Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #2: A Piece of Cake: Charlie Chaplin

148 posts in this topic

As many have said with the comedy today, they really aren't that funny because they do border on bathroom humor. I have never found that funny.

 

Just the quick movements with Charlie stealing the food and the man looking and no cutting away was a funny gag. The sets with it being a middle shot were so you could see both men and their reactions when Charlie would take the food and the man would try and catch him. 

 

We see gags so many times because it's been repeated yet we still ind some of them funny. Especially Chaplin when you see him straight faced as the gag is set up and delivered. 

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Questions:

1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

I agree, because the silent movies relied exclusively upon the visual while today's movies can be explained auditorilyy. But for instance, in 1974-75 Young Frankenstein, the portion where Gene Wilder's character stabs his thigh with a scalpel is still visually hilarious without sound. In the same film, when Wilder hits Igor's shoulder and the hump is on the other side - both are visually in line with the silent movie era.

 

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

Everything is in front of the camera: Chaplin and the vendor, and even the framing of the policeman has no movement of the camera. The vendor, after greasing up the skillet and losing the hot dogs to the dog, and Chaplin stealing the centered cakes, is all at the same angle. And you can picture, even today, the same scenes of a food truck of today.

 

 

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

I don;t think it covers the five elements that were described earlier, but Chaplin shoveling numerous cakes into his mouth and eating them, reaching and coming back with comedic timing between him and the vendor would certainly echo a silent film would not need any verbalization to offer and would work in today's films.

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Questions

 

1. The immense amount of time management for the scene, and everything went in it , and how it took place. It just shows how prevailing and accurate films were then. The detail in them was greater than today. Too many effects today. 

 

 

 

 

2. The elements that make a gag good is the surprise. You have to pay close attention and not miss anything to know what will happen next because it builds upon the next scene.

 

 

 

 

 

3. I agree with Canby that I think silent movie then had much more of an effect on visual comedy than today. The one thing that stands out is they always ket you wanting to watch whereas movies todays or films you are already predicting what will happen next. I too think with silent films you had to pay more attention to all the details where as now you can halfway watch and catch up.

 

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I agree with Youngson. I think props & acting played a part in this gag.

The gags were great in the silent era more so than now in our era. Charlie & Syd did a excellent job in the execution of this gag! :)

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I'm in complete agreeance regarding visual comedy missing that extra something the silent classics indeed possess. A main staple of key importance within A Dog's Life is without a doubt camera placement and movement. In that, it doesn't, as stated in Canby's excerpt. We, as an audience, aren't directed to focus entirely on Chaplin or the owner of the stand. There isn't a shot reverse shot continuously implemented as a back and forth mechanism. We aren't given that type of instruction as though to say, "here comes the gag, this is the character to watch." We are given a simplicity in the camera's setup, and then allowed to watch either character as we choose.

 

This creates audience engagement, and we anticipate the outcome of the stealing and consumption of each cake. Will the owner turn around in time and catch The Tramp? How will The Tramp react to the owner possibly placing an obstacle in his way? Will someone else come into the shot and complicate matters for either or both character(s) further? Cutting to and from character to character strips the audience of a kind of active involvement. We almost become spoon fed the outcome when our attention is directed in such a way. Also, in stating it simply, there is a certain type of humor in watching someone consume a large portion of food in one take. (I highly advise anyone reading this post to watch an episode of 30 Rock titled "Sandwich Day." Single take, no camera movement, Tina Fey and a rather large sandwich. This is what great, current comedy is made of. The scene is also reminiscent of The Tramp and his cakes.)

 

I would like to specifically highlight the acting as a discussion regarding A Dog's Life. Chaplin's decision to employ a one take concept, while eating multiple cakes cannot have been an easy execution. He undeniably achieved the effortless atmosphere with his acting, but to consume so much food without laughing, coughing, inciting hiccups, or even gagging, I imagine, was very difficult. He also had no liquids in the scene, which probably made the cake consumption even that more challenging. Chaplin likely created the visual comedic aspect of quick and stealthy eating. (On a side note, I wonder if any competitive eaters have ever honored Chaplin. I can understand how and why they would.) Nonetheless, Chaplin was clearly a true pro in his endeavors of creating clever material for The Tramp.

 

In all honestly, I believe this short film undoubtedly paved the way for the implementation of food in comedy. A routine with food can be very funny if performed correctly. Everything obviously centers on successful execution of a gag, or even a joke. But, Chaplin drawing from his surroundings and allowing guidance from his own imagination, I'm certain paved a foundation for a variety of aspects equating the true definition of comedy. He took simplicities and turned them into an everlasting artistic form of entertainment. Sheer genius.

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

Well I do not think that something is missing in today's comedies from the days of silent films. I think the best way to sum it up would be WHO is in the comedy film. Who knows that kind of comedy. Take the late Robin Williams, he could do silent comedy, he could do voices, he could do any kind of comedy because he knew the rules and the history of it.

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

The food the cook puts out on the trey, the dog, the cooks knife and its just simple.


3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

We see this gag so many times these days but in forms of other items if not with food. But the best example i could give would be

-a child

-a jar of cookies

-the child's mom

and just see what would happen.

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I'm catching up so I'll just go straight to answer the questions and then I'll browse the replies...

 

First, I tend to agree with Agee/Youngson about today's visual comedies. Although modern comedy benefits from new visual tricks, I do think that excessive cuts and editing hinders the overall effect of slapstick and comedy gags.

 

Second, the gag benefits from the set, which is placed perfectly to allow for Chaplin's posture and the upward perspective of the cook. I'm not sure if the cake plate counts as a prop, but I was thinking how careful could they have been to make sure there was a specific amount of cakes on the plate. And, although this is definitely not about the props, but I kept thinking "How can Chaplin fit all those cakes at once in his mouth?" :D

 

Finally, I do think it has contributed a lot to history of slapstick for many reasons. First, it is a simple gag, funny and clean. Like I said on another thread, I've seen it copied/borrowed on Chespirito's comedy (Mexico) and it still makes me laugh.

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Hello Everyone, 

 

1.  I agree with Agee and Canby, that there is something missing from today's comedy in comparison to the silent era comedy.  The simplicity and child-like quality make silent era comedy so endearing.

 

2.  This gag is highly effective with its visual comedy for several reasons.  The camera's central focus brings us in as a bystander watching what is happening.  Its obvious that Chaplin is sneaking baked goods, yet the chef doesn't realized it.  Chaplin quickly downs each one in one bite-nearly choking on one.  Then as the plate of goodies dwindles in quantity, Chaplin pretends there are bugs and slides the plate over.  Even then, the chef, still doesn't catch on.  Finally the chef realizes Chaplin is eating the baked goods, grabs a salami, is ready to thump him- when Chaplin makes a quick escape- and the chef wallops the cop instead.

 

3.  This gag's contribution to slapstick is simplicity and timing.  These are two indispensable elements of comedy that current comedy often lacks.  

 

Thank you  ;)

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1. Yes, I agree with Canby. The visual comedies of today are missing a raw-ness, effortlessness, and the follow through with humor and laughs.

 

2. The physical use of space and setting played a role in helping with the gag, along with props. Also a connection piece in the story.

 

3. The gag contributes to influencing intricacies and cleverness of gags that followed.

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I can see that with very little variation in the position of the camera and through long shots, Chaplin manages to capture the entire “landscape” and meld together the setting, storyline, and the mood, expressions and emotions of the players.   

The acting is so effective…the story is conveyed through a string of innovative comedic sketches interspersed with scenes that frustrate us and stir up emotions.  The realities of the Depression Era  are immediately introduced - vagrants, deteriorated structures, thread worn and  mismatched clothing, hunger, homelessness, unemployment lines, cheap rooming houses – people subjected to hardships not so different from the gang of dogs seen running rampant, displaced, and scrounging for/ fighting over food.  People retreat to the dance/beer hall and enjoy the occasional beer and hotdog, but the for the most part are trapped by their circumstances.  The film has an “epic” quality  - the acting is soulful and full of contrasting emotions as Chaplin (the hero)  and the dog bond and struggle ( eventually resort to stealing) to survive and overcome  a series of obstacles (both comedic and dangerous)  and ultimately triumph and find peace and prosper in the countryside.

 It’ s no wonder that scholars are so enamored with this film and feel that modern visual comedies are “lacking”.  The numerous gags – now classic and familiar - captivate us and (in between bouts of sorrow) our laughter builds up from setup to finish. This is unlike the “broken up”/less “revealing” comedy trending today that Canby refers to…cameras cut away to capture “bits” of humor/zingers and canned laughter.  I agree sketches today often aren’t as well acted and don’t appear as dangerous or complicated, and if we compare things to this film, so pure and honest, but physical comedy/ pantomime still appears in selected post era and recent sitcoms and comedy films and still makes me roar with laughter.

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

 

Today's audiences are much different than an audience in Chaplin's time.  Because more people back then, knew what it meant to go hungry.  Not for staying "fashionably thin" but because jobs and money were scarce.  Times were leaner, tougher.  Chaplin showed this, but also showed a humanity about it, he was more humane.  There are still tender moments, human connection, animal companionship, all the basic things that soften the edges in life.  Do I agree with Canby?  To a degree.  I don't think the things that we find funny has changed.  It's also the attitude, experience and temperature of the audience.

 

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

The placement of the policeman's face as if "framed" in the cart as he watches Chaplin's character plain as day about to lift the last bit from the vendor's plate to eat then immediately put it back.  Very strategic and planned.  The timing of the vendor looking back at Chaplin's character every time he grabbed something off the plate and stopped chewing (but also didn't leave a puff of food in his cheek, but kind of hid it).  I did have a hard time seeing the vendor not catching on as Chaplin's character is the ONLY one there, and I didn't even really see anybody else standing in line or hanging out or passing by the cart.  I guess, less distractions and more focus on what Chaplin was doing.  Everyone, including the dog, was supporting role.

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

It's about precision and planning.  NO scene like that would've worked unless it's fervently worked on, thought out, measured, timed before planning it to film.  You want to do it over and over until it looks "natural" "sharp" and "hits" the mark.  Like a well oiled machine.

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Chaplin's uncanny ability to "turn on a dime", a skill co-opted to great effect by Lloyd, could not be appreciated if the scene had been edited piecemeal. This sort of editing, common to many of the lesser clowns and often employed due to budget constraints, robs us of watching a seemingly incongruous event unfold in real time and diminishes our appreciation of the comic performance. Chaplin was second to none when it came to using the split second transition.

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Today's slapstick still depends on surprise, shock and sometimes violence, as it did in the old days. However, there is less reliance on facial expressions. Notice in the Chaplin A Dog's Life clip how the merchant looks around for his missing food items in an exaggerated fashion and raises his eyebrows and glares at Chaplin and the dog. These are all hammy mannerisms by today's standard of acting but very effective. We still see this occasionally, such as in the Dumb and Dumber movies, for example. The movie Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy, depended more on extreme stunts for its slapstick.

 

In the Dog's Life clip, Chaplin and the dog both display pathos for sympathy more than laughs. That was the genius of Chaplin: emotion accompanies the laughs.

 

Most movies today have some serious undertones, even the most outrageous comedies.

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I can agree with Canby to some respect. There is something missing in visual comedies today. In the silents, it was all physical acting leading up to a gag. Today we get the verbal story, the lead in then if needed there will be a visual or physical gag completing the joke. The audience is told the story instead of living it with the silent comedian. With Chaplin, you live through the gag with him, watching him stealing the buiscuts and the hot dogs for the dog. It's more fun to think our way through a situation than to be told about it.

The set in itself shows the outlook of the scene. It shows that the cook isn't very rich himself and is trying to guard his wares only to have them taken by Chaplin.

A gag like this contributes to slapstick comedy because it leads up to the chase or the fight after Chaplin has been caught.

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I agree with Canby because when you think about comedies that have been out in recent years, they don't contain that magic that the silent movies had. In A DOG'S LIFE, the elements that made the gags effective were the props. It made it look so easy. All the gags that were used in the silent movies has become the history of silent movie era and slapstick comedy too.

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  1. Because of the severe clash in technology, subject matter, and quality of hilarity when the silent era of movies is compared to today's, you end up with substantially different outcomes.  For instance, these days, you wouldn't get many laughs for stuffing your face with cakes while the owner's back is turned.  Life was simple back then, so these types of scenes understandably garnered laughs.  This type of example can go both ways; its clear simplicity is enjoyed, while, yes, it could (and should) get a good sense of feedback if shown today, while it may not be extremely popular.  Today's comedies rely on completely dissimilar styles than those created during the silent era, so it's safe to say that something is definitely lost in today's comedies, while, yet, many new things are adapted and novel. 

 

Some elements that emphasize the comedic actions of Chaplin in this short include, first and foremost, the acting of the tramp.  He had a style all his own that made whatever he did purely enjoyable to watch.  The naive yet terribly clever tramp never backed down from anything that got in his way, for better or for worse.  Also, the actions of the shop owner are interesting and crucial to the generic slapstick gag.  Throughout the scene, he realized his cakes are gone, yet, most likely, can't realize where they've gone to.  It is this basic, and again, simple (with more than one meaning) horseplay that constitutes the brilliant stupidity of what's happening in any given slapstick scene.

 

This gag, given its executor and its time, offer tremendous inspiration to the artists following Chaplin.  The tramp was known for fooling and tricking almost every character in his films, and it is this that, I think, gives the utmost genesis of great slapstick minds and their results. 

 

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

 

I agree there's a difference. The same thing could be done today, but more likely they'd cut away between takes so the actor could spit out the cakes; you wouldn't wonder how he fit so many in his mouth--maybe they were just cake shells?--you'd know what was happening when they cut away. It's funnier watching Chaplin make innocent faces between feasts and watching how the two actors coordinate so the baker can't see the theft. 

 

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

The window in the back of the food truck that the cop looks through. Funny place for a window. It's hilarious that the baker has to know why his cakes are disappearing, but feels he has to catch Charlie red-handed, even though Charlie's the only one anywhere near.

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What's missing from more recent comedy?  Truly great clowns.

 

In this clip from "Always Leave Them Laughing" (which we'll see next week), Bert Lahr explains the secret of the truly great clowns.  

 

 

In this episode of "The Abbott & Costello Show", Lou Costello is a truly great clown.

 

 

 

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1.  I agree with Canby. It seems like the comedies today lack originality, timing and the use of facial expressions by the actors.  With all of the comedies that are made, very few of them can stand the test of time the way a classic film like "A Dog's Life" can.

 

2. I think the acting stands out in "A Dog’s Life". Chaplin’s comedic timing and facial expressions along with the cook’s quick movements make this movie hilarious.

 

3.I think the  spontaneity of the gag in this film  has made a major contribution in the use of adlibbing done by comedic actors. 



 

 

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

 

​*I agree. Chaplin is perfect in his tming and execution. it's a flawless bit of comedy that plays on something childlike and simple that resonates with charm. It's not flashy or garish. It works on a basic level. No frills.


2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

*The timing between actors is perfect. I also think the props are perfectly placed to match the camera's angles. The set is very simple and has a lot of room for Chaplin to move, it's the openness of the space that gives him some room to play with pacing. 


3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

​*I think the idea of  timing, flow and the notion that you need a partner for the gag. This would not be funny if there was no one there making food while Chaplin ate behind his back. I think you see the early development of comedic timing w/ a cast.

​The set up is just a important here as the execution of the gag.


 

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1. I agree that framing is an often underused element in good comedy, but it is still being used skillfully by professionals these days.

 

Look at the work of British filmmaker Edgar Wright if you want inspiration regarding what framing can do to land visual comedy!

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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

I'm not very familiar with today's comedies, but I believe there is a bit of laziness and stupidity in making them nowadays.

There is too much of un-clever humor. Maybe someone in Hollywood thinks: “the public is stupid, so let's put a **** joke every five minutes”. It's beyond childish: it's just silly.

Another option is that people are not willing to think about new ways of making people laugh, and so they repeat what has been used lately. Also, they are not willing to look back and study slapstick – or they'd learn that it was more complex and refined than they thought.

For instance, the food war or “pie-in-the-face” gag is sometimes used too much in some attractions, like in our Brazilian soap operas. But they have no meaning at all: they start out of nowhere, everybody gets dirty, people laugh and the war stops when there is no more food to throw. In “The Battle of the Century”, the pie fight was thought and staged, and it follows the overall Laurel and Hardy idea that they'd disturb the order with something simple, create mayhem, engage a huge crowd in the mayhem and just walk away. It fits their personas and their overall comic formula.

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

It’s cool to note that the stand owner is played by Chaplin’s brother Sydney, who was debuting in cinema. He looks like an authority figure, of course, and by the way he quickly moves his head we start to fear the Tramp will be caught in the act. It’s him that makes this scene work, especially in the end, when he have your expectations broken when he hits the police officer with the sausage – it was the moment I laughed the most.

As for props, the cakes are the center of the scene, but I can envision it being made with any kind of finger food, sweet or not. The other props like the sausage and the pan don’t help much as visual comedy.

 So, it is Sydney and his facial expressions that make this gag effective in my opinion.

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

I have seen this gag being imitated. I don’t know if it was the first food-stealing gag ever (it probably wasn’t), but it only works because there is a vigilant being fooled by the Tramp. We root for the Tramp, even though it is wrong to steal food, but the underdog (and his dog) wins our hearts. 

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1. I agree that framing is an often underused element in good comedy, but it is still being used skillfully by professionals these days.

 

Look at the work of British filmmaker Edgar Wright if you want inspiration regarding what framing can do to land visual comedy!

Had to look up Edgar Wright and of course realized I had seen many of his films. I believe his "Shaun of the Dead" shows just the right framing to land visual comedy that that poster Frank Hablawi posted about. Its silly but that movie is more than just a cult classic. Full of classic comedy.

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1. Yes, I do agree with Canby for the most part. The visual comedies of today are way too controlled. And because we are constantly shown everything that leads to a scene being effective I feel too often the comedy moment is lost today. 


 


2. The physical setting played a role in helping with the gag, along with props. A minor role compared to the actors and the dog.


 


3. Any good slapstick gag contributes to influencing intricacies and cleverness of gags that followed. 


 


I really enjoyed this. From the moment Chaplin sees the dog in his arms has the sausage to the cop getting hit in the face you are drawn to watch. And laugh. It was perfect.


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1. Similar to Agee and Youngson's perspective in Daily Dose #1, Canby makes a claim at the end of his analysis that there is something missing into today's visual comedies when compared to the silent classics. Do you agree or disagree with Canby?

The silent film actors and directors were obviously aware that since the audience couldn't listen to the movie, the story had to be told with lots of gestures & expressions, not unlike a stage production (even though there is sound). If that is what makes them so different then I would have to agree with Canby. After giving this some serious consideration, I feel that the silent films require the audience to think and analyze. They are more engaging as the viewer has to consider what the actions and re-actions are. Watching them makes me feel like I have to put myself in the place of each of the actors. This is as opposed to comedies where the dialogue and delivery tell the audience what the feelings are between the characters. The viewer is just a passive although breathing laughing machine.

 

2. Beyond the placement of the camera in middle distance, what other elements (set design, costume, props, acting, etc) makes this gag effective as visual comedy?

When Chaplin first approaches the stand he appears to not have any bad intentions. It is the dog that sets the bad example by snatching the sausages and woofing them down (no pun intended). Even though Chaplin puts the dog out of harms way, he appears to have every intention of eating the entire plate of cakes even after it's obvious the owner is suspicious. 

Having an opening in the frame of the stand where the policeman spies Chaplin in the act and Chaplin realizing it's time to clear out is a clever way to bring an end to his free loading.

3. What do you think a gag like this and its brilliant on-screen execution contributes to the history of slapstick comedy?

This gag makes me appreciate the genius behind the concept of taking an ordinary scenario (the guy preparing food to sell) and someone just nonchalantly helping himself to the goodies. The repetition of the action has the audience wonder if and when Chaplin will get caught. Then there's the thought about what will happen if he does. To get so drawn in by this is a huge contribution.

Furthermore, the simplicity of the plot makes it easy for the audience to remember long after watching it. Yet, because it is so enjoyable one wants to see it again and encourage others. In fact, Canby sets the reader up for what is going to happen in the film, but you still have to view it to get the effect.

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