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OurStage’s Top Ten Fictional Music Movies

The Blues BrothersOurStage’s Top Ten Fictional Music Movies: There are many film scripts that invent bands as part of the narrative. Most are just an afterthought, and many more are forgettable and awful, even as a figment of a screenwriter’s imagination. These films created the best, funniest, most realistic, lived-in bands in film.

10. Light of Day (1987)

Who in 1987 wasn’t waiting for the Michael J. FoxJoan Jett big screen pairing? The only question was what the vehicle would be. A rom-com? Sci-fi thriller? A Tango & Cash–esque buddy cop action-comedy? A Back to the Future sequel where Marty meets The Runaways in 1977? What we actually got was an unexpectedly gritty family drama, centering on the relationship between brother and sister Joe and Patty (Fox and Jett), who perform together in a struggling E Street-esque bar band called The Barbusters. I have just told you the worst part of the movie. The band is called The Barbusters. This blow is softened by the appearance of the great Michael McKean as a band member—one of McKean’s THREE appearances on this list.

Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, wrote and directed this film and in fact commissioned a song by Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen came back with “Born In The U.S.A.” but decided to keep that one for himself. Too bad, it could have been a hit. The Barbusters do a decent job with his alternate effort, the title song, “Light of Day.” And, hey, look, Michael J. Fox can sing. This begs the question—what the hell, Robert Zemeckis? The idea that it’s Fox’ voice singing “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future is the least credible part of a movie about a time traveling DeLorean that runs on plutonium.

9. 8 Mile (2002)

People say that Eminem was basically playing himself in this film about an aspiring rapper from Detroit with a fucked-up mom and few prospects aside from an innate and unique lyrical flow. But it’s a mistake to go into this thinking it’s the Eminem Story. Em and director Curtis Hanson wisely keep the character of B-Rabbit sullen and low-key. The rapper is not a great actor, but he plays this one just right, with visibly crippling insecurity and remarkably restrained rage. The cleverness of the “improvised” rhymes staged on street corners and at club battles is just short of believable, but (spoiler alert) at the end, when B-Rabbit destroys all comers with Eminem’s signature delivery, disbelief is easily suspended. This won an Oscar for the great lead song “Lose Yourself.”

Continue reading ‘OurStage’s Top Ten Fictional Music Movies’

Mark Wahlberg’s Celebrity Challenge: Making Justin Bieber a Movie Star

If anyone can do it, it would be the pop artist formerly known as Marky Mark. The task at hand: transforming Justin Bieber from Canadian teen-pop idol into Hollywood matinee idol

Mark Wahlberg already knows a thing or three about reinvention. When he first burst onto the entertainment scene in 1991 as the leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunk—a two-hit wonder from whom nobody expected any kind of longevity, and afterwards as a Calvin Klein underwear model—few probably thought he’d be likely to succeed past the mid-decade mark.

Yet two decades later, he’s still here. He’s a movie star and a respected actor, a successful producer (of the TV series Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, and of last year’s Best Picture Oscar contender, The Fighter) and an Academy Award acting nominee (Best Supporting Actor for 2006′s The Departed).

His next project: making Justin Bieber a film star. “I see the guy and spent time with him, and you see what he does and how he does it,” Wahlberg told MTV News last year, “and then you actually have a conversation with him, and it’s there.”

Picture this (because Wahlberg already has): Bieber in a The Color of Money-type film, which Wahlberg is developing for Paramount Pictures, with basketball replacing pool. Bieber would take the Tom Cruise role, and Wahlberg would cast a formidable screen legend like Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall or Jack Nicholson as the grizzled vet, the Color of Money archetype that finally won Paul Newman an Oscar in 1987.

It sounds like a dream job—for someone else. If Will Smith, Queen Latifah, Justin Timberlake, Tim McGraw and Wahlberg himself have taught us anything, when making the transition from music to movies, it’s best to start small. Both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera tried to fulfill their film-star fantasy by starring above the title the first time out (in Crossroads and Burlesque, respectively), and thus far, neither one’s Hollywood dream has come true.

Enimen has yet to find a follow-up worthy of his debut starring role in 2002′s 8 Mile; the Hollywood heat surrounding The Bodyguard star Whitney Houston, set to test the acting waters again in a 2012 remake of Sparkle, quickly cooled after three films; Beyoncé has gotten plenty of acting work, but her Hollywood career has yet to generate any kind of major excitement; and Evita aside, Madonna has been most successful onscreen in supporting roles (Desperately Seeking Susan, Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own). Former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar her first time out for Dreamgirls, but what has she done for us lately?

That Bieber’s 2011 documentary/concert film, Never Say Never, was a major box-office success ($73 million in North America) indicates that movie-ticket buyers will shell out bucks to see him on the big screen. And he’s already had a guest-starring role in C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation. But pop stars are always booking cameos and story arcs in hit TV shows, and in Never Say Never, Bieber was literally playing himself. If Wahlberg is going to guide him through the Hollywood jungle, he’d be wise to pull out the map that he himself used.

For now, let somebody else drive. Don’t even let him ride shotgun just yet. Bieber would be better off in the backseat, cast in an ensemble movie where he doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting (see Taylor Swift in Valentine’s Day—on second thought, don’t).

When Wahlberg landed his first major starring role, in 1997′s Boogie Nights, he was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) and surrounded by highly esteemed talents like Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly and a soon-to-be-briefly resurgent (and Oscar-nominated for the first time) Burt Reynolds.

Even after Boogie Nights, Wahlberg’s most notable films—I Heart Huckabees, The Departed, The Fighter—have featured plenty of Oscar-caliber talent. And in The Departed, it was Wahlberg, not costars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon or Jack Nicholson who walked away with the Oscar nod.

But Wahlberg seems to have other ideas for Bieber, whom he calls “really talented.” And if he exhibits no discernible talent for film acting once the cameras roll? “I will extract it,” Wahlberg said.

Good luck to them both. They’ll need it. Wahlberg may have proven that he’s a miracle worker by going from rapper to underwear hunk to Oscar nominee, but Bieber holding his own with a DeNiro or a Duvall or a Nicholson sounds like an almost-impossible dream.

10 Music Stars Who Deserve a Hollywood Big-Screen Test

1. Lady Gaga

Best Performance in a Video: “Paparazzi”

2. John Mayer

Best Performance in a Video: “Who Says”

3. Ke$ha

Best Performance in a Video: “Blow”

4. Mary J. Blige

Best Performance in a Video: “Be Without You”

5. Pink

Best Performance in a Video: “Glitter in the Air” (live at the 2010 GRAMMY Awards)

6. Duffy

Best Performance in a Video: “Warwick Avenue”

7. Fiona Apple

Best Performance in a Video: “Fast As You Can”

8. Richard Ashcroft

Best Performance in a Video: “Break the Night with Colour”

9. Roisin Murphy

Best Performance in a Video: “Overpowered”

10. Brandon Flowers

Best Performance in a Video: The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done”

Sound And Vision: Justin Timberlake as Elton John and Six Other Wish-List Music Biopics

Every great screen biography of a music superstar needs three key ingredients to really sing: 1) An icon with the greatest story never told. 2) A talented lead actor or actress gunning for an Oscar nomination—singing talent and striking resemblance optional (Angela Bassett didn’t sing a word in What’s Love Got to Do with It, and she looks nothing like the film’s subject, yet she was Tina Turner). 3) Kick-ass songs.


Fantasia Barrino
as gospel great Mahalia Jackson is coming soon. The Elton John Story (aka Rocketman) is reportedly finally in the works (I’d cast Justin Timberlake over mentioned favorite James McAvoy and pray that he can nail a British accent), as is Aretha Franklin’s (with or without Halle Berry, the Queen of Soul’s No. 1 choice), Anne Hathaway as Judy Garland and Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury.

Robert Pattinson was announced as a possible Kurt Cobain at one point last year, but it’s hard to imagine that we’d get the true story as long as Courtney Love is around to kill it or put her spin on it. Ryan Gosling has the chops to pull off Cobain, but he’s already in everything and he’s several years older than Cobain was when he committed suicide. Note to aspiring biopic producers: One doesn’t have to cast a “star” as the star. Some biopics (Amadeus, starring Tom Hulce as Mozart; La vie en rose, with Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf) do just fine without huge names.

Now that she’s gone too soon, too, it’s probably only a matter of time before we get Amy Winehouse‘s “untold” story. Note to aspiring biopic producers: Tabloid-era stars are best left alone unless, as with Eminem’s 8 Mile, the focus is on life before they were famous. Otherwise, we’ve already seen the action play out in the pages of Us Weekly and People magazine.

But what about those biopics in various stages of development and non-development? Here are six that I’m dying to see.

1) David Bowie: The star. The spectacle. The songs… Iman. I can’t think of a rock icon whose story is more deserving of the screen treatment. It would be a shoo-in for the Best Costume Design Oscar, and with a star like Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who already played a Bowie-esque figure to perfection in the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine), an actor worthy of the material.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Justin Timberlake as Elton John and Six Other Wish-List Music Biopics’

Check Baby, Check Baby

Mike Check

Mike Check started his career in music behind the kit, eventually trading sticks for a pen and becoming a songwriter. Turns out it was a good swap. Today Check is one of New York’s up-and-coming MCs, firing up audiences with fervent lyrics about anything from crime and poverty to Christian Laettner. On the bubbling, synth-driven “Mega Man” Check details his A-game with the ladies, promising to “fade away like Laettner” after its over. The mood gets heavier on “My Back Yard,” a lyrical tour of NYC set to a sample of Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night.” From Fifth Avenue to Ground Zero, Jamaica Queens, South Bronx and Brooklyn, Check explores the worlds of the haves and have-nots. The rapper’s fierce determination to move out of the latter category is on display in “For the Rush,” an adrenaline-filled banger about owning the audience. “Every time I close my eyes never seen another dream,” he spits, like New York’s version of Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith. If it’s true you gotta lose yourself in the music to really make it, Mike Check is well on his way.

“For the Rush” – Mike Check

The EditoriaList: Top Ten Fictional Music Movies

The EditoriaList is the devious brainchild of one Scott Janovitz, who will use this space to summarize, in convenient list form, the best and worst of whatever occurs to him. Anything related to music, anyway. Janovitz claims to be a Boston-based writer, music producer and award-winning singer and songwriter, but according to the research we can piece together is more likely a petty thief. He is highly opinionated but will begrudgingly listen to those who disagree with him in order to explain to them why they are wrong.

Top Ten Fictional Music Movies:

10. Light of Day (1987)

Who in 1987 wasn’t waiting for the Michael J. Fox – Joan Jett big screen pairing? The only question was what the vehicle would be. A rom-com? Sci-fi thriller? A Tango & Cash–esque buddy cop action-comedy? A Back to the Future sequel where Marty meets The Runaways in 1977? To everyone’s surprise, what we got was an unexpectedly gritty family drama, centering on the relationship between brother and sister Joe and Patty (Fox and Jett), who perform together in a struggling E Street-esque bar band called The Barbusters. I have just told you the worst part of the movie. The Barbusters. This blow is softened by the appearance of the great Michael McKean as a band member—one of McKean’s THREE appearances on this list.

Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, wrote and directed this film and in fact commissioned a song by Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen came back with “Born In The U.S.A.” but decided to keep that one for himself. Too bad, it could have been a hit. The Barbusters do a decent job with his alternate effort, the title song “Light of Day.” And, hey, look, Michael J. Fox can sing. This begs the question—what the hell, Robert Zemeckis? The idea it’s Fox’ voice singing “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future is the least credible part of a movie about a time traveling DeLorean that runs on plutonium.

9. 8 Mile (2002)

Everyone said Eminem was basically playing himself in this film about an aspiring rapper from Detroit with a fucked-up mom and few prospects aside from an innate and unique lyrical flow. But it’s a mistake to go into this thinking it’s the Eminem Story. Em and director Curtis Hanson wisely keep Em’s character B-Rabbit sullen and low-key. The rapper is not a great actor, but he plays this one just right, with visibly crippling insecurity and remarkably restrained rage. The cleverness of the impromptu rhymes staged on street corners and at club battles are just short of believable, but (spoiler alert) at the end, when B-Rabbit destroys all comers with Eminem’s signature delivery, disbelief is easily suspended. Eminem won an Oscar for the great lead song “Lose Yourself.”

Continue reading ‘The EditoriaList: Top Ten Fictional Music Movies’

Sound And Vision: Top 40 Show Tunes — Seven Music Icons Whose Songs Should Rock Broadway

Though I’ll probably never be a huge fan of the Broadway musical, occasionally, they rock. Such has been the case for Great White Way song-and-dance productions based on the music of the Who, Bee Gees, ABBA, Queen, Billy Joel, Dolly Parton, Green Day and Elton John (twice). But poor Paul Simon. He flopped hard—and embarrassingly—with The Capeman in 1998. The moral of this particular west side story? When launching expensive stage musicals, it pays creative and/or commercial dividends for rock and pop stars to fall back on their classics—or in the case of John’s Aida, a classic opera—for inspiration.

And then there’s U2. The normal rules of art and commerce have never applied to Ireland’s greatest musical export. Although Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with original music and lyrics by U2 frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge, has been dogged by bad buzz, negative reviews (for the staging, if not the music) and behind-the-scenes snafus, it’s been a box-office success since debuting in previews last November, more than six months in advance of its official June 14 opening.

Whether their Spidey show tunes will spin their web for months or years remains to be seen, but it’s hard not to wish that Bono and The Edge had adapted their band’s enduring catalog for a musical instead. If they had to take Manhattan, why not do it using songs we know and love from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, two of its best and most successful albums, as inspiration rather than a superhero human-arachnid mutation (who’ll be returning to the big screen shortly in the form of The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield)?

Maybe someday. In the meantime, here are some other iconic artists who ought to be waiting in the wings with their own spotlight musical. (Sorry, no Beatles—I’ve heard enough bad covers of the Fab Four’s catalog, including those from the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to last several lifetimes!)

David Bowie: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been waiting so long for new music from Bowie. Or that my favorite Bowie song inspired the name of this very column. But more likely, it’s all about Space Oddity, a  rock & roll classic which tells a story that conceivably could be stretched out into a two-hour musical format and rounded out with many other Bowie hits. His ’70s output was more or less created to be performed onstage, and his theatrical music and visual lyrics could so easily translate to the rock-opera format. Meanwhile, Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke—parts Bowie played to perfection on record and in concert—are star-making roles if ever there were four of them.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “Walk on By.” “Message to Michael.” “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” “I Say a Little Prayer.” “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Put these Bacharach/David compositions together—adding “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and many more—and what have you got? A Broadway miracle that’ll have more fans singing along than any musical since Mamma Mia!.

Loretta Lynn: It’s a mystery why no one has thought to revive Coal Miner’s Daughter on Broadway. The 1980 film has got the music, the story and the Oscar pedigree. But why stop with Loretta Lynn when you can add the music of Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline and stage Honky Tonk Angels, all about lives and loves in a ten-cent town?

Johnny Cash: No need to revisit Walk the Line just yet. The hero of Ring of Fire (which I always thought would have been a better title for the film since it was co-written by June Carter Cash about her and Johnny, while Cash’s first wife inspired him to write “I Walk the Line”) could be a man in black by another name. Lyrically, the best of Johnny Cash already hits on all the stages of an extraordinary life, from outcast (“A Boy Named Sue,” which was actually written by Shel Silverstein and not Cash) to outlaw (“Folsom Prison Blues”) to would-be saint (“Walk the Line”) to corpse (“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”).

The Eagles: Picture this: Hotel California, featuring the Eagles signature title song plus “Desperado,” “Lying Eyes,” “Take It to the Limit,” “New Kid in Town” and all of those other ’70s country-rock classics. If there’s gonna be a heartache tonight (or any other night), I can’t think of a better musical cure.

Fleetwood Mac: Because the band deserves so much better than Glee‘s very special “Rumours” episode, which, criminally, left out “You Make Lovin’ Fun” and “Gold Dust Woman.”

Eminem: Speaking of outlaws, it’s probably just a matter of time before the ’80s musical outlaw movement known as rap invades Broadway just as it did Middle America in the ’90s. I can’t think of a rapping storyteller whose songs are more deserving of the full-on stage treatment than the guy who brought us “Stan,” “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” and “Love the Way You Lie.” If 8 Mile could win an Oscar, its Tony Award possibilities as a Broadway musical are probably close to endless.

Whose music would you like to experience on Broadway?

Industrial Revolution: The Soundtrack Remains The Same

Ah, the soundtrack. The personal heavy-rotation staple or the CD that’s keeping company with unlabeled mystery CD-Rs, the free magazine compilations or your friend’s band’s terrible demo—all filed somewhere after “Misc. ‘Z’.” You’d like to sell or toss them, but it was an awesome movie. And it does have that one great song you can’t find on any other album.

Whether gold or garbage, if you have a couple of soundtracks in your collection, you are not alone. Film and television soundtracks have been a constant in a market that has seen many ups and downs, but which now seems to be on a steady decline. Record sales overall have now slipped beyond the point of reasonably being termed “flagging” and are really in full cardiac arrest. Yet music consumers continue to boost soundtracks into the solid sales stratosphere. At press time, there are six soundtrack albums among Billboard’s Top 50 albums. This is a historical trend. Certainly, not all soundtracks sell. In fact, many fail dismally. But every generation has a few landmark, bona fide blockbuster soundtracks that top the charts, regardless of their contemporary sales trends. Since the ’20s and ’30s, when Charlie Chaplin began composing the scores to his hugely popular films, soundtracks have been in demand. In the last few decades, soundtracks to Hair, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Back To The Future, Purple Rain, The Big Chill, Top Gun, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Reservoir Dogs, Forrest Gump, Titanic, 8 Mile, and the biggest selling soundtrack ever, The Bodyguard, have sold millions of units each. Some have been so successful as to spawn sequels (Dirty Dancing, Trainspotting, Dazed and Confused, Juno). A sequel to a soundtrack, what will they think of next?

Dirty

These albums and the films they accompany are truly cultural moments, for better or worse. Multiple and diverse factors have contributed to their success, but in any case, they struck a chord in the cultural consciousness. For the fan, the soundtrack to a film or show has always been a way to extend the positive emotional charge they got from the overall experience. The best of these albums offer that emotional connection, along with exclusivity (unavailable material), and a cohesive flow that makes them worth revisiting. But how do we account for their continued sales power in a time when the public is not just tightening the collective belt, but in fact being weaned off the concept of having to pay for music at all?

Dirtier

A look at some recent best-selling soundtracks gives a hint: Glee, Twilight, High School Musical… yes, indeed, the answer lies with the tweens. This crowd not only feels the emotional connection to their favorite movies and shows more intensely than other demographics might, but they also remain blissfully, crucially unconcerned with cost. All they have to spend money on in this world are CDs, books, posters, etc. These are not luxury buys for them. They are the important things, and they are all purchased for them. Thus they have no need or interest in pirated material.

Dirtiest

In our increasingly media-saturated and obsessed culture, it will go on like this. The greatest media successes will be those that achieve…wait for it…synergy. The book, the movie, the soundtrack, the lunchbox and the bath towel— the combination of these things builds interest into passion into phenomenon. The comparatively measly CD of (yawn) a band’s songs just can’t compete. The big studios and record companies are catching on.

Sound And Vision: Why Did The Academy Stop Picking Hits For The Best Original Song Oscar?

First, the good news: Tunes from Country Strong, Tangled, 127 Hours and Toy Story 3 will have the distinction of competing for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards on February 27th. The bad: Not one of them touched Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.

Surprised? It’s not like movies have been putting on the hits lately. A few tracks from Burlesque grazed Billboard’s charts, but for the most part, soundtracks are no longer the record-label cash cows they used to be. Even a blockbuster film like Alice in Wonderland couldn’t turn Avril Lavigne‘s “Alice” into a hit. (It peaked at No. 71 on Billboard’s Hot 100.) When I think of recent soundtrack-single successes, only two quickly come to mind: Miley Cyrus‘s “The Climb,” from 2009′s Hannah Montana: The Movie, which was disqualified by the Academy because it wasn’t written specifically for the film, and Taylor Swift‘s “Today Was a Fairytale,” from last year’s Valentine’s Day, which, unlike two Burlesque numbers, wasn’t even deemed good enough for a Golden Globe nod.

To find an Oscar-nominated song that made a dent on the Hot 100, you’d have to go back to 2008, when “Falling Slowly” from Once went to No. 61 after winning the Academy Award. That’s as high as the Beyoncé-sung Dreamgirls nominee “Listen” had peaked in 2006. (The 2009 champ, “Jai Ho,” from Slumdog Millionaire, had to be translated into English-language pop by Pussycat Dolls in order to get to No. 15.)
The last Oscar winner to hit No. 1 was Eminem‘s 8 Mile single “Lose Yourself,” which took the prize in 2003. In comparison to the ’00s, every Best Original Song of the ’90s was a sizable chart hit, with two of them—”My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic and “A Whole New World” from Aladdin—going all the way to No. 1. Between 1981 and 1987 every Best Original Song Oscar winner was also a No. 1 Hot 100 single. Back then the category was more interesting and a win felt more prestigious because people could actually sing along with the contenders when they were performed on Oscar night.
But when did the Academy stop paying attention to what was on the charts and on the radio? Probably around the same time that movie hits dried up, soundtrack sales plummeted and the labels stopped releasing them with any regularity. Michael Jackson‘s This Is It was a smash in 2009. This year, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never didn’t even get a soundtrack—unless you count the Justin Bieber remix album that was released on February 14th, three days after the movie opened at No. 2 with a North American box-office haul of $29.5 million.
David Fincher went edgy when he hired industrial rocker Trent Reznor to write the music for The Social Network, whose Oscar nomination tally includes Best Original Score, but it’s telling that he didn’t get Justin Timberlake, who costarred in the film, to contribute a new pop song. Despite Trent Reznor’s chart success as the leader of Nine Inch Nails, the soundtrack only peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard 200 album chart. He’ll score Fincher’s upcoming English-language version of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, but unless he wins the Oscar to go with his Golden Globe, I’m sure no one is counting on improved soundtrack sales.
Though TV soundtracks still occasionally chart well— especially if they have the word “Glee” in the title—movie soundtracks seldom do because they rarely seem to feature songs that you can’t find elsewhere. These days when movies use music to accompany the onscreen action, directors generally turn to classics as well as recent and current hits rather than commissioning new tunes. Daft Punk‘s Tron: Legacy score charted quite well, but it functioned as much as a proper Daft Punk album. For the week of February 19, 2011, the musical companion piece to Country Strong was the only movie soundtrack in the Top 40, and not one song on the Hot 100 originated in a film.
A couple of weeks ago, Barbra Streisand sang “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born),” 1977′s Best Original Song Winner and a No. 1 Hot 100 hit, at the GRAMMY Awards. Thirty-four years later, everyone still remembers it. I doubt that anyone will be singing any of this year’s nominees at the GRAMMYs or even in the shower in 2045. I doubt that anyone is singing any of them now.

 


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