fourth, to the staff and bartenders at the Hala Kahiki lounge for accommodating the large group from the B-movie Message Board who show up way too early (starting a night of drinking at 7 and leaving at 10?  C’mon, people…) and serving us Scorpions and such.

Also also special mentions to Mark for hanging out with us at the bar past the rest of the group’s bedtime and to him as a comrade in riffing, and to Becca, Tristian, and the rest in the Greater Lemur Zone.  And to Tim for another disc of some sort of quality.

Okay, so ostensibly the point of this thing was to watch some movies…

The Adventures of Hercules (1985)
The second Hercules movie to feature Lou Ferrigno, this got B-fest off to a potentially rather smashing start… except for the projector/film issues that have so defined this festival, even in the DVD/streaming era.    When the movie first started, the dialogue was basically inaudible – not that it mattered too much during the opening recap of the previous movie, complete with its rear-projected dragons that clearly had no contact with the actors and such.  But eventually the film stopped outright, and when it re-started, the problem was in the opposite direction; it was deafeningly loud.  This had the unfortunate effect of making the sound effects basically intolerable and more or less driving the wife screaming from the theater.  Unpleasant knock on the film, which is the kind of cheese I get a kick out of – nonsensical stuff involving Greek gods, pointless fight scenes every ten seconds, and chees/e/beefcake aplenty from Lou and the two hot chicks who alternately serve as his damsels in distress or his sidekicks.

We had fun with the beyond cheap special effects and the inept Italian cinematography and – especially – the nonsensical plot with its flying moons and gathering of McGuffins.  Fans of referencing other B-fest movies adored the unintentional ways in which it serves as a sequel to Metalstorm and/or a prequel to Xanadu.  Even better, and serving to justify the whole damn thing even for those who hated the rest, was the climactic final battle in which the hero and villain are represented by vector graphics and morph into an ape and a dinosaur to pay tribute to King Kong vs. Godzilla.  I swear that I was awake, and that this actually happens in Hercules.  But for audience participation, nothing could top the film’s reference to Menos (the villain’s) tools as representing “science” or “the science of Menos.”  Science apparently gave him things like magical flaming swords, lasers from his eyes, and nets made of lightning.  The film makes reference after reference to science, which apparently also embodies the forces of Chaos in the war against Order.  Soon, as a shorthand for this, everyone took to just yelling “SCIENCE!” whenever something magical happened.  And then in other movies whenever some actual science took place.  And then just at random.  This threatened to become a Fest-wide running gag, at least until it just kinda stopped around midnight.

Oh, and somehow I completely forgot until reading it in Bro-Rag’s recap just now that some prepared folks ran up to the stage at various times to hold up captions in Greek when Hercules hit or kicked anything.  The implication was that these were the equivalent of the “POW!”  “BAM!” etc. shit that the old Batman TV show did… don’t know how accurate they were, since it was Greek to me.
Movie quality: Weak
B-fest rating: Good

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)
Had high hopes for this one based on its breathless trailer about ancient Aztec goddesses and “scientists of both sexes!” (a lie, by the way – no female scientists in this movie).  It wasn’t quite as much fun as all that, as the Aztec stuff pretty much disappears after the first ten minutes and it turns into a monster-in-a-lab movie like many many others, with a monster resembling the cheap non-union equivalent of the Blob.  I don’t have much to add, but it was another chance to yell “SCIENCE!” a lot.  The increasingly unhinged guy who gets possessed by Caltiki was a fun scenery chewer, and all the explosions and fires at the end were fun too.
Movie quality: Decent
B-fest rating:  Decent

Americathon (1979)
And then this happened.  Americathon is a mess of a film about President Ted Ritter deciding to save a bankrupt America by throwing a massive telethon, and the efforts to sabotage it.  We finally ran out of oil, as the intro explains, and we see video of a country where cars are what the overpopulated populace lives in before getting into traffic jams whilst biking to work.  A then-sitting President (Carter) getting assassinated is used as a throwaway joke early on.  Those trying to buy up the country include rich Native Americans (who run a cabal called NIKE – National Indian Knitting Enterprise - that plasters its brand on everything), kleptomaniacal Chinese tourists, and an oil-rich Jewish-Arab alliance (the Hebrabs).  Um…. yeah.  I’d actually half expected a conservative-leaning political satire of some sort, but the movie doesn’t really have any teeth; it’s more something from the Zucker school of throwing as many possible random gags at the audience and seeing what sticks.  It’s too tame and corny to even be offensive - the racism and homophobia and such just blend into the film’s desperation to get a laugh by whatever scattered means it can think of.  As he does in every movie in which he has a cameo, Meat Loaf steals the whole movie in his brief role.  Another running gag came from the line that a Vietnamese exotic dancer (or something; played by a white actor in yellowface makeup) uses to reciprocate Ritter’s desire to get laid:  “soup’s on!”  This was one of those insane choices where the audience tends to spend the time reacting and wondering “how did this get made?” rather than actively riffing.  I remember almost none of the specifics about this movie, but the overall experience of watching it was certainly memorable.
Movie quality: Bad
B-fest rating: Good

Calling Dr. Death (1943)
You can tell B-fest is starting to get to you when you find yourself thinking that a movie like this isn’t really too bad.  Keep in mind that this is a movie in which hypnosis can easily be induced by swinging something shiny back and forth and is a reliable way to elicit the truth, and where it’s a basic skill that every good neurologist has.  Also, a major plot point involves setting fire to an office by leaving a bottle of “acid” near a phone and then calling long distance to make it ring.  Anyway, Lon Chaney Jr. gives an increasingly unhinged and tortured performance (well, of course he does) as a neurologist whose unloving wife ends up dead, and he very very slowly pieces his way through the fact that he can’t remember the last few days and thus suspects himself.  Hypnosis is involved.   We had fun with the worthless voiceovers, the fact that the character framed for the murder is named Robert Duval, and the dogged police investigator who won’t stop stalking Lon.  At one point one character or another goes to a nearby town whose name I can’t be bothered to remember but it’s something like Frost Lake, and the fact that items from that town’s pharmacy show up in Lon’s office is meant to be suspicious.  A few in the crowd with good comedic timing got a thing going where they’d yell in mock horror “Frost Lake has a pharmacy?!”  You probably had to be there.

During this whole thing, I kept being struck by the level of competence on display here.  Again, keep in mind we’d just watched Americathon, so a plot that (mostly) makes sense was a bit of a novelty.  But the print was crisp and the shot framing and cinematography were right on.  I just found it odd that this little cheapie from the ‘40s was far more appealing, visually speaking, than just about anything else we’d seen so far.  Plus, it’s pretty short, which is always a perk in a movie marathon.  Calling Dr. Death was, for whatever it’s worth, one of the most successful movies of B-fest when judged purely as a film.  Granted, it’s slow as hell.  Granted despite sucking at mysteries even I correctly pegged the killer about ten minutes into the movie.  But hey, you can’t have everything.
Movie quality: Decent
B-fest rating: Good

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
I don’t have anything new to say about this.  It’s Plan 9, same as always.  We do it every year.  The tall chiropractor still is not Bela.
Movie quality: Bad
B-fest rating: Excellent

I didn’t mention the annual short film, The Wizard Of Speed And Time yet, which is because the attempt at showing it pre-Plan 9 led to one sound-free version and then a bunch of failed attempts to get things to run.  We were sure this was the year we’d finally broken the reel.  But Post-P9FOS, the Wizard was shown in all his glory, forward and upside-down/backwards, and we did our little thing running with our feet on the stage.  We thanked the organizers profusely for making it happen for one more year.

The Human Tornado (1976)
Rudy Ray Moore makes his long (?) awaited return to B-fest, here in a movie which he basically wrote, directed, choreographed, etc. where he plays his signature (I guess) character, Dolemite.  Here’s where fatigue starts to set in, but did technically stay awake for the whole thing and what I remember can basically can be summed up pretty accurately by the [NSFW!] trailer - - which my wife and I got into watching over and over leading up to the Fest and yelling “the HU-man tor-NAY-DAH!” at each other at random intervals.  So, yeah, that’s exactly the type of movie THT is.  It’s both every bit as fun and every bit as inept as it looks, it’s hard to say how seriously anyone was taking any of it, and it pretty much speaks for itself.
Although you can tell how tired I was that I got into the ending, which suddenly makes the suggestion that those drawn into this life of violence might see it all end in an instant, or something…
Movie quality: Weak
B-fest rating: Good

The Fucking Garbage Fucking Pail Fucking Kids Fucking Movie (1987)
Actual title may be slightly different.  I knew going in that this would be the big challenge of the night, and it lived down to that.  Did sleep for 20-30 min, but somehow didn’t have a hard time following the rest of the movie.  Okay, so for those not unfortunate enough to have grown up in the late ‘80s, the Garbage Pail Kids were a line of trading cards, a parody of Cabbage Patch Kids that was all about gross-out humor.  So I got to grow up while my classmates during lunch would be giggling at the kid taking a bath in urine or whatever.  (Was the wrong sort of kid to be entertained by the stuff.)  Someone without a soul decided that the property should be spun into a cash-in movie, and here you go.  I avoided reading anything about this thing in advance because I knew how much I’d hate it, and later learned that it became a bit of a rarity due to a successful effort by angry parents’ groups to limit its release.  We’ll pretend that they just didn’t want their children exposed to poorly made misconceived cinema.

Basically, a half dozen or so of the Kids (played by dwarf actors) wreak havoc on the world – one of them farts a lot and the film treats this is a deadly attack, one of them has a nose constantly running, one of them is an anthropomorphic alligator with a nearly-sexual desire to bite unwilling victims’ toes (??), etc.   The movie is apparently under the impression that they’re lovable scamps, even as they do things like harass random bystanders at a movie theater or start fights at bars.  Their antics are too crude for the kids and tweens that the movie was apparently aimed it; it’s not just the gross-out stuff, it’s that the Kids are also up for boozing and sexual come-ons.   (Oh, and apparently I slept through a rape joke – always a staple of the best kids’ movies.)  More to the point, the problem is that their behavior is consistently loathsome, but the movie seems to think that they’re the heroes.

So how do we know that this movie isn’t actually a parody of a little kids’ movie that’s actually aiming at an older, more irreverent audience?  Well, one, it wasn’t marketed that way.  But basically I just can’t imagine either the Garbage Pail Kids property nor their movie holding much appeal to teens.  It’s way too silly and over-the-top, and it’s full of jaunty group sing-alongs and trite lessons about the dangers of judging people for how they look.  A really high proportion of the alleged comedy is directed at the age group for whom boogers, vomit, and urine are inherently funny – i.e. the young’uns.  And that audience can’t really be expected to relate to the struggles of the main human character to impress his crush while she strings him along with undisguised cock-tease dialogue.

By the way, an aside about that.  This may actually be the grossest part of the whole movie, more so than Valerie Vomit or whoever.  Our audience surrogate human kid looks about ten, but the dialogue insists that he’s fifteen.  His crush is old enough to drive, and really looks at least six years older than him.  The age difference is far beyond jarring.  However, as I later learned, the two actors were apparently dating at the time.  Just typing that made me moderately nauseous.

Okay, anyway, the film moves towards its thrilling climax in which the Kids are exploited for their clothes-making talents (yeah, I don’t know either), and then imprisoned for being “too ugly.”  They break out, and unleash their vengeance by ruining a fashion show, farting on or vomiting on villains and bystanders alike, or throwing them through tables, and literally stripping the clothes they manufactured off of the models wearing them.  (The models have never personally wronged them – the Kids are just assholes.)  As the movie expected us to cheer, my hatred of the filmmakers expanded to include the entire 1980s, because this movie embodies everything that was wrong with that decade.  For the benefit of the human species, it might make sense to just eradicate everyone in any way involved with this movie or any other other ‘80s movie, and maybe also cripple anyone who ever bought a Garbage Pail Kids trading card.  Hell, we could also sponser to punch everyone in the face other than maybe Elissa and me who lived through the ‘80s, just to be safe.  I recognize that this may not seem like a rational response to someone who did not spend 100 minutes of their life watching this shit, but those who haven't have no basis to judge.

And yes, its B-fest rating will be “Good.”  A proper survey of bad movies includes the most loathsome and the memorable, and this horrific excuse for a movie fits both bills.
Movie quality:  ABOMINATION
B-fest rating: Good

Blood Mania (1970)
Time for more sleep!  Missed about an hour of this and just caught the end, which featured minor blood and minor mania.  I’d been led to believe that this was a softcore porn movie, but reports of those who were awake is that it was something far more sinister – an Art Movie.  Supposedly there were occasional boobs but mostly really long scenes of nothing as the filmmakers showed off their film-school chops without bothering to have anything happen, ever.  People around who stayed awake deeply hated this one.  And from talking to others from other parts of the auditorium during intermissions, Blood Mania was the clear consensus choice for worst-of-fest, with several folks explicitly yelling about it somehow, some way, being worse than The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.  Kinda sorry I missed most of it, just to see whether it’s even physically possible to have a movie worse than its predecessor.
Movie quality: [unable to rate]
B-fest rating: [unable to rate]

Moon Zero Two (1969)
Things immediately perked up with an amazing animated intro that concisely and entertainingly tells us of commerce leading to the end of the Cold War, and drilled the movie’s theme song deep into our heads.
Then we had to watch the rest of the movie in all its slow-paced glory.  I’ll admit that my seatmates and I spent the first half hour or so repeating the same two jokes.  One was randomly singing the theme song, which is self-explanatory.  The other, inspired by a reference to something costing “12,000 moon dollars,” was to take every opportunity to add “moon” or “space” to the beginning of every common noun.  And it wasn’t like the movie (or rather, moon movie) wasn’t helping us out – the bar that the characters hang out at is called “Moon Bar,” and there’s even a brief game of (really) Moonopoly.  I think my best riff was referring to a character’s stylish eyepiece as a “moonacle.”  This whole train of jokes was way more amusing than anyone who’s not acutely sleep deprived can understand.  MZT eventually develops a nonsensical story about murder, betrayal, love, and plots to crash asteroids made of gemstone or something, but it all happens so very slowly.  There’s clearly a lot of 2001 in MZT’s DNA, what with a lived-in future full of chain restaurants and commercial space-liners… it’s like 2001 with more interest in character development and more colorful fake-future fashion sense, but much much less overall ambition.  Quite appreciated what the movie was trying to accomplish, and it was fun overall, but definitely overstayed its welcome some.
Movie quality: Decent
B-fest rating: Good

Low Blow (1986)
A more sedate than it should have been piece of cheese featuring a bad Bruce Lee knockoff as an ex-cop who plays by his own rules but gets the job done.  Also there’s a lot of scenes set at a cult on a farm which seem like they come from a totally different movie about belief and betrayal and weighty shit.  Also there’s the loud yet lifeless soundtrack played almost entirely on synths, relentlessly infusing the movie with an extra sheen of ‘80s-ness.  I’m a bit of a minority among the B-fest crowd in that I get bored quickly with ‘80s action movies about bros hitting stuff, but this one had way less hitting than I’d been led to expect.  The inept fight sequences (featuring a martial arts/pit-fighting tournament, of course, and eventually an enemy group about as competent as the Miami Connection street gang, naturally) provided some entertainment value, as did the way our Asian hero and his black ally develop a friendship and understanding built on racial slurs.  This was one I didn’t really get into at all for whatver reason, although I admit that the ebb and flow of a sleepness night sometimes distorts one’s appreciation of the cinema.
Movie quality: Weak
B-fest rating:  Weak

The Fifth Musketeer (1979)
Featuring an all-star cast (well, Ian McShane, Lloyd Bridges, Alan Hale, and a few others of that ilk), TFM is purportedly based on The Man In The Iron Mask.  Haven’t read that one, so can’t say how faithful it was.  But with Starbucks finally open and coffee flowing freely for the rest of the festival, we sat down to enjoy some swashbuckling… and to a Festie, couldn’t quite understand what this movie was doing here.  Briefly, an older D’Artegan has a young ward who turns out to be the secret twin brother of the king of France, and identity-swapping hijinx ensue.  The original Three Musketeers are also in the movie, but don’t really do much.  And the main point of this all is that the plot of this movie makes sense, the actors are pretty good, and it looks like a reasonable budget went into making the costumes and the sets look respectible.  It’s way longer than it needs to be, but the fight scenes are just fine, and there are way worse ways to spend a couple hours than watching this thing.  In short, how is this either a bad movie or a B-movie?  Yes, believe it or not, a film can fall flat at B-fest for simply being too good.  The plus side was that watching a decent movie was a bit of a break in and of itself, given what had come before.

I got off another well received riff when King Louie’s concubine is passive-aggressively insulting the soon-to-be queen of France, and her trained hunting bird (a falcon or something) strategically sets up shop where it can glower and block escape.  I said “okay, there’s some serious trash-hawking going on.”  At the time, it was funny.  Really.
Movie quality: Decent
B-fest rating: Weak

Roar (1981)
Coming back from lunch break, we roll into… this.  I was expecting something pleasantly inept, like an Australian cat-focused version of Frogs.  What we got was something very very different.  Numerous captions let us know that the filmmakers worked with untrained wild animals and that none of them were harmed.  It makes no mention of whether the human actors were injured, maimed, or possibly killed without noticing.

Roar then gives us a movie set almost entirely in or around a large multi-level hut-style house in an African wildlife refuge.  Said house is utterly infested by lions, tigers, and the occasional jaguar.  Most of the people being menaced are a real-life family – overwhelmed patriarch, mother who always fights off hysteria, scared teenage daughter, and terrified pre-teen son; they move into this place, realize that the jungle cats have full run of the place, and spend the next hour and a half trying to leave.  Our heroes never antagonize the animals, and the animals only go for the kill during the more scripted parts (about 80% of the action seems unscripted, seriously), but these are clearly wild animals with no qualms about swatting or biting at each other, other species of cats, or humans.  Occasionally there will be a staged bit in which the dad will, say, try to escape and go for help, and his path will be blocked by a couple of angry charging elephants or aggressive giraffes (really), and then the action moves back to the house to get pawed at by lions some more.

There’s minimal acting required or on display – they look terrified of suffering major injuries the whole time they’re on camera, especially the kids.  No one’s that good an actor.  It legitimately looks as if basically someone threw some folks in a room with gigantic carnivores, hit “record,” and stepped back to see what would happen.  Now, I’ve always had a strong environmentalist streak in me, so I’m totally in favor of living in harmony with nature, but common sense dictates that harmony often entails stepping back and leaving lions and tigers the fuck alone to admire from a great distance (and not forcing lions and tigers to live in the same place, for that matter).  You can visibly see cast members suffer a few injuries here and there, and as a viewer, I was worried that there would be worse to come.  I’ve never seen a snuff film, but this must be what it’s like to watch one… one that goes on for 90 minutes.  Even the ending is weird and off base, as (spoiler!) our heroes never actually escape, they just get comfortable.  The final shot has the main family relaxing on the roof of the same damn house, coffee cups in their hands and sleeping jungle cats curled up around their feet, who presumably went right back to mauling as soon as the cameras stopped rolling.

As I learned later, apparently the backstory is almost exactly what it looks like.  The whackjob animal-loving couple orchestrating the whole thing over more than five years were the main actors, filming in their own (California) home with some of their own lions, and they subjected their own children, as well as numerous cameramen et al, to dozens of horrific real-life injuries.  Melanie Griffeth, who plays the daughter, almost lost an eye at one point, and that footage still made it into the movie.

At the time, I can’t say I enjoyed Roar, per se, because it’s so repetitious, and I was just so stunned and unable to entirely believe what I was watching.  Most of the riffing was replaced by just reacting in a daze, because what else can you do with a movie like this?  Even during the break between movies I was wandering around trying to engage people in conversation to try to process what exactly had just happened.  I can honestly say that no experience to date has never been anything quite like watching Roar, and this was the right crowd with whom to do it.
Movie quality: Bad
B-fest rating: Excellent

Kansas City Bomber (1972)
Elissa and Jeremy unexpectedly popped back up again after having left overnight to partake in more “fun.”  Star Raquel Welch  takes us inside the seamy underside of roller derby, which this movie apparently believes is like an unscripted version of pro wrestling, with people getting flipped on their heads thrown into the crowd, bombarded with trash while an overly enthusiastic announcer mimics the audience chants, etc.  As such, there’s lots of senseless violence on display.  And a bland plot involving a creepy love story involving the owner of the team, a fading diva who develops an instant dislike to the new girl in town (and brawls with her on the train tracks that the team bus is riding along, for some reason), and so on.  But mostly, roller derby.  Like most “good” sports movies, it actually pulled the camera back long enough to let the viewer follow the flow of the game (too many d the hyperkinetic editing thing that’s better for action movies than sports).

My part of the theater focused a lot of riffing on the injuries that the characters would have suffered had it been real, especially the head trauma.  Lots of gags about the different attitude towards concussions in contact sports in the ‘70s.  The other most memorable moment was when I got a fairly extended sing-along (okay, more of a song lyric recite-along with no singing) started.  I started quoting the Cake song “The Distance” during a sequence in which the arena was empty except for one man, still driving and striving etc. etc., and others picked up on it.  For some reason nearly everyone else seemed to find this one dull, and I have no idea why.  I had a lot of fun with it as exactly the palate cleanser it should have been.
Movie quality: Decent
B-fest rating: Good

The Super Inframan (1975)
The Fest ended with a bookend to the Hercules movie which started it, as Planet Telstar brought us a personal favorite of its sponsor.  This is a Hong Kong children’s film which Tim warned us would be “a little slow for the first 15 seconds or so.”  I tried to push to watch in Mandarin with subtitles, but those who knew the film felt that the dubbed lines like “No matter how potent your weapons are, you'll be defeated because Infra-Man is invincible against them” were an essential part of the Infra-Man experience.   The SCIENCE! jokes came back in full force, as aliens from inside a volcano of something take over the planet, but thanks to the efforts of SCIENCE! we have a superhero who can fight them.  Infra-Man’s powers are vaguely defined but do involve “thunderball fists.”  Also, the villain is named “Princess Dragon Mom.”  And also, there are about a thousand differently absurdly cheap looking rubber-suit “monsters” in the movie, with a typical exemplar below:
And then after you’ve seen a representative sample of Intra-Man - like about 20 minutes - you pretty much get the point and endure the rest of the festival in hopes of one day leaving the auditorium.  It was worth it, though.  Enjoyment somewhat tempered by how bored Elissa got by the end, and by how draining this whole festival was.
Movie quality: Bad
B-fest rating: Decent

I’m tired of writing about B-fest 2016 now.  Good weekend, good and crazy festival; there’s nothing else that compares to B-fest.  A few more asides:
- This year's Cherryh book:  Downbelow Station
- Boo on the organizers for persistently cutting off the end credits.  If you’re going to wait ten minutes between movies anyway, sure, turn the lights up, but run the damn credits so we can hear the closing songs.  I'm still waiting for that cheese-rock singer to finish explaining how if I get sent to the principal's office, I can be a Garbage Pail Kid.  At least they stuck with Low Blow long enough to give us the post-credits stinger of that one.
- The Fest’s continually being stuck in the ‘70s and ‘80s just might be the thing that gets me to break down and try to sponsor something next year.

Same time, next year, everyone?  You know I’ll be there, despite the lifestyle and scheduling related to medical SCIENCE!!!…
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