Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #19: Behind Bars (Opening Scene of Caged)

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Today's Daily Dose is from Caged. The Daily Dose will be opened at 7am EDT on Wednesday, July 9, 2015. 

 

You can get your Daily Dose here: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-dose-of-darkness-number-19-july-8-2015

 

The theme this week is "The Substance of Film Noir."

 

Let the discussions begin!

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You may not believe this, but I saw this film when I was a very young girl.  It was a special presentation on television.  I don’t know how I happened to watch it.  In those days television was kind of “safe,” so I guess my parents didn’t censor me from watching.  Well, anyway, I remember I was very upset by the movie because somewhere along the line there is a little kitten that gets killed in the prison.  Boy, did that upset me.  Even after more than half a century I can remember how I felt.  I am sure the kitten probably wasn’t injured, but at the time I believed it was.  The long and the short of it is I am not going to watch “Caged.”  I do love Eleanor Parker.  She was not only beautiful, but also a wonderful actress. I particularly loved her (dubbed by the singing voice of Eileen Farrell) in “Interrupted Melody,” which I saw many years after “Caged.”   But I absolutely do not want to see her holding that dead little kitten again.  You can never underestimate the power of the movies....

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The first thing that I thought of when I saw this was, "That's the Baroness (from "The Sound of Music")?!"  Then I noticed the other stellar names in the cast - Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Jane Darwell...I knew this should be pretty good.  

 

With the sirens and other noises in the background, it fits the gritty storytelling that is typical of the Warner Brothers' films noir.  I'm almost expecting to hear Humphrey Bogart narrating the scene.  We can just barely make out silhouettes in the van so we know that there's more than one person in it, yet there is no conversation - it certainly adds to the drama.

 

It was interesting that when they arrived at the prison and the doors opened, the only face we could see was the main character's - the others were face down as they exited the van.  There was a lot of fear and vulnerability on her face, and we can see that this is not going to be a pleasant experience for her.  This is confirmed when Agnes Moorehead says, "Grab your last look at free side, kid."  I liked how all the other women turned to look after she said that, but it was almost out of routine - they'd been down this road before.  We will get a realistic look at life behind bars, which could be both enlightening and disturbing.  After reading Noir Neophyte's post about the kitten I'm not sure I can handle this one, but we'll see.

 

 

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The oening is perfectly set with the title and the way the name on the screen change, the siren and the small barred view of the vehicle.  Claustrophobic inside and I get that feeling to when the empty mechanic sound of the door being opened and the word tramps spoken by the transporter.  The drabness of the of the ibnstitution and the fear and outright anomie on the face of Parker.  Moorehead seems to be the tough gal who has been in there before. 

 

Intersting too that we are on the road with these three doses this week and in each one there is fear and anxiety and confusion.  The feelings of Leachman in Kiss Me Deady, and the driver and passenger in the car in Hitchhiker to this one of the women inside that truck speeding to state prison all set the feeling for more bleakness and emotion to come. 

 

About the only thing needed here was the rain outside of Westgate Prison from the film BRUTE FORCE.  And how about the woman in the fur coat too.  Does this mean she was a call girl? 

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From the title of "Caged" through the opening scene we know what the subject of this film is going to be.  The atmosphere is claustrophobic inside the van and probably won't be better once they enter the prison.  Seeing a terrified Eleanor Powell, we can surmise this film will be about her adjusting to her "new normal".  Why she is there is not revealed.  Being Warner Bros. we know this is going to be a film about prison reform or a cautionary tale about criminal behavior and paying a debt to society.  Probably both.  I suspect this is going to be a very depressing film.

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Looking out of that small wired window, where everything else is in dark shadows seems like we, the audience, are "Caged" with the women who are being transported to the prison.  Where are we stopping? What will it be like there? When are we getting out?

 

This is definitely a Warner Brothers house style film.  "Pile out you tramps. It's the end of the line"  This is pretty gritty language for the 50's, even in the changing times.

 

Film noir is perfect for a story set inside a woman's prison.  Hard-edged, tough, fast-talking criminal women, with a setting that's a perfect set up for dark, shadowy camera shots and angles.  With the perfect negative exponent of being "Caged".

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The feeling of claustrophobia in this opening is palpable...the darkness and the tiny square of unobtainable light in the distance: it's as if the camera is deliberately cutting off any hope right from the very start. You know this isn't going to be a fun film! 

 

Jail is obviously a great Noir concoction: the whole edifice has a base crime, lies and deception, throw darkness and hopelessness into the mix, add bullying, menace and a little sexual danger (perversion, according to the mores of the day) and the end result is a wonderfully Noir meal!

 

I cannot comment on Warner's house style as I've not seen enough of their output so far. RKO has consistently made the Noirs I've noticed and enjoyed to date, but I'll definitely watch to look to see what makes Warner different. 

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-- Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?


 


The narrow view from the back of the van, the prisoners looking thru that small screened window out....they are already caged/pigeon holed before they even get to the joint.  Nothing to look forward to, bleak out look, gloomy, you name it, this scene sets the stage for even worse to come.


-- What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style? And why is that appropriate for this subject matter?


The urban look, closed off, narrow,marginal, dark and dreary.....classic!!!


-- Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars? In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?


 


The looks on their faces as they are getting out of the van, walking toward the prison entrance, the words of Agnes Morehead, for Eleanor Parker to take her last look at freedom....This scene sets these women as femme fatales that got caught and now we are probably going to see how they got caught or how life in prison is going to be???  


 


#NOIRSUMMER


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If I'm not hooked by the first sentence or two of a book or the opening sequence of a movie, I'm not going to stay with it. All the opening scenes in this week's Daily Doses so far -- the out-of-breath hitchhiker fleeing an asylum, the hitchhiker with a pistol, the women inmates -- grab you by the jugular and don't let go. With openings like those, I'll watch all three of these movies through until the end.

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Already in the opening scene of Caged, there is a feeling of claustrophobia established by the shot of the little window in the van escorting the ladies to the prison. Save for the view from the little window and the light on the ceiling, the whole screen is black as the credits roll, giving this film a very sinister feel. The lack of music in the scene adds to the gritty realism that was a staple of Warner Bros. in the Old Hollywood system. Even when the van opens up to let the women out, the audience knows that we've only just moved to a bigger cage, which is the Women's Prison.

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I was scared by the light and the images streaming in from the small window cage and the unpredictable motion of a transport vehicle, so I guess the opening works well. 

 

Also, going back to the earlier theme we discussed of noir as "suffering in style".  How amazing that some of the women were wearing high heels and coats with fur lapels on their way to prison.  It really was a more formal era. 

 

Prison actually does not seem like a natural venue for a noir to me.  Film noir is so much about how a character gets pulled under the murk of a morally ambiguous world--prison seems like a likely "end location" of a noir but an unlikely beginning location--there's something too decided or "case closed" about prison.  I need to watch the film and see what I think afterwards.

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You are in the van with them going to jail as the camera leads the way.  Very appropriate for you to travel with them on this journey.

Warner Bros house style being urban, means various things but since my background is urban, i can say that i love when i see it and 

heard it.  The only part of this clip to me that is truly urban is the sound of the police car and of course, the police calling them TRAMPS..........

 

The camera work is going to lead to interesting shots  of the bars and shadows, but it's the amoral world in which we are using

a setting or background for noir.  We always see Films noir in that lens of someway or another, crime/underworld/jail/escapes

etc. etc.  I am not fond of prison movies but looking for seeing this one again.  

 

Sartre's No exit and Jail very symbolic for this feeling of the main character going in by pulling her is communicating the essence

of dread.

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Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

 

I'd say the space we (as the audience) are placed in makes it appropriate for a film about females at a women's prison. The POV and the dialogue all point the viewer towards the confines of a cell. In fact judging by the opening we will not be exposed to anything but darkness by the looks of it. We are not allowed to experience anything other than a literal "caged" perspective.

 

What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style? And why is that appropriate for this subject matter?

 

Fast enough pace and social-realist elements can be drawn from the opening. It will better plunge the audience into the world of prison life. A highly modified and controlled set of conditions would be the way. "Institutional" comes to mind. Not a very happy take/window of life but one could expect a somber, and moodier environment for the inmates. Warner Bros house style could be reflected in the sets used to depict the women's prison would be my observation. Their style will be on the walls and in the lighting behind bars, and within cell blocks, etc.

 

Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars? In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?

 

Keeping the opening set-up and scene in mind and also mentioned above the dark elements of film noir can all come into light within the prison universe. A set of bleak and depressing components for the story will be ever-present and I'd suggest the realism could be in the technical (audio and visual) presentation of that prison space and the characters within. The realism will likely play on their faces and be obvious from their wardrobes and again dark space (in this case the women's correctional facilities). Best examples are not always what is seen but felt from Film Noir and its environments. The opening places us and our senses in a similar caged state altering our broader ability and useage.

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Sometimes simplicity has the most impact, as evidenced by all 3 film openings this week. As a viewer watching the opening of today's film clip, not being able to see clearly out the back window of the moving vehicle, not having any peripheral view, and not knowing where we were going and why, all created an immediate sense of being trapped and feeling anxious.

 

When the guard says, "Pile out you tramps," the sense of doom and foreshadowing is heightened. These women aren't going to be treated like human beings. They're worse than criminals, they're female criminals. They've not only broken the law, but the social order. Women are meant to behave.

 

For me, Eleanor Parker represents us, the viewers. She has been thrown into this unfamiliar and frightening world, and so she is able to convey our thoughts and feelings in her expression and body language. What am I doing here? What am I in for? How will I handle this? I feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and caged.

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The opening is appropriate in that with the opening credits we get a small glimpse into the world of a prisoner in a truck going to jail. As we get closer that glimpse gets a little bigger and the sounds echoing around the truck indicate that they are indeed headed to the end of the line.

 

As the women leave the truck there is a sense of claustrophobic unease and a fear of what lay ahead. The faces on the prisoners leaving the truck says plenty without dialogue.

 

​As you watch the opening of the film you cannot help but feel caged. Through the sound effects and film score there is a sense of tension around the drama unfurling.

 

The film is a very gritty and its filled with social realism. It confronts an issue not really covered in contemporary films and adds elements of noir in its style and execution.

 

This movies is ripe for noir picking, There's plenty of room for darkness, shadows, tough individuals and crisp dialogue. There is a sense of unease and unsavoriness to the film that is magnified by being set in a women's prison.

 

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What a depressing and oppressive opening! The camera angle has put us in the vehicle being taken away to .....somewhere. The one small opening restricts our vision and instead of giving any kind of release from the feeling of being "caged" it adds to the feeling of entrapment.

 

Warner Brothers films always seem grittier and this is a fine example of that style. All we hear is the sound of being driven to destination we have no desire to reach. We don't see the others in the vehicle with us, we only see blackness. So even though we may sense the others around us we are completely alone. This kind of house style starkness by Warner Brothers is appropriate for prison movie because it adds to the realism and reinforces the gravity of the situation.

 

When we arrived we see Eleanor Parker's face. The police ride has given us a connection to her, we have felt the fear we see in her face. Even as she is literally pulled out of the wagon she still isolated. She only sees the backs of the women. When one does speak to her it's tell her to "grab your last look at free side kid".

 

This scene certainly follows the existential motif of alienation and loneliness as presented by Porfirio in the assigned reading. ( I'm so bad at remembering names I figure if I use it here I might remember it for the test :). )

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You may not believe this, but I saw this film when I was a very young girl.  It was a special presentation on television.  I don’t know how I happened to watch it.  In those days television was kind of “safe,” so I guess my parents didn’t censor me from watching.  Well, anyway, I remember I was very upset by the movie because somewhere along the line there is a little kitten that gets killed in the prison.  Boy, did that upset me.  Even after more than half a century I can remember how I felt.  I am sure the kitten probably wasn’t injured, but at the time I believed it was.  The long and the short of it is I am not going to watch “Caged.”  I do love Eleanor Parker.  She was not only beautiful, but also a wonderful actress. I particularly loved her (dubbed by the singing voice of Eileen Farrell) in “Interrupted Melody,” which I saw many years after “Caged.”   But I absolutely do not want to see her holding that dead little kitten again.  You can never underestimate the power of the movies....

I saw this when I was young too and found it very disturbing. I agree I don't think we were monitored back then as much because probably neither one of us would have seen it if it were. Just like you I found it very disturbing especially the scene where the kitty died. I tried to watch once again as an adult but couldn't make it through the whole thing. I think I'm going to give it a shot again but maybe I'll channel surf during the kitty dying part.

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-- Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

 

We think of birds and animals as being “caged” so right a way the title is a telling factor of what we are about to see.

 

We see from inside a moving vehicle that looks to be the inside of a military tank because we are in darkness. Straight ahead we see only the movements of a driver through a small square opening .

The setting is claustrophobic.

 

The back door is opened and we immediately see a woman with a dread expression and hear a man say, “Pile out you tramps- it’s the end of the line. We read “Women’s State Prison”

 

Recalling the title, these women will be treated like animals. Calling them tramps confirms that they are entering not a prison where there is order but rather entering a caged structure where order is not the norm.

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You may not believe this, but I saw this film when I was a very young girl.  It was a special presentation on television.  I don’t know how I happened to watch it.  In those days television was kind of “safe,” so I guess my parents didn’t censor me from watching.  Well, anyway, I remember I was very upset by the movie because somewhere along the line there is a little kitten that gets killed in the prison.  Boy, did that upset me.  Even after more than half a century I can remember how I felt.  I am sure the kitten probably wasn’t injured, but at the time I believed it was.  The long and the short of it is I am not going to watch “Caged.”  I do love Eleanor Parker.  She was not only beautiful, but also a wonderful actress. I particularly loved her (dubbed by the singing voice of Eileen Farrell) in “Interrupted Melody,” which I saw many years after “Caged.”   But I absolutely do not want to see her holding that dead little kitten again.  You can never underestimate the power of the movies....

I also saw this on tv when I was young.  It frightened me then and the opening frightened me again.  The tears of helplessness on Eleanor Parker's brought the feelings back to me.  I do not remember the kitten you mentioned, I probably blocked that part out.  It bothers me when the cats or dogs get killed in movies because they seem more "innocent" than the people.  I don't think I'll watch this again.  I've never seen "Orange is the new Black" because of this film.

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The title of this John Cromwell's film noir says it all: "Caged" is immediately associated with other themes and ideas that we usually use to define "the substance of noir", such as the feeling of imprisonment, entrapment and claustrophobia, all of them present in this brief sequence. Add them the fact that the film's narrative is set in a women's prison, and we'll see how other questions and hidden meanings will emerge, giving a whole new resonance to this subject matter.

 
Through the use of the POV shot inside the moving vehicle, saving the visibility of the female bodies to the off-screen and keeping the first dialogues in voice-over, the audience's experience is set to the diegetic perspective of a female character yet to be revealed: first, we only get to see what she sees - she has a very limited view of the road through the framework of grids from which we can barely see the light outside, since the interior of the vehicle is completely dark -, then we distinguish, among the bodies of other women getting off the vehicle, her frightened, distressed and confused face, shown in close-ups and cutting to two shots from the imponent building facade the Women's State Prison. We ask ourselves how a young woman like this can end up in a place like that: caught in a trap? sentenced innocently? condemned for a crime of passion or doomed by fate's random choice?
 
The male voice in over, saying "This is the end of the line", and the gesture of the women looking back the street outside the prison gate announces a point of no return, their loss of freedom and their entrance in a dark microcosmos: imagine a space to which all the noir "femmes fatales" and "fallen angels" were sent, one single space concentrating feelings of loneliness and rage, violent anger and sexual hunger, criminal past and hysterical present.
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I haven't seen Caged, but that opening is probably the best way I can imagine to put the audience into the headspace of a prisoner. It's so entirely claustrophobic, made worse by the fact that we can see just a little bit, and that little bit keeps getting obscured by passengers in the front seat, or the bars on the window. If it had been an entirely black screen, the audience would have felt nothing, but with a small slice of the outside world we feel the walls of the theatre(or, say, our living rooms) closing in on us. The opening of the door at the end of the scene is almost a relief, even though the place we're going to is no better. 

 

This may be too obvious a read on things, but I found the opening to be very womblike. We're in this claustrophobic, dark, but ultimately safe setting, and then violently thrust into the movie and forced to step out into the world. The hero has just been born into her new world, her life ended at the trial(I'm speculating a bit here), and her new life begins now.

 

 

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I love this opening.  We have the unique POV of being in the prison truck as a prisoner.  We can see very little through the tiny window with screening over it - "caged".  Again, the darkness associated with film noir.  The only light in the truck comes from that window and illuminates a small patch on the ceiling.  We can't see enough to see where we are or where we're going.  The unknown - building our anxiety.

 

When the doors open, we get two glimpses of our destination, now from Eleanor Parker's POV.  She's obviously in fear (can't blame her), and in such mental turmoil that, even though she's probably glancing around, all she can focus on, and all her mind can register, are the many barred windows and the sign "Women's State Prison" with the bars underneath it - "caged".

 

Our "last look at free side" (am I hearing that line correctly?) is through the bars of the gate - "caged".  That look shows normalcy (thanks, Warren G. Harding, for that word), out in the open, no bars, and it's well-lit.  I find it intriguing that the only discernible building is the church - tall, white, imposing - the last "good" these women are going to see for a long time.  (Classic films often used the church as a symbol for good, as opposed to evil.)

 

A young Ellen Corby in the center of the group is of interest.  She appears to be the young innocent Trina from I Remember Mama.  She doesn't appear to the have the fear that Powell's character has, or the rough edges of the woman who speaks to Powell (who is that actress?).  We can almost imagine Corby as a tourist, coming for a fun tour of the prison.

 

The Warner Brothers style is apparent in different elements.  WB titles always appear sharper to me - letters at diagonals with sharp corners.  The music is strong, almost discordant.  The woman who speaks is rough, probably not her first go-round with prison.  The prison yard is deep in shadow.  The normalcy outside the prison gate is almost MGM in comparison.  The WB edge is sharp and clear in this scene.

 

The fact that this film is about women in prison screams Warner.  When I think of MGM and a picture about women, I think of the style of 1939's The Women.  All glamor, jungle-red nail polish, fashion shows, and ladies that lunch.  But Warner is willing to take on a tough subject and show it unapologetically, with all the shadows, rough edges, and toughness it demands.  These women will not be treated as queens, but as the "tramps" the prison guards consider them to be.

 

To quote another WB film, "Fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night!"

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  • Why is this opening appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison? In what ways has the design of this scene made the audience as "caged" as these characters in this opening sequence?

From the very first image, we're inside the police van (or whatever it is), almost blind, only getting a glimpse at the outside through the wire screen. The fact this wire screen is at the center of the image (like the outside world might be the main preoccupation of the women in this situation) is certainly not innocent. The urban landscape we see through the wire screen is only made more stressful by the sounds of traffic, the sirens and the creaking noise of a gate opening and closing. 

When the door opens, we see a young woman, frightened and most likely blinded by light. The prison guard is deliberately humiliating when he orders them to get out. There's a very intense moment with a succession of close-ups on Eleanor Parker's horrified face and glimpses at her surroundings: first the prison buildings (gloomy), then the pediment of the facade, announcing we're at the women's prison. After she's forced to get out of the van, the older woman's comment leaves us no doubt: it's their last sight at freedom (behind the already closed gate).

  • What about this opening reminds you of the Warner Bros. house style? And why is that appropriate for this subject matter?

I didn't watch enough movies from this studio to give an appropriate answer...

  • Just based on this opening, how do you think film noir will influence this film's realism about life behind bars? In other words, why is the "substance of noir" appropriate for a story set inside a women's prison?

There's something very interesting in this sequence because I see a dichotomy between the group and the individual. The prison guard calls them as a group ('tramps') and we don't really the features of the women with Eleanor Parker inside the van; the audience can't really identify them. We're with Eleanor Parker and only with her (because of the close-ups on her face); we feel her anguish, we share it. She doesn't really fit in this group of convicts. The way this scene was shot forces us to identify with her - and to ask ourselves why she's in this place - but at some point we can have the impression we're the only ones who sympathize with her. The prison guard's comment is downright humiliating ('tramps') and the older woman who addresses Eleanor Parker in the end somewhat infantilizes her ('kid'). It might be affectionate, but in this context, it sounds a bit patronizing. Prison is a universe where convicts are mere ciphers, where individuality is often not respected. This dichotomy between the individual and the group (and the struggle of the individual to survive in this group) is a theme very common in movies set inside prisons and at the same time, individuality (along with social despair) is a popular theme in film noir.

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Well I don't know about all of you but I certainly felt "Caged".  I felt just as Eleanor Parker felt when she was looking at her new and possibly long-term surroundings.  I would have been terrified out of my mind being in the prison van seeing very little and only through a tiny window.  The sound of the gate closing definitely symbolizes being shut away from the outside world which looked so nice and pleasant on the other side of the gate.  I am going to have a hard time choosing which movies to watch this week they all look so good.

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A black claustrophobic enclosement, with the faintest signs of the outside world coming through a small wired square in the middle of the screen. That small square opening feels like a mile away and you only hear the sounds of traffic and a siren. You feel like you're trapped with the women inside, being swallowed by the vast darkness. The little bit of light you see keeps you from completely going insane. Then the vehicle stops and a door opens; the light shining on a terrified women (Marie) waiting to meet her fate. "Pile out you tramps! It's the end of the line." The camera scales the wall showing the numerous barred windows of the Women's State Prison. A gruff women tells her "Grab your last look at freeside kid."

 

With most film noir, women criminals are glamorous femme fatales. Here we see what true female criminals look like --- like everyday women. They aren't treated like ladies, they are treated like criminals.

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