Harold Ramis: Empathy for the Rebel (Revisited)

haroldramis1-300x184

Consider this: a world without Animal House. Or Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

I can’t fathom how much less happy my childhood would have been without any one of them. A life without all of them? Unimaginable.

And I know I’m not alone. This is Harold Ramis’s legacy: he brought humor and happiness—the real, enduring kind—to millions of people. In a world (then, now) that is full of quick hits, tweets, 15 seconds of fame, weekend blockbusters, and increasingly formulaic, artistically DOA drivel, and their inevitable, unending sequels, it’s worth noting, and celebrating, funny films that endure. What makes a movie funny, of course, ultimately boils down to subjective criteria. But what makes a movie smart, particularly a funny movie that manages to also be smart, is a respect, if not affinity, with the viewer. Even at his most sophomoric (and the immortal Caddyshack might be the most sophomoric film consistently worshipped by adult males), Ramis was creating characters everyone could recognize and identify with on various levels.

Animal House, which Ramis co-wrote, aside from providing a template for so many comedies that followed, was notable for celebrating the outsiders and losers typically reduced to stock characters. We’re not talking about the underdog, necessarily, as that trope was well established (and predictable); Animal House subverted the entire notion of what being a “winner” meant. Delta Tau Chi was not just the fraternity that accepted the outcasts no other house would have, it was the fraternity full of guys who wouldn’t have any other fraternity.

The misfits and miscreants of the Delta House were rebels with a cause. Yes, they were down for mayhem and shaking things up by any means necessary, but they also lifted a middle finger at convention. They weren’t misunderstood so much as they understood they wanted no part of a culture that equated conformity with success and imitation as the most insincere form of self-flattery.

Naturally, it being a movie, the good guys get the last laugh, but importantly, all the ostensible winners get their comeuppance down the road. As has been widely noted, Ramis & Co. appreciated that the insufferable weasels from Omega House would be the ones working for Nixon and being fragged by their own troops in Vietnam. It’s a conclusion that is satisfying and depressing, because while true in part, everyone knows our country is still mostly run by the Omegas.

animal-house

As silly as the movie gets the further it goes along, Stripes is notable for following a similar course: it’s the soldiers who refuse to, or are unable to, become part of the machine who ultimately succeed. It’s a fantasy, but one that adheres to reality: it’s the fat, ugly, unbearably plain citizens who do the dirty work and don’t usually have movies made about them. Ramis’s oeuvre comprised a Hall of Justice for the nerds; people old enough to know there are no super heroes, but young enough to realize we could use them from time to time.

As sheer escapism Ramis’s films are reliably consistent and satisfying. But we root for his protagonists because they are so ordinary, so fallible, so identifiable. Not for nothing was Caddyshack based on his own experiences as a caddy: the material probably wrote itself. Of course, even the best writing is doomed if the perfect actors are not cast. It’s difficult to imagine Caddyshack without Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, but it’s impossible to consider it without both Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield. John Candy in Stripes, Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters, every role in Animal House (especially John Vernon as the impeccably named Vernon Wormer), Stephen Tobolowsky in Groundhog Day: Ramis knew he needed the exact fit to sell his stories.

Speaking of Groundhog Day, this is generally considered his masterpiece; the Ramis film any adult can worship without embarrassment or circumspection. Is it a comedy cleverly disguised as a philosophical treatise, or vice versa? Perhaps it’s a bit of both, though it’s difficult, as usual with Ramis’s best films, to imagine a different cast. As a vehicle for Murray, Ramis gave him the opportunity to do some of his best work, and Murray in turn gave substance and nuance to what might have otherwise been a great idea on paper. Mostly, this movie is a slyly large-hearted affair, with the one-two punch of compassion and humanity transforming a repeated gag into something that resonates with repeated viewings.

Speaking of large hearts, while Ramis is rightly venerated for his mind and imagination, there is no doubt that he wrote and directed from his heart. One gets the sense, watching his work, that the plots are not engineered in order for the righteous to triumph so much as Ramis couldn’t bear the alternative. He was humble about his success and that humility informs almost everything he did. It’s the reason so many people quote his scripts and the reason he is arguably the most emulated comedic director of his generation. He was a likeable guy who made likeable films about likeable people. Not a bad way to spend one’s life.

Perhaps the greatest gift an artist can provide is the miracle of making you feel young. When you feel innocent, uncorrupted, optimistic, and it’s not the result of kitsch or sentiment, there is a sort of magic at play. Ramis is one of the best things that happened to kids coming of age in the early ‘80s. He remains one of the best things for us as we’re dragged into middle-age, kicking and screaming.

The coarser our discourse becomes, the more refreshing Ramis’s films remain. Their lack of pretension and cynicism offer a course of defiance, where we smile instead of surrender. We’ll return to his movies partly for nostalgia’s sake, and there’s nothing wrong with that: something making you yearn for a familiar experience has its own type of magic. His films remind us that occasionally, the good guys win. In this regard his work was also the story of his life.

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Harold Ramis: Empathy for the Rebel (One Year Later)

haroldramis1-300x184

Consider this: a world without Animal House. Or Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

I can’t fathom how much less happy my childhood would have been without any one of them. A life without all of them? Unimaginable.

And I know I’m not alone. This is Harold Ramis’s legacy: he brought humor and happiness—the real, enduring kind—to millions of people. In a world (then, now) that is full of quick hits, tweets, 15 seconds of fame, weekend blockbusters, and increasingly formulaic, artistically DOA drivel, and their inevitable, unending sequels, it’s worth noting, and celebrating, funny films that endure. What makes a movie funny, of course, ultimately boils down to subjective criteria. But what makes a movie smart, particularly a funny movie that manages to also be smart, is a respect, if not affinity, with the viewer. Even at his most sophomoric (and the immortal Caddyshack might be the most sophomoric film consistently worshipped by adult males), Ramis was creating characters everyone could recognize and identify with on various levels.

Animal House, which Ramis co-wrote, aside from providing a template for so many comedies that followed, was notable for celebrating the outsiders and losers typically reduced to stock characters. We’re not talking about the underdog, necessarily, as that trope was well established (and predictable); Animal House subverted the entire notion of what being a “winner” meant. Delta Tau Chi was not just the fraternity that accepted the outcasts no other house would have, it was the fraternity full of guys who wouldn’t have any other fraternity.

The misfits and miscreants of the Delta House were rebels with a cause. Yes, they were down for mayhem and shaking things up by any means necessary, but they also lifted a middle finger at convention. They weren’t misunderstood so much as they understood they wanted no part of a culture that equated conformity with success and imitation as the most insincere form of self-flattery.

Naturally, it being a movie, the good guys get the last laugh, but importantly, all the ostensible winners get their comeuppance down the road. As has been widely noted, Ramis & Co. appreciated that the insufferable weasels from Omega House would be the ones working for Nixon and being fragged by their own troops in Vietnam. It’s a conclusion that is satisfying and depressing, because while true in part, everyone knows our country is still mostly run by the Omegas.

animal-house

As silly as the movie gets the further it goes along, Stripes is notable for following a similar course: it’s the soldiers who refuse to, or are unable to, become part of the machine who ultimately succeed. It’s a fantasy, but one that adheres to reality: it’s the fat, ugly, unbearably plain citizens who do the dirty work and don’t usually have movies made about them. Ramis’s oeuvre comprised a Hall of Justice for the nerds; people old enough to know there are no super heroes, but young enough to realize we could use them from time to time.

As sheer escapism Ramis’s films are reliably consistent and satisfying. But we root for his protagonists because they are so ordinary, so fallible, so identifiable. Not for nothing was Caddyshack based on his own experiences as a caddy: the material probably wrote itself. Of course, even the best writing is doomed if the perfect actors are not cast. It’s difficult to imagine Caddyshack without Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, but it’s impossible to consider it without both Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield. John Candy in Stripes, Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters, every role in Animal House (especially John Vernon as the impeccably named Vernon Wormer), Stephen Tobolowsky in Groundhog Day: Ramis knew he needed the exact fit to sell his stories.

Speaking of Groundhog Day, this is generally considered his masterpiece; the Ramis film any adult can worship without embarrassment or circumspection. Is it a comedy cleverly disguised as a philosophical treatise, or vice versa? Perhaps it’s a bit of both, though it’s difficult, as usual with Ramis’s best films, to imagine a different cast. As a vehicle for Murray, Ramis gave him the opportunity to do some of his best work, and Murray in turn gave substance and nuance to what might have otherwise been a great idea on paper. Mostly, this movie is a slyly large-hearted affair, with the one-two punch of compassion and humanity transforming a repeated gag into something that resonates with repeated viewings.

Speaking of large hearts, while Ramis is rightly venerated for his mind and imagination, there is no doubt that he wrote and directed from his heart. One gets the sense, watching his work, that the plots are not engineered in order for the righteous to triumph so much as Ramis couldn’t bear the alternative. He was humble about his success and that humility informs almost everything he did. It’s the reason so many people quote his scripts and the reason he is arguably the most emulated comedic director of his generation. He was a likeable guy who made likeable films about likeable people. Not a bad way to spend one’s life.

Perhaps the greatest gift an artist can provide is the miracle of making you feel young. When you feel innocent, uncorrupted, optimistic, and it’s not the result of kitsch or sentiment, there is a sort of magic at play. Ramis is one of the best things that happened to kids coming of age in the early ‘80s. He remains one of the best things for us as we’re dragged into middle-age, kicking and screaming.

The coarser our discourse becomes, the more refreshing Ramis’s films remain. Their lack of pretension and cynicism offer a course of defiance, where we smile instead of surrender. We’ll return to his movies partly for nostalgia’s sake, and there’s nothing wrong with that: something making you yearn for a familiar experience has its own type of magic. His films remind us that occasionally, the good guys win. In this regard his work was also the story of his life.

Share

Harold Ramis: Empathy for the Rebel

haroldramis1

Consider this: a world without Animal House. Or Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

I can’t fathom how much less happy my childhood would have been without any one of them. A life without all of them? Unimaginable.

And I know I’m not alone. This is Harold Ramis’s legacy: he brought humor and happiness—the real, enduring kind—to millions of people. In a world (then, now) that is full of quick hits, tweets, 15 seconds of fame, weekend blockbusters, and increasingly formulaic, artistically DOA drivel, and their inevitable, unending sequels, it’s worth noting, and celebrating, funny films that endure.    What makes a movie funny, of course, ultimately boils down to subjective criteria. But what makes a movie smart, particularly a funny movie that manages to also be smart, is a respect, if not affinity, with the viewer. Even at his most sophomoric (and the immortal Caddyshack might be the most sophomoric film consistently worshipped by adult males), Ramis was creating characters everyone could recognize and identify with on various levels.

Animal House, which Ramis co-wrote, aside from providing a template for so many comedies that followed, was notable for celebrating the outsiders and losers typically reduced to stock characters. We’re not talking about the underdog, necessarily, as that trope was well established (and predictable); Animal House subverted the entire notion of what being a “winner” meant. Delta Tau Chi was not just the fraternity that accepted the outcasts no other house would have, it was the fraternity full of guys who wouldn’t have any other fraternity.

The misfits and miscreants of the Delta House were rebels with a cause. Yes, they were down for mayhem and shaking things up by any means necessary, but they also lifted a middle finger at convention. They weren’t misunderstood so much as they understood they wanted no part of a culture that equated conformity with success and imitation as the most insincere form of self-flattery.

Naturally, it being a movie, the good guys get the last laugh, but importantly, all the ostensible winners get their comeuppance down the road. As has been widely noted, Ramis & Co. appreciated that the insufferable weasels from Omega House would be the ones working for Nixon and being fragged by their own troops in Vietnam. It’s a conclusion that is satisfying and depressing, because while true in part, everyone knows our country is still mostly run by the Omegas.

animal-house

As silly as the movie gets the further it goes along, Stripes is notable for following a similar course: it’s the soldiers who refuse to, or are unable to, become part of the machine who ultimately succeed. It’s a fantasy, but one that adheres to reality: it’s the fat, ugly, unbearably plain citizens who do the dirty work and don’t usually have movies made about them. Ramis’s oeuvre comprised a Hall of Justice for the nerds; people old enough to know there are no super heroes, but young enough to realize we could use them from time to time.

As sheer escapism Ramis’s films are reliably consistent and satisfying. But we root for his protagonists because they are so ordinary, so fallible, so identifiable. Not for nothing was Caddyshack based on his own experiences as a caddy: the material probably wrote itself. Of course, even the best writing is doomed if the perfect actors are not cast. It’s difficult to imagine Caddyshack without Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, but it’s impossible to consider it without both Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield. John Candy in Stripes, Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters, every role in Animal House (especially John Vernon as the impeccably named Vernon Wormer), Stephen Tobolowsky in Groundhog Day: Ramis knew he needed the exact fit to sell his stories.

Speaking of Groundhog Day, this is generally considered his masterpiece; the Ramis film any adult can worship without embarrassment or circumspection. Is it a comedy cleverly disguised as a philosophical treatise, or vice versa? Perhaps it’s a bit of both, though it’s difficult, as usual with Ramis’s best films, to imagine a different cast. As a vehicle for Murray, Ramis gave him the opportunity to do some of his best work, and Murray in turn gave substance and nuance to what might have otherwise been a great idea on paper. Mostly, this movie is a slyly large-hearted affair, with the one-two punch of compassion and humanity transforming a repeated gag into something that resonates with repeated viewings.

Speaking of large hearts, while Ramis is rightly venerated for his mind and imagination, there is no doubt that he wrote and directed from his heart. One gets the sense, watching his work, that the plots are not engineered in order for the righteous to triumph so much as Ramis couldn’t bear the alternative. He was humble about his success and that humility informs almost everything he did. It’s the reason so many people quote his scripts and the reason he is arguably the most emulated comedic director of his generation. He was a likeable guy who made likeable films about likeable people. Not a bad way to spend one’s life.

Perhaps the greatest gift an artist can provide is the miracle of making you feel young. When you feel innocent, uncorrupted, optimistic, and it’s not the result of kitsch or sentiment, there is a sort of magic at play. Ramis is one of the best things that happened to kids coming of age in the early ‘80s. He remains one of the best things for us as we’re dragged into middle-age, kicking and screaming.

The coarser our discourse becomes, the more refreshing Ramis’s films remain. Their lack of pretension and cynicism offer a course of defiance, where we smile instead of surrender. We’ll return to his movies partly for nostalgia’s sake, and there’s nothing wrong with that: something making you yearn for a familiar experience has its own type of magic. His films remind us that occasionally, the good guys win. In this regard his work was also the story of his life.

Share

Being the Ball: What We Talk about When We Talk about ‘Caddyshack’ (Revisited for Ramis)

cs_273

Well…we’re waiting!

Actually, you already read this review.

You already wrote this review.

You can easily recall, now, when it occurred to you, sometime between the fifth or fifteenth (or fiftieth) viewing that everything possible to say about Caddyshack has already been said.

So you initially thought it might be advisable, if ironic, to discuss Caddyshack without invoking a single line from the movie. Eventually you realized that what we talk about when we talk about Caddyshack is…Caddyshack. Not quoting lines from Caddyshack to discuss Caddyshack, therefore, is only slightly less conceivable than going a single day without quoting (to others; to yourself) a line or three from Caddyshack. You are, of course, congenitally incapable of not quoting from Caddyshack. You are, after all, a male member of the genus Homo Sapiens (American species: Dude).

You’re no gentleman!

But you are also not a woman, so you can quote Caddyshack and you will defend Caddyshack.

Don’t worry about this one; if you miss it, we lose.

You arrived at the age, sometime between junior high and yesterday, where the lines you love so much from Caddyshack frequently sound funnier when your friends say them. Or when you say them to yourself. (It looks like a miraculous…it’s in the hole!). You may not know much, but you are fairly certain this is one unquestionable ingredient of a classic.

You’ve never stopped and thought about this, but if you ever stopped and thought about it you might think “Wait, the script is silly, the storyline is sophomoric, the acting of at least half the cast is execrable, the soundtrack features Journey and Kenny Loggins and above all, a donut with no holes is not a Danish!” Still, you would eventually come around and acknowledge that Caddyshack is not unlike the theory of relativity: you cannot understand it and you could never hope to explain it, but you are perceptive enough to concede it. Just like every other self-respecting doctor, judge or clergyman—and the loopers who rely upon their honor (your honor).

You’ll get nothing and like it!

You know: chinch bugs; manganese…a lot of people don’t even know what that is. You do, however, and even though these words are not particularly funny on the page, they are almost miraculous on the screen. Needless to say, we know they represent imperative components of any assistant greenskeeper’s knowledge base.

Nobody says those things about you as far as you know

(Cannonball coming: how to adequately appraise the climactic encounter between Carl and Ty? You appreciate that the entirety of this deranged pas de deux was improvised on the set. You appreciate even more that in real life Chevy Chase and Bill Murray could barely stand the sight of one another (the pond would be good for you…). You especially appreciate that during this scene, and pretty much all the others in the movie, most of the characters were as drunk and drugged as they (weren’t) pretending to be.)

You wonder how Harold Ramis, here in his directorial debut, measures himself against other filmmakers. A: By height.

You never forget to be grateful that Caddyshack served as the successful vehicle that made Rodney Dangerfield – at that point a known but not well-known comedian—into one of the best-loved rascals in Hollywood. First there were the epic Miller Lite commercials (remember those? Of course you do) and then the solid, if second-tier treasure Back To School. (Rest in peace, Al, and remember: country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate.)

You still get choked up (tears in his eyes, I guess) remembering what a genius Ted Knight was, and the unbelievably good sport he proved to be for taking part in this insanity. (Rest in peace, Elihu; let’s hope you are loofering stretch marks in Heaven.)

You’re a tremendous slouch!

You still regret not winning that scholarship to St. Copious of Northern…and you make it a point to pour tributes to poor Carl Lipbaum—who died in summer school from that severe anxiety attack and you still can’t believe that your roommate, Mitch Cumstein, was night-putting with the fifteen year old daughter of the dean.

How about a Fresca?

You are not so sure about that, (who drinks Fresca now; who drank Fresca then?) but you’re damn certain that you ain’t payin’ 50 cents for no Coke.

Is this Russia?

No, so you can count on some bonus material with this 30th Anniversary Special Edition. Along with the theatrical trailer (it’s no big deal) you get Caddyshack: The 19th Hole (that’s a peach, hon), a documentary with interviews, outtakes and some candid recollections from Ty Webb himself. You don’t get a free bowl of soup, but if you buy the Blu-Ray version you also receive Caddyshack: The Inside Story (more interviews, etc.).

Go for it: you might not otherwise learn that the original screenplay revolved around the caddies, and only once big-time (non-golf playing) players came on board (Spaulding, get your foot off the boat!) did the movie…evolve. It may not seem like much, but the fortuitous embellishment provided by these…adults served to ensure that Caddyshack did not degenerate into Meatballs II (Madonna with meatballs!).

To summarize, you hope that Caddyshack has prepared you for the possibility that one day you might get tired of having fun all the time. When you die, on your death bed, you will receive total consciousness (so you got that going for you, which is nice).

You already knew that.

Gunga-Galunga.

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The Coolest Man In The World Cheers on The Greatest College

Bill Murray

(Props to Derek Eads for the genius above.)

What can you say about this? (Huge h/t to Dan Steinberg and his D.C. Sports Bog for bringing this magical moment to our attention).

Everyone knows Bill Murray is the coolest dude in America. And everyone should know that George Mason is the coolest university. Okay, that second part is a stretch, but alumni are entitled to be irrational, particularly after that Final Four run in 2006.)

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Being the Ball: What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Caddyshack’

Well…we’re waiting!

Actually, you already read this review.

You already wrote this review.

You can easily recall, now, when it occurred to you, sometime between the fifth or fifteenth (or fiftieth) viewing that everything possible to say about Caddyshack has already been said.

So you initially thought it might be advisable, if ironic, to discuss Caddyshack without invoking a single line from the movie. Eventually you realized that what we talk about when we talk about Caddyshack is…Caddyshack. Not quoting lines from Caddyshack to discuss Caddyshack, therefore, is only slightly less conceivable than going a single day without quoting (to others; to yourself) a line or three from Caddyshack. You are, of course, congenitally incapable of not quoting from Caddyshack. You are, after all, a male member of the genus Homo Sapiens (American species: Dude).

You’re no gentleman!

But you are also not a woman, so you can quote Caddyshack and you will defend Caddyshack.

Don’t worry about this one; if you miss it, we lose.

You arrived at the age, sometime between junior high and yesterday, where the lines you love so much from Caddyshack frequently sound funnier when your friends say them. Or when you say them to yourself. (It looks like a miraculous…it’s in the hole!). You may not know much, but you are fairly certain this is one unquestionable ingredient of a classic.

You’ve never stopped and thought about this, but if you ever stopped and thought about it you might think “Wait, the script is silly, the storyline is sophomoric, the acting of at least half the cast is execrable, the soundtrack features Journey and Kenny Loggins and above all, a donut with no holes is not a Danish!” Still, you would eventually come around and acknowledge that Caddyshack is not unlike the theory of relativity: you cannot understand it and you could never hope to explain it, but you are perceptive enough to concede it. Just like every other self-respecting doctor, judge or clergyman—and the loopers who rely upon their honor (your honor).

You’ll get nothing and like it!

You know: chinch bugs; manganese…a lot of people don’t even know what that is. You do, however, and even though these words are not particularly funny on the page, they are almost miraculous on the screen. Needless to say, we know they represent imperative components of any assistant greenskeeper’s knowledge base.

Nobody says those things about you as far as you know

(Cannonball coming: how to adequately appraise the climactic encounter between Carl and Ty? You appreciate that the entirety of this deranged pas de deux was improvised on the set. You appreciate even more that in real life Chevy Chase and Bill Murray could barely stand the sight of one another (the pond would be good for you…). You especially appreciate that during this scene, and pretty much all the others in the movie, most of the characters were as drunk and drugged as they (weren’t) pretending to be.)

You wonder how Harold Ramis, here in his directorial debut, measures himself against other filmmakers. A: By height.

You never forget to be grateful that Caddyshack served as the successful vehicle that made Rodney Dangerfield – at that point a known but not well-known comedian—into one of the best-loved rascals in Hollywood. First there were the epic Miller Lite commercials (remember those? Of course you do) and then the solid, if second-tier treasure Back To School. (Rest in peace, Al, and remember: country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate.)

You still get choked up (tears in his eyes, I guess) remembering what a genius Ted Knight was, and the unbelievably good sport he proved to be for taking part in this insanity. (Rest in peace, Elihu; let’s hope you are loofering stretch marks in Heaven.)

You’re a tremendous slouch!

You still regret not winning that scholarship to St. Copious of Northern…and you make it a point to pour tributes to poor Carl Lipbaum—who died in summer school from that severe anxiety attack and you still can’t believe that your roommate, Mitch Cumstein, was night-putting with the fifteen year old daughter of the dean.

How about a Fresca?

You are not so sure about that, (who drinks Fresca now; who drank Fresca then?) but you’re damn certain that you ain’t payin’ 50 cents for no Coke.

Is this Russia?

No, so you can count on some bonus material with this 30th Anniversary Special Edition. Along with the theatrical trailer (it’s no big deal) you get Caddyshack: The 19th Hole (that’s a peach, hon), a documentary with interviews, outtakes and some candid recollections from Ty Webb himself. You don’t get a free bowl of soup, but if you buy the Blu-Ray version you also receive Caddyshack: The Inside Story (more interviews, etc.).

Go for it: you might not otherwise learn that the original screenplay revolved around the caddies, and only once big-time (non-golf playing) players came on board (Spaulding, get your foot off the boat!) did the movie…evolve. It may not seem like much, but the fortuitous embellishment provided by these…adults served to ensure that Caddyshack did not degenerate into Meatballs II (Madonna with meatballs!).

To summarize, you hope that Caddyshack has prepared you for the possibility that one day you might get tired of having fun all the time. When you die, on your death bed, you will receive total consciousness (so you got that going for you, which is nice).

You already knew that.

Gunga-Galunga.

 

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