SBIFF: MORIARTY's A Big Fan Of AMY'S ORGASM!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
UPDATED - SUNDAY NIGHT!! AMY'S ORGASM just won the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's Audience Award!!
There are times when it's genuinely difficult to find the way into a review, and normally, it's when that film gets under your skin, when it isn't just something you watch and process and spit back out. It's when the film stays with you, rattling around inside for days like a bullet ricocheting its way through your system, opening up old personal wounds and reminding you where each scar is, bringing back each old pain like new. It's when the film is not only obviously personal to the filmmaker, but also hits you in some personal way. That's when it's tough to know just what to set down on paper, just how to start. That's exactly what I've been facing for the last few days as I've contemplated how to write about AMY'S ORGASM.
Let me back up a few days. Middle of last week, I got a pair of e-mails from Jeff Dowd, The Dude. If you've been reading this site regularly, you've probably read about The Dude by now. He's a sort of guardian angel for indie filmmakers trying to find a distributor for their films, and in the year or so that I've known Jeff, he's always been spot-on in his recommendations. If he tells me something's worth my time, it's been worth my time. So when I got the two e-mails from him, I immediately opened them. One was the poster image that you see at the top of this review. The other was an incredibly impassioned letter that urged me to take a ride to Santa Barbara to get a look at this movie that had played twice already to sold out crowds, a film by Julie Davis. As soon as I heard the name, it rang a bell, but I had to actually hop on the 'Net and browse around for a while before remembering why. Julie's first film, I LOVE YOU, DON'T TOUCH ME, had been a Sundance hit in 1997 that sold to MGM. I remember reading somewhere about the incredibly difficult path that the film had followed between Sundance and its eventual unceremonious release on video. Knowing that MGM is a company that can't even open an envelope unless it's got the James Bond logo on it, much less a small romantic comedy without recognizable movie stars, I sympathized with Davis. I wrote the Dude back to tell him that I'd be interested in seeing the film, but there was a problem. See, I'm 230 years old, and I'm just not much of a driver. Last time I did any sort of serious driving was on the way back from Sundance with Robie, and the $3,200 worth of body work that's still being done on his machine should be a testament to why the Evil Professor doesn't belong behind the wheel.
Late Wednesday night, I got a call from The Dude and Julie together on my voice mail, and The Dude told me that I'd be riding up to Santa Barbara with her, giving us a chance to talk before and after the movie. Now, this is a potentially awkward situation like no other. What if you end up disliking the person? Will it color your viewing of the film? Or say the person's great and the film ends up being no good? What's that ride back going to be like? I'm terrible at disguising my reactions to movies. I wear it all pretty close to the surface, and on the few occasions I've run into filmmakers right after seeing something I've hated, one look at me has been enough to send them running. Even so, I know The Dude wouldn't put us together unless he was confident, and we made arrangements for how the next day would work.
And that's how I found myself sitting in the passenger's seat of Julie's new Aztec, cruising up the 101 on Thursday afternoon, talking movies and listening to a compilation of film music put together by Rolf Erickson, a friend of hers who rode along with us. Rolf owns an equipment rental house in LA, and he was one of Julie's first investors, claiming proudly to have made an 88% return on his initial investment in I LOVE YOU, DON'T TOUCH ME. As we rode up, Rolf told me stories about the early short films that he saw of Julie's, the films that made him invest in her first feature. An unabashed cheerleader, he spoke with real enthusiasm about the various things she's done. Julie was charming from the moment we met, confessing that she had done her homework the night before, looking up a number of my reviews to try and guess whether I'd like her film or not. She seemed convinced that I was going to hate it, and told me up front that all she cared about was getting my honest opinion. Not wanting to worry about it yet, I steered the conversation in another direction, and what ended up happening was one of those great getting-to-know-you conversations where you compare films you're fond of, art that's important to you, general views on life and the world. Julie struck me as sharp and funny and a real survivor in this business, someone who's been around for a while and knows what she wants. It turns out she moved out to LA the same month that Harry Lime and I did, back in the summer of 1990, and she moved from pretty much the same area. We couldn't help but compare a few battle scars, talking about what we'd each learned from the decade in the trenches.
By the time we reached Santa Barbara, I knew that I genuinely liked Julie, and that meant I was more tense than usual about seeing the film. We were very early for the 8:00 screening, but Julie said she needed the time to work out the projection of the picture. Because it's still unfinished, we wouldn't be seeing a film print. Instead, she had a video copy of the film, dumped directly onto tape from the Avid, and the first two times she'd screened it, the print had been bright orange, requiring some delicate fine-tuning to make it work. I took advantage of the time to walk around the area, picking up a Carl Hiaasen novel at a bookstore next to the theater which I read while I grabbed a quick bite. Afterwards, as I made my way back to the theater, I couldn't help but notice how many couples were out. That's the way it always is, though, isn't it? When you're somewhere by yourself, you seem to be the only one. Santa Barbara, for those of you who have never been there, is about two hours north of Los Angeles, and it's a sleepy little beach community. There's a lot of retired folks in the area, a healthy mix of college students and young professionals, and it's also got a fair amount of money in town. I've never actually ventured up the coast to see anything at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (or SBIFF, as noted in the headline) before, never having felt properly motivated. I guess I always pictured it as a bunch of bluehairs who didn't feel like going out of town to see films on the fest circuit.
Nothing could be further from the case, though, based on the crowd that was already forming outside the Fiesta Five on State Street. For one thing, most of those couples I'd seen walking around seemed to have ended up in line for the same film I was supposed to be seeing. Despite the fact that Julie gave me a ticket to the film, I was concerned about whether or not I was going to get in. As I stood in line, I listened to the people around me talking about the film, about the word of mouth they'd heard from other festival-goers. There was a definite buzz about the film, and part of it was the title. As people would walk up to get in line, the typical conversation would go something like:
GIRL: (walking up) Are you here for AMY'S ORGASM?
GUY: (already in line) Well, I'll do what I can to help. Are you Amy?
EVERYONE LAUGHS HEARTILY.
Seriously. I must have heard 20 variations on this basic joke within 10 minutes. It was like when SNATCH played the Butt-Numb-A-Thon this year. Everyone had to make a joke out of the title. Everyone had to say the title out loud and laugh at least once. One thing's for sure... no one in that line was confused about what they were there to see. When we were finally let in, I was shocked by how packed the place was. I ended up finding a seat in the fifth row, near the center, a little closer than I would have liked. I was stunned by how narrow each seat was. I was starting to feel like I was back at Sundance. The narrow seats, the people around me comparing notes on what they'd seen and what they'd liked in the fest so far, the Audience Award voting slip that I was given at the door, the fact that the filmmaker was in the room. It felt like I was right back there, two months ago, and I just rode the deja vu all the way to the moment when the lights went down.
So how's the movie? It's good. Darn good. Major arthouse hit good. Here's the thing: people frequently make the mistake of thinking that all indie films have to feature (as Matt Stone once put it) "gay cowboys eating pudding." There's a pretension, a willful artiness, that seems to be expected of anything that's called "independent" these days, and it's a shame. Where does that leave the filmmaker who wants to work in a truly commercial form, but who is financing a film themselves? That's the boat that Julie's in here, and based on the response of the crowd I saw the film with, she hit her target with precision and grace. This is a romantic comedy, plain and simple. It doesn't try and disguise its nature at all. It's a romantic comedy. The story is simple enough. Amy Mandell (played by Davis) is a self-help author who has just published her first book, a smash hit called WHY LOVE DOESN'T WORK. The book basically tells women that they don't need men in their lives to be happy or to be complete. Amy lives alone, and she lives what she writes. She doesn't date, and she seems to keep any possibility of a relationship at arm's length. The people she's closest to are her publicist Janet (Caroline Aaron) and her happily-married friends Don (Mitchell Whitfield, who many would recognize as Barry the Orthodontist, Jennifer Aniston's original fiancee on FRIENDS) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Bransford). From the very opening of the film, it's apparent that Julie is a major fan of Woody Allen. In fact, one of the films that we realized we shared a mutual love for on the way up to Santa Barbara was LOVE AND DEATH. She uses a jazz soundtrack in many places in this film, she frequently breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the camera, and there's a distinctly Jewish POV to much of the film's humor. One recurring thread in the film deals with Amy's desire to get help herself, but her fear of going to therapy. Instead, she opts to visit a confessional, using her time with The Priest (Jeff Cesario in a very, very funny performance) to sort out her life and her attitudes on love.
Then one day, everything changes for Amy. She's booked to do an appearance on a radio talk show hosted by Matthew Starr. And let's hold the bad '80s TV show jokes to a minimum on the Talk Backs, eh? No Peter Barton in sight here. No magical powers from outer space. This Matthew Starr is more along the lines of a Howard Stern or a Tom Leykis, a shock jock who trades on discussions of tits and ass, whose reputation is as a predator of the various bimbos who have guested on his show over the years. As played by Nick Chinlund, though, there's more going on with Matthew. He's a decade older than Amy, just starting to question the choices he's made in his life, and when she comes into the studio, her combination of sex appeal and smart sass hooks him at once. He pursues her, and despite warnings from everyone in her life, she finally accepts and goes on a first date with him.
What spins out from there isn't really all that complicated plot-wise. Amy and Matthew struggle to figure out if what they've got developing between them is real, if it's just physical, if there's any common ground where their philosophies can meet. Amy struggles to maintain her identity as the author of WHY LOVE DOESN'T WORK even as she gives love a chance. It's familiar territory right now, what with the success of HBO's SEX & THE CITY, but Julie manages to claim a corner of the landscape as her very own. She's got a genuine voice, and as I watched this character sputter her way through her relationship, I found myself identifying with so many of the particular moments and comments that were made. This past year, I've found myself entangled in a relationship with a truly wonderful person, never sure exactly where we stand. There have been moments of great intimacy, when it felt like we were sharing on many levels at once, and we've gone through months where we barely saw each other. Through it all, I've felt quite lucky to have had even a friendship with this person, and it was only when I decided to let go of definitions and worrying about exactly what was what that I was able to enjoy the moment. At 30, many of my friends are married now, and some of them are even starting families. For me, career still comes first, and there's a lot I've got left to do before I feel like I've reached any sort of equilibrium. I have no idea what role this person is going to play in my life in the years ahead, and there's no guarantee she'll play any role at all. That depends on a million different factors, any number of choices that the both of us face, and each day seems to bring some fresh reason why we won't make it. In the face of all that, the one thing I hold onto is that, more than anyone I've met in years, this person makes me feel like a better person when we spend time together. This person makes me feel like I'm the man I have always hoped I would become. Near the end of AMY'S ORGASM, Julie Davis has an epiphany of sorts as she addresses a crowd. "I need love," she says, any facade gone, her voice thick with emotion, "like food... like water." She's right. We all do, and it's that simple need that keeps films like this relevant and interesting and that allows us to connect with them when they work. They may not break new narrative ground, and they may not strike us as radical experiments in form, but a film like this can feed us in important ways. It reminds us of just how important and rewarding this struggle to connect is and can be.
The film isn't perfect. For one thing, there's an over-reliance on the extreme close-up, something that always bothers me. We rarely sit back to watch people as they interact, and that's important when the whole film depends on the various relationships we're watching. Davis is adorable, managing to be both funny and sexy in equal measure, and she gives a winning, deeply personable performance in the lead, but Chinlund never quite matches her in terms of energy or charm. To some extent, that's appropriate for his character, who always demonstrates a higher degree of reserve than she does, but part of it is a failing on the part of the actor. If you're an X-FILES fan, you'd recognize Chinlund as the hair and nail fetishist from a few seasons back, one of the more effectively creepy villains I can remember seeing on the show. Like Peter Greene, this guy exudes a bit of creepy, no matter how much he tries to turn up the charisma. Their chemistry is crucial to the film's success, and it's a credit to Davis as a filmmaker that she was smart enough to go back and reshoot key sequences in the film to warm things up between the two of them. The film is slightly unfinished, but that's something that a canny distributor should be able to remedy with a little bit of money and a wee bit of faith. Davis has poured her heart into this film, and as she's been trying to finish it, she actually went off and shot another film for producer Don Roos, a comedy called ALL OVER THE GUY that stars Dan Bucatinsky (who also wrote the film), Adam Goldberg, Richard Ruccolo, and the delicious Sasha Alexander. That's the first time she simply came in as a director instead of having to basically be a one-woman show. Serving as writer, director, producer, and editor can push anyone to their limits, and Davis seems to have managed the difficult balancing act with grace and style. She's got a hell of a career ahead of her as soon as she gets the proper exposure to the viewing public.
There was a Q&A session after the film, and the audience seemed deeply moved by the film they'd just seen. Frequently at this type of thing, there's a few perfunctory questions and the event's over. Not with this crowd. They stayed and they stayed, and there was always one more question they wanted to ask. There were a few spontaneous compliments yelled from various places aroud the theater, including one cry of "You're going to win the festival!" followed by a pretty rousing wave of applause. After the Q&A, a crush of people made their way forward to take their individual turns talking to Julie. Through it all, she maintained that same easy friendliness, making sure she took the time to listen to each response. When one woman complained that the title would never work in middle America, Julie didn't just brush her off. Instead, she talked with the woman, quizzed her on her feelings. The woman said she'd avoided the first two showings of the film at the fest expressly because of the title. Julie was kind enough to not point out that the woman had come to the third screening, and that the title hadn't changed. Personally, after seeing the response outside in line, I would say only a complete idiot would drop the title. It's distinct, it's memorable, and it captures the nature of this film perfectly. It's naughty in all the right ways, it's romantic and goofy, and it's sincere.
It may have been a long time coming, but now that AMY'S ORGASM is here, it's obviously well worth the wait.
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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March 11, 2001, 10:07 a.m. CST
Well here's the first post.. now what the heck was that i just read? seems to be more about some chick than the movie :P
March 11, 2001, 10:13 a.m. CST
next movie to review is KINGDOM COME! hahahaha.....^_^
March 11, 2001, 10:14 a.m. CST
I stopped reading your review after the first eight paragraphs or so. You are too wordy sometimes, which is not always bad, but when too much is spent on personal anecdotes and how you ended up at the theatre, then it gets tedious when it is supposed to be a film review. However, since I think I tend to share your taste in films I will have to check this one out. Thanks for the heads up!
March 11, 2001, 10:28 a.m. CST
The movie sucks. I mean it really sucks. I like well-made chick flicks (an increasing rarity, but this guy finds them fun ocassionally), and this is most definitely not one. A Jewish princess who could have escaped from the Frank Zappa song (stereotyping is alive and well in this flick) is gold-digging for a husband who has a lot of cash but will leave her alone sexually. It's stupid, it's annoying, and it's actively offensive to both men and women. I hope "Amy's Orgasm" is as good as you say, Moriarty. I'll see it on your recommendation, because you've only been wrong once in my experience (I had a lot of fun with "Series 7".) Just thought I might let people know what they might be in for.
March 11, 2001, 10:44 a.m. CST
Is it me or do all AICN reviews seem like they are written by Del Griffith from Planes Trains and Automobiles under seperate pen names? Not everything is an anecdote. Seriously, the builup to the review was longer than the review itself. If I want entertainment from a movie, I'll go see the movie. If you are reviewing said movie because some of us think you have good taste in film, here's a good idea: review the movie and save the anecdotes for a seperate column. Or here's a better idea. Why don't we have Harry make a new section, called "Geek Adventures" and then all the AICN staffers can tell their amusing little stories about the ass on the chick standing in line in front of them, or where they bought their donuts from that morning, and then link them to the review of the movie itself. It would save time for people who just want to click over and see whether or not a new indie flick is a masterpiece or a turd, and it would allow AICN reviewers to truly go balls-out and simply post their daily diary. It's not that some of these little side stories aren't occasionally amusing, but honestly, the long-winded reviews are really pushing me to ign.com, and I don't even LIKE that site outside of the video game stuff. Don't get your underwear in a bunch, I realize that you're trying to deliver a bit of personality and relay some of the geek experience. But we're ALREADY geeks if we come here regularly, so we don't need virtual-reality geekdom. And personality comes across better with an entertaining review with some salt and pepper rather than eight paragraphs about how you got into the theater that make me want to hit "page down" repeatedly. Just trying to help, guys.
March 11, 2001, 11 a.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
I think the reason you're frustrated is because you think that the "lead-in" was somehow separate from the piece. Take a look at it again. Am I just randomly talking about things I did, or am I specifically profiling the filmmaker, the experience I had talking with her before the film, and the reaction of other people to the title of the film? All of this is related, and it's not just "lead-in." I'm sorry television has ruined the attention spans of my generation and everyone younger, but it ain't my fault.
March 11, 2001, 11:10 a.m. CST
This film sounds cool. I like indie Rom-Coms, cuz you get to see actors who are basically unknown, who carry no baggage. Unlike Hanks/Ryan etc.
March 11, 2001, 11:16 a.m. CST
by Jesus Q Einstein
Plotwise it sounds like nothing more than a 2 hour version of 'I Need Love' by LL Cool J (Initial bravado and independence gives way to gushing of real need for affection). Oh dear. + Moriarty - don't say that we have no attention span cause we just want to hear about the movies - I thought that was the point of the site - not to hear about you guys (no offence).
March 11, 2001, 12:02 p.m. CST
Based on such a terrible first feature, I am very hesitant to see any other film by this filmmaker. I Love You Don't Touch suffered from an unbearably smug script, poorly written and a weak cast. Skip this and go rent Next Stop, Wonderland instead.
March 11, 2001, 12:47 p.m. CST
Quote "From: TheRealMoriarty Subject: To Respond... Comment: I think the reason you're frustrated is because you think that the "lead-in" was somehow separate from the piece. Take a look at it again. Am I just randomly talking about things I did, or am I specifically profiling the filmmaker, the experience I had talking with her before the film, and the reaction of other people to the title of the film? All of this is related, and it's not just "lead-in." I'm sorry television has ruined the attention spans of my generation and everyone younger, but it ain't my fault." End Quote *********** It's great that you got to meet the film maker and all dat, but none of us will, so your pontification doesn't really add dat much for the rest of us. It's just more text to scroll through. The audience reaction could be summed up with more brevity as well "they all seemed to like it", or "they thought it bit" or "reaction was mixed". And does your story on HOW you got to see the sreening really add that much? Please don't get all hoity toity cause someone calls the review longwinded. It is. ***** As to the "my generation has a short attention span" quip. Ugh. Even people in Dickens time thought some of his stuff was verbose. P.S., if you don't have the attention span to read dis talkback, I'll understand :-D
March 11, 2001, 2:08 p.m. CST
I think Moriarty's defense of his comments was fine, in fact I enjoyed the anecdotes. If you did have a problem with them and wanted to respond maybe you should it in a more intelligent manner. Using real words such as "this" and "that" might help. I think his short attention span theory actually holds up better when responded to by someone who can't take the time to spell out words with four letters in their entirity. And in case you couldn't tell, I am "dissin' dat comment o' yo's".
March 11, 2001, 2:12 p.m. CST
by jeff bailey
Yeah...you know what I hate? I hate seeing people's fucking neurosis on screen. I mean hate all these lonely Travis Bickles who write movies with hookers, and strippers, and domantrixes with hearts of fucking gold. Not that I'm against sex industry workers. More then fine with me. But don't trivialize them and make them into romantic figures. And I equally loathe films where girls get involved with a "player" who could have any woman but instead sees her as his equal and the woman changes him. For more of this bullshit, check out the whacked Rene Russo character in the Thomas Crown Affair (thanks Leslie Dixon). Yeah we get it, guys have madonna-whore complexes, women like to "try" to change jerks who treat them like shit. Great, I don't wanna see your life on screen. Or at least your sad sexual/relationship hang ups. For great female charcters, I'll watch a Cameron movie. Well rounded, strong, maternal, and truely equal with their male counterparts. For a great romantic comedy, I'll watch Woody Allen. Yeah. he's got hang ups but at least they are in the middle of some complex bigger issues of dealing with death in the middle of life.
March 11, 2001, 2:56 p.m. CST
by Jack Lazarus
Does Moriarty seem to anyone else like he gets more long winded with every review? Seriously, this guy is the Charles Dickens of AICN (for all the wrong reasons, no flattery intended). Someone needs to put a governor on his keyboard or atleast rein him in with a wordcount limit. I don't even read his reviews for content anymore, just to get a quick chuckle at how pretentious and self important they are. As far as the movie goes, it sounds about as sophisticated as a reverse version of Down to You (though I do appreciate the non-intended subtext of casting the death fetish guy from X-Files as the romantic lead). Come on, quit recycling these tired character cliches and get a real plot...or at least have spaceships blow something up.
March 11, 2001, 3:40 p.m. CST
Gobanana quote "I think Moriarty's defense of his comments was fine, in fact I enjoyed the anecdotes. If you did have a problem with them and wanted to respond maybe you should it in a more intelligent manner" ************ Forgot the word 'do' didn't ya? Nothing looks sillier than an " I'm more intelligent then you" statement without those important two letter words. Ever heard of verbs? LOL Stinky Banana boy :-P
March 11, 2001, 7:02 p.m. CST
by Senor Askew
Harry, Jesus man. This new "Basic Instinct" animation is just too horrific to comprehend. "It's horrible, disgusting and crude, yet I can'not look away", it's The Harry.
March 11, 2001, 7:43 p.m. CST
by Regis Travolta
Or so I've heard. Not that I've ever had one but some day maybe when I get married. Masturbation is a sin you know. You'll go blind and get hair on your palms if you do it then you'll go insane. Or so I've heard.
March 12, 2001, 11:36 a.m. CST
........i don't have indepth knowledge of porn films like YOU DO! hahahahaha.....^_^
March 12, 2001, 12:01 p.m. CST
Thanks for responding at least. I do trust your judgement and all, you seem to have good taste in movies. But I still don't view my minor criticism of your review as the result of my short attention span, I just think maybe you could edit yourself more carefully. Maybe tighten up or drop a few sentences and I...and I...hey look there's a squirrel...here, squirrely squirrely...dear god, what the hell is that new animation...anyway where was I? Oh, yeah. That's why I think that Ghost Dog was at least the best movie I've seen on the Sundance Channel this week. The End.
March 12, 2001, 6:04 p.m. CST
March 12, 2001, 9:10 p.m. CST
Sheesh, some of these anecdotes are just a little too much. I'm going to have to disagree with you here, Moriarty - you claim that your telling the whole story adds to your opinion and review. Not really. Not at all. Oh sure, if you had a conversation with the filmmaker, we'd like to hear about it. That's cool. But ALL the details about how you were picked up and why and where and blahblahblah. We don't need or want to hear about your date. In fact, I came away from the review thinking "This movie might suck", but the reviewers opinion was tainted by having become chummy with the filmmaker. That sounds like I'm accusing you of selling out, and I'm not. It could've been subconscious, and really weakens your viewpoint, in my opinion.
Dec. 16, 2002, 8:09 p.m. CST
by Boris Grushenko
First of all, if you noticed my screen name, you'll know that I too am a fan of Woody Allen's "Love and Death". That is the first coincidence. The second is that my wife is named "Amy". How could I resist a movie titled, "Amy's Orgasm", even if I just brought it home as a joke to tease my wife. As it is, I am a big fan of dialogue-driven neurotic comedies, so I was interested in seeing it too. Besides Woody Allen, I've loved the work of Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach and bits and pieces of Ed Burns's stuff, among others. So this film seemed right up my alley. Well, I wasn't a big fan of the film. I wanted to like it all the way up to the end, but couldn't. It just felt too familiar, too formulaic, and way too long. It felt like a 250 page screenplay, even though it was probably the standard 100-125 pager. (And this from a self-proclaimed "talkie" junkie.) That said, I like Julie Davis and hope she finds her niche in the business. I'd like to see her focus on acting actually, or if she wants to continue writing and directing, I hope she finds a good writing partner. I'd agree with Moriarty's assessment of her male co-star... he definitely didn't help Julie out, but even with, I don't know, say, Matthew McCounaghey (sp?) it still would have felt tired and contrived. I'd chalk it up to the fact that I am a "dude", and this was a "chick" flick, except I've liked other independent chick flicks in the past. (Anyone remember "Walking and Talking"?) It didn't help that I'd seen "Kissing Jessica Stein" earlier, basically the same plot except with a lesbian angle... and then there was that big-budget Ashley Judd movie that was once titled Animal Husbandry, or something like that, but was later changed to a name I can no longer remember. Same basic story. How can an over-educated, neurotic, and single Jewish girl find true love... blah! But, uh, keep at it Julie.
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