Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #25: Time for a Heist (Opening Scene of Kansas City Confidential)

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Love heist movies, my favorite genre. Funny how audiences always side with the bad guys unless the writer(s) have them do something unforgivable like hit a kid or shoot someone's dog. And since most people likely have never participated in a robbery, they live vicariously through these stories, especially when they are cleverly done. Outlaws are usually larger than life personalities, bolder, more daring - so there's a little part of us that wants them to get away with it. But in noir, it's almost as much fun watching the whole thing unravel.

 

The lack of dialogue and use of overt music let the audience know that what is onscreen is important, and sure enough, we see a well dressed man observing the delivery man and the activity at the bank. Lots of focus on the time and the tracking of time, which we soon see has been a methodical activity when the man updates his notes. He's looking down at the activity - a position of control - and we immediately understand that he is as methodical as he is calm and well dressed. The framing of the window is also a signal that activity will be centered here, and the outside shot of the hotel reinforces that danger lurks behind the scenes on an otherwise bright and sunny day.

 

Just like the street scene is just another normal day with people following their routines, we surmise he will insert himself (or his gang) into that routine to delay any suspicion and blend in. Maybe they will place people in the crowd in front of the bank door, replace the flower delivery driver or perhaps even use the delivery van since it is parked there every day and won't arouse suspicion. And now he feels the pattern has repeated itself enough that he can put something in motion - he's calling someone to share that news.

 

Side note - John Payne has probably been onscreen in my house more in one week than in the rest of my life added together.

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Lots of people have touched on the fact that we root for and identify with criminals in heist films because we enjoy watching the mixture of daring bravado and consummate professionalism these criminals display for us. We see a similar mixture in detective films, where the detective displays not only a fair amount of daring, but also a whole range of highly specialized skill-sets. 

 

The heist film can set us up for a detour through noir territory just like the detective film sometimes does. For no matter how well a crime is studied, there are always unknown variables that can take us by surprise, forcing us to confront a series of shadowy blind-spots and uninvited players. Strange passions are triggered by these unexpected encounters, and  these strange passions can fatally trip up even the most carefully planned (dare I say perfect) criminal pursuits.

 

 

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Time and time again, it's time and timing that matter

 

The role of time and timing is essential in planning and executing a heist.  The successful theft will know and document the regular rhythms of people and places at the location of the heist.  Tim Foster, a seemingly important business man indicated by his suit and tie, observes the arrival of the florist delivery truck and the armored car to each of their locations.  He times these arrivals and departures of these two vehicles with his watch; Foster even set the timer of his watch's second hand when the florist delivery man enters and exits the florist shop.  The timing of these vehicles are confirmed by the street clock above the bank entrance, hence noticing the banker's hours in reference to the pickup of cash for the armored truck.  Even the music when the viewer sees the street clock has a tick-tock type of rhythm which reinforces the crucial element of time.  Foster checks off these precisely timed arrivals and departures on his blue plan diagram.  For Foster precision is key of his successful execution of his perfect crime.

 

The high angle of Foster's observation from an upper floor of his building across from the bank and florist shop is a film noir style element.  This high angle translates into Foster being a man of important stature having reached a pinnacle in his career to command an office with a view.  This film technique looks positions Foster as the mastermind of the crime who carefully scopes out the scene from an eagle's eye perspective.  Foster estimates that his acquisition of the bank's reserves will keep him and even elevate him in his financial status; more money equals more power, and more power equals a greater stature in his professional life.

 

A heist and the planning plus execution of the heist projects to the audience that the criminal involved has intelligence and keen powers of observation to conduct a carefully crafted crime.  This perspective of allowing the movie viewer to see the operations of the crime being planned convinces the audience that the criminal is not a flighty, impulsive person who just decides on the spur of the moment to rob a bank.  This criminal is deliberate and meticulous in his construction and completion of his "job"--the heist. 

 

I enjoy the heist films where I can observe the planning and execution of the crime given that I feel a part of the con being perpetrated.  I love the original Ocean's 11 with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and the rest of the Rat Pack crew.  They all seems so smooth and seamless in their parts of the heist.  Of course, fate does deal the Rat Pack heist crew will a fatal blow when the money they stole from the Las Vegas casinos is cremated with their fellow dead teammate.  The looks on their faces when each turns to deliver the disappointing news to the other during the funeral service is priceless.

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It really bothers me that the "observer" checks off the line about "Stays 2-4 Minutes BEFORE the armed guards come out of the bank".  If this is all about precision planning, didn't the film makers notice this goof?

 

This is a good movie, in my opinion, and a nice example of what Director Phil Karlson could do.  Although I've seen this film more than once, this was the first time that I noticed what appears to me to be a chronology goof.   

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It really bothers me that the "observer" checks off the line about "Stays 2-4 Minutes BEFORE the armed guards come out of the bank".  If this is all about precision planning, didn't the film makers notice this goof?

 

This is a good movie, in my opinion, and a nice example of what Director Phil Karlson could do.  Although I've seen this film more than once, this was the first time that I noticed what appears to me to be a chronology goof.   

I noticed this, too. But I have not yet seen Kansas City Confidential. Was it a goof that brought down the bank heist and started the whole plan unraveling? In other words, was it intentional on the part of the filmmakers? From your post, deepnoirjazz, it sounds like the answers are no, but I really want to watch out for this when I see the movie. Thanks for pointing this out.

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I noticed this, too. But I have not yet seen Kansas City Confidential. Was it a goof that brought down the bank heist and started the whole plan unraveling? In other words, was it intentional on the part of the filmmakers? From your post, deepnoirjazz, it sounds like the answers are no, but I really want to watch out for this when I see the movie. Thanks for pointing this out.

 

I think this is just a chronology goof.  The cut back to the guards leaving the bank ought to have occurred before he checks it off.  The observer is "correct" in that they only stay for that period of time, so I don't think it could play a role in the story.  I'll bet you enjoy this film.  It's got a really interesting plot.

 

This goof wasn't anywhere near as bad as the goof with the corpse blinking in the handyman scene.  That was a jump up and down screamer !!! 

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Let me be the first to say I have never robbed a bank nor do I ever plan to rob one. However, should you choose to do one and hope to get away with it, timing would have to play a key part. For example, in essentially every film we see a bank robbery in, the robbers keep a timer in order to gauge police response time. A plan so meticulous as robbing a bank has to be carefully planned and orchestrated to a tee. It's almost like a very elaborate Broadway dance number. Every role is pivotal if you want things to be a success. It's basically a matter of staging and timing is always key.

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One aspect of the opening sequence that struck me, especially with the score, was with regard to the competition with television at the time.

As has been well explained by our Fearless Leader, and as we have learned, the film industry was scrambling all over the place in the '50s for ways to attract it's former audience that was now sitting in front of the TV back into the seats of it's theaters.

One program that I remember as being extremely popular in the '50s, and therefore reliably kept a great number of folks out of the theaters, was a "police drama" which was done in what I now recognize as a realistic style.  Dragnet was the name of the very popular and very long running show.  (as an aside, it also enjoyed a successful long running "comeback" in the 60's)

Anyway episode after episode, it would open with trumpet blaring, tympani pounding march style theme music.  (I believe the name of the theme was "March of the Gladiators" but I could be wrong)

When I viewed the clip, I was very much struck by the similarity of the style of the music.

Dragnet also opened each episode with bullet style narration..."It was Tuesday.  It was 3 pm.  I was working the day watch..."  Again, a similarity as the movie opens with a terse rolling text. 

And also that from the opening, apparently the film was going to be done in a realistic/documentary style, again reminiscent of Dragnet.

So to me, out of the myriad of ways to open a movie, this opening was intended to evoke a feeling of familarity and the predisposition that the movie will be as enjoyable as any program on the tube.

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It really bothers me that the "observer" checks off the line about "Stays 2-4 Minutes BEFORE the armed guards come out of the bank".  If this is all about precision planning, didn't the film makers notice this goof?

 

This is a good movie, in my opinion, and a nice example of what Director Phil Karlson could do.  Although I've seen this film more than once, this was the first time that I noticed what appears to me to be a chronology goof.   

 

This was the first thing that caught my attention, but I think it's an intentional choice by the filmmakers. I still haven't seen the film, but I think it shows a confidence (or perhaps overconfidence?) from the "observer" in checking the time the armed guards leave before they actually do. According to the checkmarks, this is the fifth time he confirms it, so it shows his confidence in what he already knows. He still looks outside as they walk out, but he has already made up his mind.

 

As for the other questions in the DD...

 

Style or substance - the film starts with a bit of a realistic approach. There is a constant feeling of tension and expectation, something is going to happen.

 

Film noirs and heists - the subject feels ripe for the noir sensibilities. Crime, tough characters, unexpected twists of fate. Plus, there is something about heist films that makes the audience root for the criminals, regardless of what they're doing, which can be correlated for how the audiences root for amoral characters in other noir films.

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I was drawing parallels between this one and Armored Car Robbery in the meticulous planning of a central mastermind. I haven't seen the film yet so I don't know much about the person we're seeing but I'm not getting that cold heartless vibe from him yet that seemed so endemic in the Armored Car Robbery. I think the written intro sets the scene better than anything else because it gets you in the right frame of mind for what you are supposed to think is happening. 

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Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.


It appears that there is a strict routine with the bank and it appears that the Man watching from above as been taking notice for the past week or maybe more.  He seems confident. 


What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?


The conspiring from the man above but it is clear that something is going to happen!.  It shows us the opportunity of something bad.


Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?


Heist films are a good subject because it creates lots of tension.  Will the plan get carried our, will there be the inevitable double cross.  Will innocent people get hurt.  So much feelings and emotion come into play automatically.


 


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The role of time and timing is everything in this movie because it is a planned heist that relies on precision and the predictable routines of the people involved. The man in the window times everything, checking both the clock on the building and his watch. He checks off the comings and goings of the armed car, the officers and the florist delivery truck and man. They have obviously done everything the exact same way every day for a week as his checkmarks on his page show. The man thinks because these things are so predictable, his chances to intercept are good, however, as we all know in film noir, the unexpected, random event can change the fate of everyone involved.

The man is well-dressed, neat and could be anyone - not a scruffy, dangerous-looking person. He is a thief, but is obviously not the typical criminal. He is detail-oriented, disciplined, neat and clean - all the things that a nice, well-brought up man should be in the 1950s, but he is a thief, nonetheless. He represents the outward acceptability of males in the 1950s who have a much darker side hidden beneath. The town could be anywhere, although it is set in Kansas City. It is a typical Midwestern town, representing anywhere in America.

The film noir elements in this opening sequence are the true-crime documentary introduction to be read and the first minutes of the action showing us with the camera what we need to know rather than having any dialogue at all. It is just this man, using his stop watch to time the actions of those he watches, writing down the times on a paper, recording their movements on paper. He has tracked the same events for 5 days and we can glean all we need to know visually without any words spoken. It is all visual - the opening words read, the opening of the movie. The camera angles also tell us what to pay attention to. The first shot of Kansas City taken from the air reminds me of the realistic, documentary style of movies like Border Incident. The clocks, and the man's watch, obviously are shown repeatedly, but I noticed neither John Payne's character, nor the armored truck men look at their watches. They are on a schedule, but maybe they are not as ruled by the clock as the man watching. (Potential for problems later.) The camera shot below the men in the armored truck showing their backs and their legs tell me that the men themselves are not that important. They might even change out. It is the truck and the event that happens every day that is important. However, the closer, and regular camera angle on John Payne and his arrival show that he will be a major player in this story and possibly the innocent person caught up in the action later.  

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The role of time and timing is everything in this movie because it is a planned heist that relies on precision and the predictable routines of the people involved. The man in the window times everything, checking both the clock on the building and his watch. He checks off the comings and goings of the armed car, the officers and the florist delivery truck and man. They have obviously done everything the exact same way every day for a week as his checkmarks on his page show. The man thinks because these things are so predictable, his chances to intercept are good, however, as we all know in film noir, the unexpected, random event can change the fate of everyone involved.

The man is well-dressed, neat and could be anyone - not a scruffy, dangerous-looking person. He is a thief, but is obviously not the typical criminal. He is detail-oriented, disciplined, neat and clean - all the things that a nice, well-brought up man should be in the 1950s, but he is a thief, nonetheless. He represents the outward acceptability of males in the 1950s who have a much darker side hidden beneath. The town could be anywhere, although it is set in Kansas City. It is a typical Midwestern town, representing anywhere in America.

The film noir elements in this opening sequence are the true-crime documentary introduction to be read and the first minutes of the action showing us with the camera what we need to know rather than having any dialogue at all. It is just this man, using his stop watch to time the actions of those he watches, writing down the times on a paper, recording their movements on paper. He has tracked the same events for 5 days and we can glean all we need to know visually without any words spoken. It is all visual - the opening words read, the opening of the movie. The camera angles also tell us what to pay attention to. The first shot of Kansas City taken from the air reminds me of the realistic, documentary style of movies like Border Incident. The clocks, and the man's watch, obviously are shown repeatedly, but I noticed neither Robert Taylor's character, nor the armored truck men look at their watches. They are on a schedule, but maybe they are not as ruled by the clock as the man watching. (Potential for problems later.) The camera shot below the men in the armored truck showing their backs and their legs tell me that the men themselves are not that important. They might even change out. It is the truck and the event that happens every day that is important. However, the closer, and regular camera angle on Robert Taylor and his arrival show that he will be a major player in this story and possibly the innocent person caught up in the action later.  

 

Robert Taylor? John Payne is the actor in KC Confidential.      

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I don’t know much about jazz.  However, I will say this:  I find its steady beat and dissonant horn complimentary in the clip.  It’s slow and sultry tone continues the conversation between the man and the woman as the camera pans away from him in an office-like building.  You know they are talking sweet, sweet love on that phone.

 

What I know of jazz, which is from a Spotify playlist, makes me think of smoky, poorly lit clubs with femme fatale singers and gangsters in corner booths, which are prevalent styles of film noir.  It is dark and dangerous, often twisting and turning on Fates’ whim, causing the players to change their tune.  It flies in the face of conventional, popular music song structure:  verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus (I’m over-simplifying).  Jazz isn’t a blocked construct; it is a river, every changing as it flows downstream.  

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I don’t know much about jazz.  However, I will say this:  I find its steady beat and dissonant horn complimentary in the clip.  It’s slow and sultry tone continues the conversation between the man and the woman as the camera pans away from him in an office-like building.  You know they are talking sweet, sweet love on that phone.

 

What I know of jazz, which is from a Spotify playlist, makes me think of smoky, poorly lit clubs with femme fatale singers and gangsters in corner booths, which are prevalent styles of film noir.  It is dark and dangerous, often twisting and turning on Fates’ whim, causing the players to change their tune.  It flies in the face of conventional, popular music song structure:  verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus (I’m over-simplifying).  Jazz isn’t a blocked construct; it is a river, every changing as it flows downstream.  

 

Most jazz standards (well known songs that jazz musicians play),  are based on popular music song structure;  I.e. the harmonic structure is the same.   The difference is that each soloist will play their solo over this structure.   So the standard jazz structure starts with the melody played over the complete song structure,  solos over this structure or parts of it,  and ends with a repeat of the melody.  

 

What makes jazz unique is the improvisation skills of the soloist.    As for 'dark and dangerous' a great soloist will use the concept of 'tension and release';    this can be used very well in a film since many scenes in a movie are based on a similar concept of building tension,  sustaining it,  and than releasing said tension. 

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Robert Taylor? John Payne is the actor in KC Confidential.      

That's what happens when I write four in one day! Trying to catch up. Sorry! Yes, I meant John Payne rather than Robert Taylor!

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The introductory music sounds "official". I tried to come up with a better word but couldn't. It is the type of music you would hear if you were watching a show about the FBI. The robber is well-dressed and looks like he would blend in with the other bank patrons. He is wearing a dark colored suit, but the sunshine/lighting shows all the patrons as white. This clearly identifies him as the "bad guy".

 

He seems to have this meticulously planned and organized. He doesn't write anything down at first. The checkmarks detail exactly how long he has been tracking/planning. Even the words themselves are meticulously written. They seem like block characters. It reminds me of how draftsmen have to write their numbers in a standardized way on a blueprint. And that's what that document is.

 

But this is the world of noir. The only perfect crime would be one that didn't happen.

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Joe looks at his watch to see if it's the same as the bank because he is planning the heist to go perfect. Then he goes over to the plans and marks off things he has seen. This is a postwar film which was when crime was on the rise.

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-- Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.

 

Time and timing are in counterpoint in this scene.  The pace of the opening is leisurely.  No quick cuts and no rapid movement on the part of people on the street, John Payne exiting his van, the armored car guards or Foster.

 

Despite this there is an extreme tension built by Foster's concentration, the dramatic quiet music and the pressure of time.  We see the bank clock, we see Foster start his stop watch, we see the bank clock we see the stop watch end at one minute we see Foster slowly cross the room and add what appears to be the last of 16 or 20 check marks against four items.  It looks like we've seen the last step in a carefully planned sequence.

 

-- What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?

The use of extreme closeups and on-location shooting.  An air of tension and threat.  Everyone's wary.  

-- Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?

A heist involves a group and the interactions among the group, their strengths, weaknesses and conflicts provide a lot of material for dramatic development. 

The heist is a particularly good plot for a Post-War male audience.  It's the dark side of the WWII squad movie.  

During WWII a group of men with varying talents and dispositions are thrown together and learn to act as a cohesive team to survive and triumph.  The war's over and now the squad gets together to commit a crime.  They employ their talents in the only way now available to them.  We can be sympathetic to their criminal activity. In fact I imagine many men sitting in the audience watching this movie in it's first theatrical release would be VERY sympathetic with their brothers on the screen.

 

 

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Time is of the essence in any heist. You have to know when and where people are during the day-to-day of the location. The music cues the importance of the timing of all movements. I keep thinking of the watchmaker god of the 1800s. The argument for the existence of god was intelligent design. That’s what Foster is trying to do—intelligent design. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you know the design might have been intelligent but not perfect otherwise the story couldn’t be told.

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There no was rushing of the scene. There was no tension. You have the potential robber watching from the window to see how the usual daily activity occurs around the bank. We are immediately shown a clock because the robbery is a precise event. It has to be timed perfectly . The cops , the florist both may potentially play a part in how the event goes down. Yet again there is no score in the background which gives us the audience a feeling of being active participants of the entire act. It's actually quite effective.

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25. KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL: The Perfect Time.

This "perfect crime" has a lot riding on the punctuality of a Kansas City armored truck, let alone that of a flower van.

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A bank heist,  relative to other kinds of heists, is more dangerous because of armed guards, alarm systems, and employees trained in how to deal with a potential robbery. Therefore, timimg is much more important from the view point of the robber and this is emphasized by the camera shots of clocks and watches. The robber is shown actually observing the bakk and timing the guard's arrival and departure from the bank with the money. He also records the movements of a flower delivery truck which apparently makes a regularly scheduled run next door to the bank. This will also no doubt play a role in the robbery but at this point viewers don't know this for sure. He has observed for several days and recorded times precisely so he will know exactly how much time he has to make the robbery. Notice that this scene is shot in day light rather than at night, or at least in dark shadows as are most Noir films. This adds a new twist in staging that gives the observant Noir movie goer something new to think about. The robber is dressed as a middle class business man who could be "everyman", making viewers able to relate to and identify with him immediately. He does not look like a thug.  The musical score is "documentary like" in tone and timing and is more obvious and has a more important role in setting the mood of the film, as there is no dialogue. This opening shot uses a varieety of close up and long shots as well as mid range shots and especially high angle shots to capture visual attention as we LOOK DOWN, literally and figuretively, on a crime in the making. Great work so far.

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I love heist films because it brings together a diverse set of personalities that invariably begin to clash as the ‘perfect timing’ breaks down.  The added intensity of the opening paragraph plays off the urgent tone of the musical score.  Bad guy Preston Foster looks pretty smug about his little bank schedule, but it’s only a matter of time - and crime - before his smile turns sour in Kansas City Confidential.


 


 


 


 


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The sub-genre of the heist film has always been a popular one, particularly with me. From these early films which grew naturally out of film noir, to more recent fare. Reservoir Dogs, a personal favorite, was the heist film, which shows the planning and aftermath, but not the heist itself. In that structure it showed that the heist itself was almost immaterial, it's the lead-up that usually holds the most interest, the careful planning, the rehearsal and then the aftermath where despite all the preparation, something always goes wrong. These films, like some of the best film noir we have discussed, puts you in on the action. The lead-up to the heist has the audience as an accomplice, eager for the payoff, and disappointed when something inevitably goes wrong.

 

Timing is crucial to a well-planned heist, and therefore is a key theme in this opening sequence. The pieces on the chessboard are moving like clockwork, when it's almost as if you can predict what will happen before it does. The heist in Groundhog Day is a good example. You watch something long enough, and you see the patterns emerge. In that particular case, the sequence of events was always the same, but even in everyday life, a routine is generally followed. One thing I did notice was that Foster did not actually witness the departure of the armored car personnel but marked it off anyway. I wonder if this a subtle foreshadowing to the one thing that unusually goes wrong, the unplanned contingency which throws the whole heist into chaos. He smiles as if he is very pleased with himself at all his preparations, and that he doesn't need to witness that final piece of the puzzle, which does happen as expected, but in the world of film noir, that cockiness could lead to his inevitable downfall.

 

The semi-documentary style gives the film a sense of realism, as if all this has already happened and the conclusion of the heist is a foregone conclusion. This brings back the idea of fate that all of these events have been pre-ordained and it could not have gone any other way but this does not diminish the thrill of being in on the action and the tension and anxiety of wanting to see the success of all these efforts. Film noir guarantees that the random twist of fate will almost certainly work against the success of the heist, usually some small random event which will have huge ramifications for all those involved. We know it's coming and we want Foster and his accomplices to see it and prepare for it, but all this is just a bit of history repeating.

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