Category Archives: Profiles

Profile: Mark Cuban

The self-made maverick: In his latest venture, Dallas NBA team’s owner just might be revolutionizing movie distribution

May 21, 2006, Austin American-Statesman

Subtlety has left the building. It wasn’t excused, but expelled, chased by the echo of a yell.

Mark Cuban, the self-made billionaire from Dallas, has gotten raucous, again. Jolted from his seat, he’s courtside at Game 1 of the playoffs between the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, the basketball team he owns, and he’s roiled. Wearing a blue Mavericks jersey, the hulky Cuban hollers, chest thrusting, fists punching the air, his face a welter of outrage.

In the six years he has owned the Mavericks, Cuban’s game-time spectacles of brute enthusiasm have gone from obnoxious to legendary, chafing fans and officials, who’ve rewarded the tantrumy proprietor with fines that would render destitute the average basketball fan.

During this May 7 game in San Antonio, Cuban hit the court to rebuke the referees, a considerable no-no. A few days later, the National Basketball Association fined Cuban $200,000, half for the incident and half for comments he posted on his blog, in which he called the playoff officials unqualified.

Cuban has been fined eight times for more than $1 million and suspended from three games.

But what’s a million or so to a billionaire? Like a jaywalking ticket to the rest of us?

“No, it’s still a lot of money,” Cuban says. “I know the value of money. I could be doing a whole lot of other things with it.”

What he’s been doing lately is revamping the way movies are produced and distributed, including releasing DVDs of films the same day they open in theaters.

His co-ownership, with Todd Wagner, of 2929 Entertainment, which holds production and distribution companies and an arthouse movie chain, has made Cuban a muscular player in the independent film world.

As if we would forget him, Cuban’s innovations in movie distribution and the heady accomplishments of the Mavericks have vaulted the boyish Texas billionaire back into high relief. Here talking art films, there chest-bumping sweaty athletes, his profile is as visible as ever.

Yet he remains best known for money and moxie. With a net worth of $1.8 billion, made during the Internet boom, he is the 428th-richest person in the world, tied with 22 other individuals, according to Forbes. Not as rich as Bill Gates (No. 1 with $50 billion), though a speck wealthier than Queen Oprah, who sits at No. 562 with $1.4 billion.

The basketball team (price: $285 million) and a Gulfstream jet ($41 million, bought online) are Cuban’s largest material purchases. Another major acquisition was his 24,000-square-foot Dallas mansion, where he lives with wife Tiffany, daughter Alexis, 2 1/2, and her cat Meshugana, whose name is Yiddish for a crazy person.

This is the good life. A healthy middle-aged billionaire who wears faded jeans and sneakers, more akin to a grown-up fraternity brother, boasting popular tastes (“I’m a Bud Lite guy’’) and a love of rugby and rap, and sporting a functional school-kid haircut. Continue reading


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Profile: Actress Susan Tyrrell

A life of blows and disappointments can’t bow Susan Tyrrell: The nomadic, Oscar-nominated actress and painter has relocated to Austin, for now

May 22, 2010, Austin American-Statesman

Susan Tyrrell isn’t there when a journalist shows up to meet her. This is not a surprise. The journalist is expecting a no-show, a late show, a show-off — a show of some kind, preferably grand and spangled. Prickly and difficult will do, too. It is the type of interview you enter with a built-in flinch, light armor steeling you for things you’ve only heard about, weird stuff, wonderful stuff. Adventures, happy and horrifying, that you are sure will put you in a vulnerable state of unforeseen reaction — mouth gapes and head shakes — that grant your subject the upper hand. She’s feeding you, and sometimes the legend tastes fishy. Tyrrell seems like a feeder, shoveling forkfuls of braised auto-mythology.

Ah, here she comes.

Tyrrell is tiny. She is in a wheelchair. She has no legs below the knees.

She rolls up to the table, where I have been waiting with her close friend Yvonne Lambert of Austin band the Octopus Project. Lambert introduces us. I shake Tyrrell’s hand, which is wrapped in a scratchy wheelchair glove, and click on the tape recorder.

“Good luck with that bitch you’re interviewing,” Tyrrell says in the third person.

Now, there we go.

Tyrrell is a movie star, though she’d be the first to tell you that that star is all but extinguished, wisps of smoke curling off the ash pile of flops. Show business burned her early and she bears the scars with a rancor that’s lightly camouflaged by a beaming, charge-ahead optimism. She has a dry, wry, dirty sense of humor that deflects misfortune, curdles cynicism.

Tyrrell has acted in 75 films and television shows and earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination as a blowsy barfly in John Huston’s 1971 boxing drama “Fat City.” She won a Saturn Award in 1978 from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for best supporting actress in “Andy Warhol’s Bad.”

“It weighs a ton,” Tyrrell says. “I use it for a doorstop.”

She played a whore in “Islands of the Stream” (1977), a rowdy biker grandma in the John Waters comedy “Cry-Baby” (1990) and a three-inch-tall woman in “Big Top Pee-Wee” (1988). She’s appeared on “Baretta,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Kojak.” She watched her roles increasingly consigned to misfits, hags, nutjobs.

Tyrrell speaks shakily but bitingly. Hers has not been an easy life, and you can hear it in her scratchy voice and punctuating groans.

Mother issues (they haven’t talked in 40 years). Hanging out with the outré Warhol gang in New York, where she had a nervous breakdown. A traumatic sexual incident with John Huston that forever damaged her. Wild soirées. A beautiful two-year love affair with Hervé Villechaize, the little man who played Tattoo on “Fantasy Island.” And, of course, the legs, which were amputated in 2000 due to a rare blood disease called essential thrombocythemia. She doesn’t give a damn about the legs.

At a glowing 65, Tyrrell has short-term memory lapses that fray her long, ropy anecdotes. Often she loses her train of thought. “Where are we now?” she asks again and again. Oh, yes …

Tyrrell on this busy night at hipster magnet the Highball wears a tight black T-shirt, straw cowboy hat, blue bandanna snug around her neck and black pants that are not filled by her prosthetic legs. Her lipstick is a kittenish red. She sports dark glasses, like a blind woman.

“Sorry about my sunglasses,” she says. “I have hideous allergies that eat my eyeballs out. It’s like cutting an onion in half and rubbing it in your face.”

Tyrrell was born Susan Cremer (pronounced Kramer and changed for showbiz reasons), but for years people have called her simply SuSu.

“They do. If they can stomach it,” she says. She named her rescue dog — “a gorgeous pedigree gray-silver poodle” — ZuZu. (“I love dogs,” she says. She agrees that the fur-covered purse in her lap looks like a small dog.)

Speaking of pups, a Salty Dog cocktail — a greyhound in a salt-rimmed glass — arrives. Tyrrell takes a sip and puckers. “Yowza!” The drink is strong. She likes it.

*** Continue reading


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Werner Herzog goes 3-D

April 8, 2011, The Wall Street Journal

Werner Herzog admits he’s a “skeptic” of 3-D movies, but he made a concession with his new film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a 3-D documentary that takes a wide-eyed tour inside the Chauvet Cave in France, whose vast limestone walls are emblazoned with animal paintings more than 30,000 years old—the oldest ever discovered.

Because the cave is accessible only to scientists, Mr. Herzog had to acquire special permission from the French government to film inside and had to adjust to extreme time and technical limitations, using a crew of only four.

What the veteran filmmaker, 70, discovered inside was a world of subterranean splendor, namely cave paintings in pristine condition—Ice Age menageries of rhinos, lions, mammoths, bison and cave bears, amid glistening lunar-like surfaces.

Mr. Herzog, whose career straddles both features and documentaries, narrates “Forgotten Dreams” with his signature blend of philosophical, humorous and grandiloquent commentary, adding a layer of curious depth to the images.

The film, opening April 29 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, then other cities, isn’t just for art house audiences. Children can appreciate its riches, said Mr. Herzog from his Los Angeles home: “You do not need to be an intellectual to be in complete awe at what you are seeing.”

The Wall Street Journal: What was so special about this subject that you decided to shoot in 3-D?

Mr. Herzog: As normal, thinking people we assume that paintings on the wall are fairly flat. But when I was checking out the cave for the first time without any cameras it was immediately clear that it would be imperative to shoot in 3-D, because it’s all limestone in the cave, a drama of formations, bulges and niches and protrusions and pendants. And all of this was utilized by the artists 32,000 years ago. A bulge would be the neck of a bison charging at you. A niche would serve as a place where a shy horse would look out. So it was really, really clear that it had to be 3-D.

What drew you to the cave in the first place?

In a way, cave paintings are where my own intellect and fascinations began. When I was 12 or 13 I saw a book about cave paintings in the display window of a bookstore. And it was just staggering, so striking to see this. There was a horse and it said “Paleolithic paintings,” and I really wanted to have this book, but I couldn’t buy it. I worked for months as a ball boy on tennis courts. Each week I would sneak by the store and see if the book was still there. I was afraid somebody else would buy it. Finally I bought it in this kind of awe. Looking at these paintings in that book is still in me. I actually explained this to the French minister of culture. That was one of my arguments why I had to make the movie and not a French director.

Was there any contest of what was most beautiful to you in the cave? There’s so much there—the crystal formations, the stalagmites, the ancient animal bones on the floor and the paintings themselves.

It’s interesting that you’re mentioning it, because when you enter the cave the first thing that’s most unexpected is the beauty of the cave: the crystal cathedrals, the stalactites and stalagmites, the bones—exactly the sequence in which you describe it. It’s stunning. Four thousand skulls of extinct cave bears, rib cages, vertebrae. And then you have the almost fresh footprints of the cave bears, though you know they went extinct 20,000 years ago. The freshness is so stunning, so fresh that you think that somebody is looking at you from the dark. But for me, it would be the lions that are most beautiful. A whole group of lions is stalking something. We do not know what exactly. Their eyes are exactly aligned. Every single lion is crouching and sneaking and stalking something. The intensity of this panel is incredible.

How does this movie fit into your body of work thematically?

I thought about this because right now I am finishing this film “Death Row” with death-row inmates, which will be a 90-minute or two-hour film. But I have material of such intensity that I will also make what I call in quotes a “mini-series” of films based on singular cases. And I thought about what the title might be of the mini-series. It dawned on me that it would be something that would also fit the cave film: “Gazing Into the Abyss.” The cave film is really looking deep into the origins of the modern human soul, looking into the dark recesses of time, where time becomes unfathomable. There is an abyss of time, an abyss of the human soul. And in “Death Row,” wherever you look, you look into an abyss, an abyss of the human condition. It’s a theme you can see in many of my films, such as “Aguirre.” It doesn’t mean it has to be a dark gaze into it. Sometimes you look into the wonderful, joyful side like in “Bad Lieutenant,” where you have the bliss of evil.

You’re an extremely fast filmmaker, a lot like Woody Allen.

Woody Allen is like a snail. He makes a film a year. I make two to three films a year.

How do you do it?

I make fast decisions. I know what I want to do. Projects are pushing me so hard that you can’t even believe it. I have to wrangle them, like home invasion. How do you get the burglars out of your home, how do you get them on the screen? I edit digitally and you can edit almost as fast as you are thinking. Many of my colleagues lose themselves in the possibilities. They create 22 parallel versions and can’t decide which one is the best. I just do one and do it straightaway with all the urgency of the material.

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Interview: David Carradine

Enter the caveman, David Carradine: He’s been a cowboy, a kung fu artist, a folk artist. Now he takes on Austin-shot ‘Homo Erectus’

Dec. 2, 2005, Austin American-Statesman

David Carradine has long skinny legs that are stretched out like bamboo poles, naked, knobby, porpoise-smooth. They are exposed from the ankle to way up the thigh, several unsettling inches past the tan line to scary areas that make one’s eyes avert in a violent spasm. He looks supremely relaxed and casual, sunk deep in a chair with those bare legs leveled at the floor, elbow propped on an arm rest to keep the cigarette in his fingers close to his faintly duckish lips.

Carradine is dressed as a caveman. Cave-people, according to the Discovery Channel, didn’t wear much apparel. Innocent of vanity, they sported spots and dashes of clothing — loin cloths, tattered shorts, shredded bikini tops, sometimes nothing at all. And so Carradine, former star of the indelible television series “Kung Fu,” in which he sometimes wore little more than a monk robe, is sparsely draped in the rags of primitive man. His shoes are ratty moccasins, his shirt random scraps of earth-tone felt. His pants: nonexistent.

“This is only half of it,” Carradine says with a swell of pride. “I throw fur on top of it all.”

He points to a heap of fake black fur on the floor of his actor’s trailer, which rests on the magnificently dusty moonscape of a limestone quarry in North Austin. Scenes from the movie “Homo Erectus” are being shot here, one of the film’s many locations, including Hamilton Pool and Enchanted Rock, that suggests prehistoric landscapes. (A limestone quarry? How very “Flintstones.”)

“And in the movie my hair is sticking straight up like this,” says Carradine, teasing out long, wild gray-blond strands to make a static-electric blast. “Out to here.”

What are you going to do when playing a caveman but go with it? Carradine seems to be having fun with the role of Mookoo, the blustering chief of his cave tribe. His son Ishbo, who is goading his species to evolve, is played by a Woody Allenish Adam Rifkin, the film’s writer and director. Talia Shire plays Carradine’s cave-wife and Ali Larter (“Legally Blonde”) plays Rifkin’s elusive dream girl. “Homo Erectus” is the third low-budget feature produced by the University of Texas Film Institute and its for-profit arm, Burnt Orange Productions.

Carradine’s last major role was the title villain in Quentin Tarantino’s martial-arts revenge opus “Kill Bill,” the success of which hurled the actor back into public view after a disappearance that seemed to have lasted decades. Actually, it did last decades. His most recent watchable film before “Kill Bill” was the Jesse James western “The Long Riders,” co-starring his brothers Keith and Robert. That was 1980.

“Playing in ‘Kill Bill’ helped,” Carradine says. “Up until then everyone was saying ‘Grasshopper.’ Now everyone says ‘Bill.'”

Climbing into Carradine’s trailer, one is swallowed in a rich fog from his English Ovals, fancy, filterless cigarettes he lights the way some people pop peanuts. He has the grainy rasp and paper-bag flesh of a smoker and the gruff pluck of someone turning 69 on Thursday.

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‘The unsinkable exuberance of Ernest Borgnine’

Sept. 14, 2007, Austin American-Statesman

You know what Ernest Borgnine is looking forward to? He is looking forward to hawking DVDs on the QVC shopping channel. He is looking forward to taking calls from viewers who want to say nice things to the movie star, now 90, while they provide their MasterCard digits to buy DVDs of “McHale’s Navy,” his popular 1960s sitcom.

The attention electrifies him. He loves it. And he loves to share the love. It’s a generous, outsized love, one that tumbles and laughs and belly-shakes from his end of the phone during a recent conversation.

How he laughs. His are hearty, throaty, avuncular guffaws, rollicking animal sounds punctuating prosaic statements that don’t seem to warrant joyous noise. What the heck! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Ernest Borgnine. Instant name recognition. Instant face recognition. Like that, you could point him out in a lineup of gruff, balloon-bellied guys with a gap between their front teeth wide enough to sail the S.S. Poseidon through. Those teeth make a heck of a smile, unmistakable, downright iconic. Huge, enveloping, really goofy.

Excited, I tell co-workers I’m interviewing Borgnine, and instead of fond memories of “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Wild Bunch” or “The Dirty Dozen,” I get reflexive chuckles and the callous but pardonable question “He’s still alive?”

This isn’t surprising. I admit, much of why I accepted the invitation to talk to the jolly actor, who’s plumping the “McHale’s Navy” DVDs, is because of his undimmed camp appeal.

A granddaddy of Hollywood character actors, Borgnine’s living ghost has never left the building. It’s hung around long enough to become legend, and legend too easily in these sniggeringly ironic times becomes a target of fun and fodder for parody.

He wasn’t asked to play himself on “The Simpsons” for his brilliant acting, but for the fumes of notoriety, the knowing wink of familiarity, for both the good films (“From Here to Eternity,” “Johnny Guitar”) and the dreadful (“Real Men Don’t Eat Gummi Bears”).

To be blunt: He was on the cartoon because the very idea of Ernest Borgnine  is funny.

How did this happen? How does a distinguished, Oscar-winning artist (for his touching performance in 1955’s “Marty”) go from movie star to free-floating punch line? What makes Ernie funny?

Derision isn’t at issue. Pop culture is not making fun of or diminishing Borgnine’s career and persona. He and I talk about this. I remind him that his unconventional looks – the pudge, the buggy eyes, that insouciant gap – and his steadfast refusal to stop working make him ripe for burlesque.

“Let ’em have fun,” says the happy, hale actor. “Keeps you in mind, doesn’t it?”

He roars. The oncoming earthquake is equal parts Santa Claus and Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

We adore our camp figures even more, it appears, than the sparkling immortals whose careers never seem to dip or dive, holding steady and respectable. The campy ones are imperfect, more human, and we relate. They add an unexpected dimension to celebrity watching: fun without malice.

Still, we can be mean. We are a cynical public and our searching appraisals are often made through a scrim of hopeful schadenfreude. While some camp-ready stars are vectors of their own free-falls into risible self-caricature – Joan Crawford, Ozzy Osbourne, Tammy Faye Bakker, the two Coreys – others, like Borgnine, William Shatner and Shelley Winters merely got old yet kept going, a Hollywood sin.

Showbiz Law No. 152: If you ever appeared on “The Love Boat,” you will never be taken as seriously as you were before. (Borgnine rode the Love Boat in the early ’80s. Did “The Poseidon Adventure” teach him nothing about the perils of nautical voyage?)

But Borgnine, mysteriously, has claimed a place in our hearts, like a big fuzzy teddy bear, all smiles and elbow nudges. As critic David Thomson notes, at a point in his career Borgnine made the “transition from actor to inexplicable celebrity.”

Borgnine’s one of the good ones. We know this because he probably could not pull off a reality show. He is far from the Anna Nicole abyss. He is not a loser. He still says things like “Holy mackerel!”

Is his tirelessness, his urge to crank out smaller movies and sell DVDs on cable, really such a crime? 

“I just like to work too much. That’s my problem,” Borgnine  says. “I’d do anything, I don’t care. I even do (the voice of Mermaid Man on) ‘SpongeBob SquarePants,’ for heaven sakes!”

He laughs that crazy laugh. When it recedes like a passing jet, he says, “I tell you, it pays.”

You do what you have to do. What you want to do. Retired athletes pitch deodorant and life insurance. Suzanne Sommers and Chuck Norris peddle exercise regimes. Borgnine makes movies. He never stopped.

“No regrets whatsoever,” he says.

Stumped, I tell him he sounds like the happiest man in the world.

“I AM the happiest man in the world,” he says. “Why shouldn’t I be? I’m recognized throughout the world. I’ve got my health. The good Lord loves me. I got a good wife. Gee whillikers, I’m sitting on top of the world!”

And then Ernest Borgnine laughs and laughs and laughs.

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‘Frenzied Founder’: Louis Black profile

March 12, 2006, Austin American-Statesman

Louis Black is a wreck. For this particular newspaperman, this fact is not news. People who know Black are quick to say he is unsettled, self-loathing, temperamental, explosive and passionate to a fault. Almost unanimously, they invoke an ugly synonym for “jerk” to describe him. (Almost unanimously, they still love him.)

Black, co-founder and editor of the Austin Chronicle, denies none of it. His snarled personality — a knot of contradictions and impulses in the cause of doing something important and good — makes for interesting encounters, lively anecdotes, inflated legends and flamboyant fictions. He is known as much for these as for his foibles and tics: squirming in his chair, pacing the floor, flapping his hands. His mouth runs with astonishing velocity. Just watching him makes you jittery.

As the face of Austin’s alternative weekly and co-founder of the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festivals, which run this week, Black wields great influence and has accomplished much for the city. SXSW has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to Austin coffers and earned the city an international reputation. Black and his colleagues at the Chronicle and SXSW have propped up and nourished the local music and film scenes that so many take for granted.

Without Black, a music fanatic and film savant, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World would lack much of its cultural stock.

“The music scene would have died a long time ago,” says Mike Levy, publisher of Texas Monthly. “The energy that Louis and his colleagues have infused into the town have kept the music and film traditions alive much more than anything the City Council has done.”

That energy has a price tag. Black’s emotions, especially his anger, tend to get away from him and make messes.

“He’s a very passionate person,” says Michael Hall, former managing editor of the Chronicle and now a senior editor at Texas Monthly. “That means all the great things that come with being passionate. But, on a dime, Louis can also show the darker side of what passion will lead you to do.”

He struggles with this. He is in therapy. The guy formerly known as Louis Black is trying to mellow. Meanwhile, he has a newspaper to run and world-famous festivals to put on. Continue reading

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Interview: David Mamet

Want to make movie magic? It’s not taught in school, Mamet says
Playwright and filmmaker says ultimately, writers are their own best teachers

Feb. 17, 2008, Austin American-Statesman

“Hello, I’m David Mamet.”

Mamet, playwright and filmmaker, enters an Austin restaurant with let’s-do-this punctuality, upon a gust of finger-snapping velocity. He doesn’t know who he’s addressing. There are two of us sitting in the small room. He looks right between us, betting one of us is his interview date. Here I am. Come on.

Mamet’s built like a tree stump. His hair matches his beard, a silver frost of buzzed stubble. He wears owlish glasses, a white polo shirt tucked into loose jeans without a belt and suede mountain boots. During a 45-minute conversation, he sips decaf coffee and talks in a chunky Chicago accent that’s so thick it borders on Bronxian.

It’s 9 a.m. He’s been up for hours writing in his hotel room. (Later we learn he borrowed a manual typewriter from the hotel.)

Is he working on a screenplay? “I don’t know. I might be,” Mamet, 60, says.

He’s like that. Alternately glib and evasive, thorny and direct, reflective and expansive. He’s soft-spoken and extremely polite. (And generous. He leaves a $20 tip for a free cup of coffee.)

With dozens of plays — including “American Buffalo” and the Pulitzer-winning “Glengarry Glen Ross” — as many screenplays, several books of essays and a few novels, Mamet is a writer’s writer, a brusque man with a formidable work ethic. He admits he writes with unquenchable fecundity, even, perhaps, “too much.”

How much does he write each day? “No idea,” he says.

Does he write every day? “Probably.”

Last year the Ransom Center acquired more than 100 boxes of Mamet’s manuscripts, journals, sketches and letters. As part of the deal, Mamet agreed to a series of short residencies at the University of Texas. Earlier this month, Mamet spent three days speaking to several UT classes.

Ironically, pushing teachers out of the way is the linchpin of his advice. “Listen,” he says, “anybody who is going to learn how to write is going to teach himself how to do it.”

Mamet finds it “impious” to think too much about his own work and processes. He once told an interviewer that he paces a lot when he gets stuck writing. He told me that he “shoots a couple hundred rounds from a .22” outside his rural home in Vermont. (He splits his time between there and Los Angeles.)

Does gunfire clear the mind?

“No, it’s great for making things go ‘bang,'” Mamet says.

American-Statesman: Why is it important that a university archive acquire and take care of your life’s work — writings, drafts, journals?

David Mamet: We all like to flatter ourselves that when we’re dead and gone that someone will find some hidden meaning in what we’ve done. What someone might find interesting are the different stages a work goes through. I don’t think there’s any social value in it. Some hobbyist might get a kick out of it someday.

And students might find it instructive.

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think one can teach writing. And I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt to prove that.

You’re rather an autodidact in that sense.

I think all writers are. Everybody who I was ever interested in was.

Like who?

Tolstoy never went to writing school. Willa Cather never went to school. Hemingway never went to school.

So I assume you don’t believe in prestigious writing incubators like the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?

I don’t know what they’re doing there. They may be doing good stuff. But if someone came to me and said, “I want to be a writer,” I’d tell him what Hemingway said: “What’s stopping you?” Continue reading

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