Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Interact with your favorite SCM authors, producers, directors, historians, archivists and silent comedy savants. Or just read along. Whatever.
Jim Kerkhoff
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Re: Movie Morlocks First Slapsticon 2013 report

Postby Jim Kerkhoff » Wed Jul 10, 2013 3:56 pm

I've attend every Slapsticon and have truly enjoyed each one. That extends to watching the non-stopping cascade of comedies and catching up with my cohorts between screenings. I'd like to genuinely thank Richard and Linda for all their hard work ... Drs. Phil and Andrew for going up and beyond on the keyboard ... Eric for his projection expertise ... as well as all of the presenters who braved an increasingly bleary-eyed crowd. All I can say is ... We'll always have Bloomington!

Gary Johnson
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Re: Movie Morlocks First Slapsticon 2013 report

Postby Gary Johnson » Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:06 pm

Yes, they are all coming back to me. Al St. John and his trusty bicycle and Lupino Lane in his Bob Hope - SON OF PALEFACE get-up. Thanks for triggering my rusty memory, Joe.
David Wyatt did bring a fine selection of comedies but I find if I don't write down the titles immediately then all of the comedies that played over the weekend tend to meld into one big cohesive custard pie.

As for the Our Gang short, I didn't read into it the overt rascism that you did. After all, this is Our Gang. Farina had been part of their neighborhood group since he was a toddle. The other kids didn't suddenly wake up one morning, realize he was black and decide to snub him. I took it as part of a kids quarrel.
As the series progressed certain plotlines kept returning; the Gang vs. rich society; the Gang paling around with the elderly; the Gang amusing themselves by building some home-made contraption; and the Gang fighting amongst themselves. It's what kids do - constantly divided loyalties. In THE POOCH (32) Stymie says, "Oh oh. It looks like I'm in BAD with the Gang again."
And in this short it was Farina's turn to be 'in bad with the gang'.

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Re: Movie Morlocks First Slapsticon 2013 report

Postby Wm. Charles Morrow » Wed Jul 10, 2013 9:53 pm

Gary Johnson wrote: As for the Our Gang short, I didn't read into it the overt rascism that you did. After all, this is Our Gang. Farina had been part of their neighborhood group since he was a toddle. The other kids didn't suddenly wake up one morning, realize he was black and decide to snub him. I took it as part of a kids quarrel.

As the series progressed certain plotlines kept returning; the Gang vs. rich society; the Gang paling around with the elderly; the Gang amusing themselves by building some home-made contraption; and the Gang fighting amongst themselves. It's what kids do - constantly divided loyalties. In THE POOCH (32) Stymie says, "Oh oh. It looks like I'm in BAD with the Gang again."
And in this short it was Farina's turn to be 'in bad with the gang'.


While it’s true that Our Gang comedies often featured one kid temporarily on the outs with the others, what’s disturbing about Your Own Back Yard is the pointed emphasis on Farina’s humiliation and suffering. At the top of the film there’s a typically jaunty intro card, saying the kids are mad at him because his pet goat ate some of their belongings, i.e. two radio sets and a wheelbarrow, or something like that, so it's not a racial matter. But even so, what follows is no joke. The other kids really give Farina a hard time, and we get extended close-ups of his tear-stained face. When he goes home crying to his mother, telling her that the gang is treating him badly, her sympathetic response conveys a lot more meaning than would be the case if this story had been built around one of the other kids -- one of the white ones, that is.

The ending is satisfying, however. Through a fluke, Farina earns a lot of money. He buys himself a fancy suit, and a wagon full of toys, then meanders past the gang. They all want a piece of the action, but he now has the satisfaction of snubbing them. Still, that’s the kind of victory which feels hollow inside. While Your Own Back Yard is a fascinating short, it’s far and away the most troubling Our Gang comedy I’ve ever seen. It was also one of the most memorable films offered at Slapsticon 2013.

By the way, Mr. Johnson, I’m enjoying your detailed Slapsticon diary. It’s a pleasure to re-experience the event this way, now that we’re all back in the workaday world.

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Re: Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Postby Gary Johnson » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:59 am

Farina does cry a lot in this short. More so than in any other of his silent film appearances (As he got older he seemed to cry a lot in the Gang's early talkies). His charactor when he was young is generally curious and happy-go-lucky. In many of the Gang's adventures he tends to go off on his own and have his own sequences - sort of like Harpo in a Marx film. So I could see that this film disturbs some taking in the fact of Farina's young age here, the massive amounts of waterworks and his skin color - but for me it's the filmmakers just pushing the emotional buttons too hard. McGowan did like to work pathos into the series quite often, just not as blatant as this effort.

Thanks for the kind words concerning the diary, William (I believe we spoke outside the theater a few times). This is mostly an excercise against the coming of dementia. Since this short was not written up in the program I was racking my brain trying to remember when it played.

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Re: Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Postby Wm. Charles Morrow » Thu Jul 11, 2013 1:20 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:Thanks for the kind words concerning the diary, William (I believe we spoke outside the theater a few times). This is mostly an excercise against the coming of dementia. Since this short was not written up in the program I was racking my brain trying to remember when it played.


You're quite welcome, Gary. And please, call me Charlie -- I use my middle name. (There was already a Bill Morrow at our house, and he got there first.) You're right, we met either in the lobby or out on the steps in front of the IU Cinema, in those chat-groups that would form during intermissions.

Getting back to Our Gang. At one of those breaktime sessions, someone mentioned that, in a late-in-life interview, Hal Roach was asked which performer, out of all the people who'd worked at his studio over the years, was the best actor. And he replied "Farina." Did you tell that story? It sounds credible to me. Many of the shorts are built around him, and it appears he was kept with the group as long as possible, even when he was towering over the younger kids.

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Re: Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Postby Joe Migliore » Thu Jul 11, 2013 2:02 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:
As the series progressed certain plotlines kept returning; the Gang vs. rich society; the Gang paling around with the elderly; the Gang amusing themselves by building some home-made contraption; and the Gang fighting amongst themselves. It's what kids do - constantly divided loyalties. In THE POOCH (32) Stymie says, "Oh oh. It looks like I'm in BAD with the Gang again."
And in this short it was Farina's turn to be 'in bad with the gang'.


Citing other films only serves to defend the series as a whole, which isn't required. I'm not at all sure that YOUR OWN BACK YARD needs defending. It's shocking to see racism dealt with so openly in an earlier age, (and that is what the short is about; it opens with a close-up of the sheet music for the eponymous song), but Farina's suffering is treated as real, and not a joke by the camera, regardless of how much fun the others have bullying him. Farina is where all of our emotional investment lies, and it would be a mistake to assume that audiences of the day didn't get that. It also serves as a reminder why all those Our Gang imitation series could never quite pull it off. McGowan knew what he was doing.

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Re: Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Postby Jim Kerkhoff » Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:54 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
Gary Johnson wrote:Thanks for the kind words concerning the diary, William (I believe we spoke outside the theater a few times). This is mostly an excercise against the coming of dementia. Since this short was not written up in the program I was racking my brain trying to remember when it played.


You're quite welcome, Gary. And please, call me Charlie -- I use my middle name. (There was already a Bill Morrow at our house, and he got there first.) You're right, we met either in the lobby or out on the steps in front of the IU Cinema, in those chat-groups that would form during intermissions.

Getting back to Our Gang. At one of those breaktime sessions, someone mentioned that, in a late-in-life interview, Hal Roach was asked which performer, out of all the people who'd worked at his studio over the years, was the best actor. And he replied "Farina." Did you tell that story? It sounds credible to me. Many of the shorts are built around him, and it appears he was kept with the group as long as possible, even when he was towering over the younger kids.


That may have been me you heard telling the story about Farina being Hal Roach's favorite actor. In 1983 I spent a Saturday afternoon with Mr. Roach at his Bel Air home. We chatted in the sun room about his amazing career, surrounded by framed photos from the Rolin and Roach Studio days. Many of were autographed, ranging in eras from Toto to Cary Grant. At one point I asked who he considered to be the most talented actor he collaborated with during his career and was extremely surprised when, without hesitation, he mentioned Farina. His face really brightened up when mentioning Farina. You can see a hint of what Mr. Roach was talking about in his "Your Own Back Yard" performace.

Geoff Lucas
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Re: Movie Morlocks First Slapsticon 2013 report

Postby Geoff Lucas » Fri Jul 12, 2013 4:03 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:While it’s true that Our Gang comedies often featured one kid temporarily on the outs with the others, what’s disturbing about Your Own Back Yard is the pointed emphasis on Farina’s humiliation and suffering. At the top of the film there’s a typically jaunty intro card, saying the kids are mad at him because his pet goat ate some of their belongings, i.e. two radio sets and a wheelbarrow, or something like that, so it's not a racial matter. But even so, what follows is no joke. The other kids really give Farina a hard time, and we get extended close-ups of his tear-stained face. When he goes home crying to his mother, telling her that the gang is treating him badly, her sympathetic response conveys a lot more meaning than would be the case if this story had been built around one of the other kids -- one of the white ones, that is.


"The Gang versus Farina" is a plot element that they tapped into on occasion. Sometimes, in the case of the film "Seein' Things", Farina deserved his comeuppance. Later films have some disturbing moments that make most of "Your Own Back Yard" seem pedestrian. For instance, in "Chicken Feed", Farina is pinned to the ground by one of the Gang while he helplessly watches the rest of the Rascals "magically change" his sister into a monkey. In "The Glorious Fourth", the Gang leads an unwarranted attack against Farina and his sister using fireworks. In similar fashion, "The Smile Wins" depicts unprovoked hostility toward Farina and his sister, with lots of waterworks from Farina as a result. Throughout his career with Our Gang, there is a reoccurring theme of implied racial hostility against Farina. On the other hand, there are plenty of films where he is an equal member of the Gang and is treated as such.

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Re: Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Postby Gary Johnson » Tue Jul 16, 2013 6:56 pm

Mr. Roberts has already posted next year's SLAPSTICON dates while I'm still attempting to finish up DAY 4 from this year........
It's a rainy Sunday in Bloomington. Best to stay indoors and watch some TV. But since I've already been evicted from my hotel suite I guess I'll go hang out at the IU Cinema.

IDLE ROOMERS (31). Here's a goofy short directed by Mr. Arbuckle. A couple of out of work acrobats (are there any other kind?) are tearing the shingles off of their boarding house by constantly practicing, driving the landlady to distraction....and then to the cops. Without featuring any known comic names, Arbuckle keeps the situation jumping as talent agents and psychiatrists converge upon the Bouncin' Brothers (the soundtrack sounds like we are inside a gymnasium, what with the constant thumping). We watched quite a few shorts this weekend based on comic strips. BLONDE BOMBER (36) is part of the Joe Palooka series from Vitaphone featuring their star comic Shemp Howard as Joe's manager Knobby Walsh. Shemp never stops scheming and never stops selling anyone within earshot a bill of goods. Here he is given his own stooge to slap around, plus a real adversary in the form of ex-Sennett player Harry Gribbon. I like Shemp best in small doses, like his wartime features for Universal when he walk onstage, take over for a while and then retreat back into the wings. Here he is the whole show, which grates on me after awhile. Hey Shemp! Your brothers are calling you. For someone who suffers from Columbia shorts-itus (if you've seen one Jules White directed short you've seen one too many), the selections shown this weekend have been generally devoid of White's influence to make every short mechanically the same. Case in point, FREE RENT (36) is the familiar tale of two families living on the open road in a trailer, but it boasts fine production values, some clever sight gags and director Del Lord milks each situation to the hilt before moving onto the next disaster. While I'm not crazy about the two leads (Monty Collins and Tom Kennedy -- White actually made a series starring these two as a team!!), their presence does not sink this enterprise me since Lord basically uses them to illustrate a gag - not punctuate it. Although, as a general rule Tom Kennedy should not be allowed to speak over ten lines of dialogue per film appearances. To illustrate how dialogue should be handled we are shown a surprise Roach short, Chase's SNAPPY SNEEZER (29). Charley is still essaying his silent screen personae of the Young-Man-About-Town in this early talkie. And in this instance his Young Man's fancy is instantly smitten by a radiant-looking Thelma Todd. With a daytime date arranged Charley's comedy of embarrassments begin to rear their ugly heads, from wandering the station platform with shredded pant legs to an attack of hay fever aboard a crowded streetcar. In a sequence that plays perfectly as silent comedy in the sound era, Charley repeatedly sneezes upon the same poor transit rider no matter where he moves to. For only being his third sound short Chase shows a remarkable ease with this new medium. And there is no early-talkie stiffness that we witness in other Roach product at this time from Our Gang and L&H. Here the camera seems to move freely at will, especially so since the second half involves a Sunday drive in a brand new car. The comedy throughout is steady and escalating, such as Charley's attempt to retrieve a pair of gloves that have somehow gotten placed between a cow's tail and it's rear buttock (Don't ask..because I have no idea how it got there either). Not as improbable but even funnier looking is the moment that Charley tries to relieve his sneezing by wearing a rubber band stretched across his face and over his nose to give him a pig-nose look (now we know what Kramer actually sees in a famous episode of "Seinfeld"). Only Charley Chase would make himself look this ridiculous in front of such a beautiful dish as Miss Todd.

After a rather wet lunch (once again...) we settle in for a Harold Lloyd feature which doesn't star Harold Lloyd. We've had a lot of these over the weekend -- sometimes they star Monty Banks, sometimes they star unknown Brits from across the pond. This time it stars Roach discovery Glenn Tryon. THE BATTLING ORIOLES (24) was produced at the time that Lloyd left Roach for independent production. It should surprise no one that this breezy fast-moving film is still an audience pleaser to this day. After all, the Roach crew had some experience at what it took to make a feature film work. Young Tryon is recruited to NY to help enliven the daily existence of his father's former teammates -- a legendary squad of ballplayers who have receded from the world and have become crotchedy and old and......did I mention crotchedy? And enliven them he does. Think Fred Astaire in TOP HAT (35) as he rattles off a deafening series of taps to wake up the old fossils at the exclusive men's club. Our young Harold......pardon me, Glenn...immediately upsets the old gents daily routine, annoys and pesters them to no end, and inadvertently sets fire to the place of residence. But that's not enough. He also leads half the police force on a merry chase through the clubhouse as he helps his girl elude their dragnet.
And all of this action plays out around the ernest but bland personality of Glenn Tryon. He aquits himself fine, he just isn't memorable. It was as if anyone could have played that role and the movie would still work. The Roach studio was assembling such a deep assortment of talented craftsmen at this time that within a year Roach could initiate a series called "The All-Star Comedies", cast them with former dramatic stars and plop them smack dab into the middle of one of their patented two-reel bedroom farces and the results would be just as funny as anything L&H made (maybe because L&H worked on most of them as individuals). THE BATTLING ORIOLES was proof that the Roach studio could survive without Harold Lloyd (creatively, that is. They still missed the financial ends he pulled in), but watching Glenn Tryon being forced to fill Lloyd's shoes makes one appreciate Harold Lloyd all the more.

We haven't seen a lot of comediennes on the bill this year but QUEEN OF ACES (25) showcases one of the most interesting. Wanda Wiley was a true product of the Twenties - a fiesty, energetic, independent-minded young lady who was not beholden to no one (although she was not averse to marriage by the final reel). Few of her films survive but what is available shows a gal with a need for speed. In QUEEN OF ACES Wanda's rich boyfriend is forbidden to see her by his stuffy father. He thinks she is a tomboy, what with that bobbed hair and all. So in relaliation she crashes Father's weekly poker game by disguising herself as Kate Hepburn in SYLVIA SCARLETT (35) - slicked back hair and all. When the police raid the joint Wanda takes it upon herself to lead Father out of that embarrassing social position by an escape route -- where else -- over the rooftops. Once back safely home the Father is so grateful towards this 'young man' (doesn't he notice the young man's beautiful brown eyes??) that he insists he stay the night and plops Wanda into his son's bedroom. It isn't long before another chase ensues throughout the darkened mansion. A fun film.
Al Christie's favorite sailor - Billy Dooley - stars in, what else...A MISFIT SAILOR (25). Before partaking on leave Dooley is entrusted with delivering a pet monkey to the Captain's daughter. Why is it in every navy comedy that the most unreliable salts are always entrusted with delivering something for their Captains? Billy does reach his destination but the entire household comes to believe that the instructions meant for the monkey are really about the sailor. This short doesn't offer a lot of opportunites for Dooley to do anything except chase a monkey around. It's not a good sign for a comedy when the animal gets all the laughs. And when I start to lose interest in the goings-on I tend to start thinking too logical - like what does this bright, attractive,well-off young lady see in this simple, blank-faced sailor? I think the monkey would offer her more laughs. That is followed by another Christie comedy that seemed to be lacking in inspiration also. SWISS MOVEMENTS (27) features Jimmie Adams, along with a small crowd of other novice mountain climbers trying to beat an obnoxious pro. A lot of stuntmen slide down a mountain side tethered to each other. I think a bear is also involved.

The day winds down with a handlful of selections that are kept unspooling just as long as there are folks around willing to keep watching. Many people have to leave to catch planes during this time. I will be one of them soon. In the meantime there is Lupino Lane in WHO'S AFRAID (27), a standard short who's best parts are at the beginning. Lupino has trouble proposing to his gal because the spurs on his riding boots keep stabbing him in the rear end. The Father tosses him off the property but like all good single-minded comedians Lupino makes a series of u-turns in order to give his girl one more kiss goodbye. It isn't long before the cops are chasing our hero, who hides out in a museum and gets locked in for the night. The gags become more formulaic as the museum at night becomes a house of horrors. Like Stan Laurel before Oliver Hardy, Lupino seems to work best when he is parodying a film genre, not becoming one of it's victims. Speaking of Mr. Laurel; for anyone who doesn't believe he could have had a long Hollywood career behind the camera if he hadn't (heaven forbid) met up with Mr. Hardy, show them SHORT KILTS (24) -- one of my favorites of his solo starring works. And Laurel doesn't so much star in this as take part in an ensemble effort. The laughs are evenly distributed among the large cast (Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman moonlight from "Our Gang" to play the youngest family members) in this day in the life of two Scottish clans. The two set of parents alternate from embracing their neighbors one moment to declaring war on them the next. Scottish stereotypes are played up to the hilt and yet the jokes rise above the obvious. While there is plenty of opportunity for slapstick, such as setting one's kilt on fire, most of the humor is dry and understated. James Finlayson's family unit makes a point of dropping in on the McLaurels' right at suppertime in order to cadge a free meal. It works perfectly as they are warmly welcomed inside and are then told to "have a seat. We'll be right with you after we finish our supper." Both Stan and Fin are sweet on each other's sisters. Stan takes his girl to the parson to elope but learns that they must have a witness. Just then Fin and Laurel's sister enters with the same idea to get hitched. They immediately volunteer to witness the first marriage. It is a solemn event, played without laughs. After Stan and his bride have been congratulated Finlayson asks if they will now stand up for them. Stan looks him right in the eye and performs a longer stare than even Langdon would dare and then replies with a huff, "I should say not!" and haughtily exits with his new bride.
Keaton's NEIGHBORS (21) would make a great double bill with this short, showcasing the dangers of family living.

My stay at SLAPSTICON ends with a great Our Gang short HIGH SOCIETY (24) in which Mickey plays the role of Shirley Temple, who's happy home with poor but loving Uncle Pat is broken up forcing him to go live with rich but cold Aunt Kate. It's a perfect Our Gang scenerio which would be replayed with many variations right up into the sound era. Eventually the entire gang descends upon the mansion which holds Mickey hostage and they literally tear it down from it's structure. What makes this version stand out are the emotions the kids pour out for each other during the seperation. Even though he is given every toy in the world Mickey is miserable, while the kids are lost without their playmate. When everyone is reunited joy overtakes them all to the point that there is no malice in the havoc they create -- it is all euphoria.

I had a shuttle to catch but the films continued into the evening and maybe into the next day for all I know. Someone who stayed on will have to clue the rest of us in on what else played. But that was the four days as I experienced it. How in the hell Anne Frank kept this up for three years is beyond me.
Thanks to all for putting on a great show. You know who you are. If you don't, get hold of one of the programs. You'll be listed in it.

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Re: Slapsticon 2013 Reports Thread

Postby Wm. Charles Morrow » Tue Jul 16, 2013 9:51 pm

Thanks again, Gary, for the detailed account of Slapsticon 2013. Sounds like you caught almost everything, but there were a few more cinematic treats in the final hours on Sunday afternoon. Selections for the finale included a reprise of the 1914 Keystone short A Thief Catcher -- you know, that recently recovered Ford Sterling vehicle which got a bit of media attention a while back -- and an amusing short called No Publicity (1927), featuring Edward Everett Horton. In the latter, EEH plays a newspaper photographer who has to somehow get a photo of a wealthy young lady from a prominent family. Her mother hates reporters and doesn’t want any family pictures in the paper. So, EEH sneaks into their mansion and tries to steal a photo of her. One thing leads to another, as so often happens in wacky comedies. He disguises himself as a woman, and then gets mistaken for a visiting lecturer, a prim old biddy who is supposed to deliver a lecture that very day, before a ladies’ group in the parlor. So Horton has to deliver the talk himself, on the subject of proper behavior for young women, in drag. This was a fun short, and EEH comes off surprisingly well as a silent player, but I think sound would’ve given that climactic lecture a boost.

The very last short of the festival was a Clyde Cook two-reeler called Scared Stiff (1926). The source material, as Joe Migliore so eloquently phrased it at the top of this thread, was “pulled from Hell’s teeth to escape the ravages of decomposition.” And indeed, the opening sequence is in such poor shape it was almost painful to watch. I drew a couple of lessons from this: first, seeing such a badly damaged film served as a reminder of the many, many works that are lost forever. By the same token, it also pointed up how miraculous it is that so many films have survived -- some, like A Thief Catcher, just narrowly, despite sitting forgotten, Gods knows where, for decades. In any case, as Scared Stiff rolled along the image quality improved somewhat, and it became clear why it’s well worth preserving and showing, battered condition notwithstanding: it’s a precursor to King Kong! This is an old dark house-type comedy with a twist: there’s a giant chimp on the loose, terrorizing Cook (who plays a chauffeur), and several other people in a mansion. The chimp was apparently filmed on miniature sets which matched the full-scale ones, and the trick work (as far as one could tell) was impressive. At one point, the big monkey carries the leading lady in his hand -- a doll was used in at least one shot -- and there you have it, a silent era Kong. I believe Fay Wray was still on the Roach lot when this film was made, but she didn’t land a role in Scared Stiff. It was, all told, a memorable climax to the four-day extravaganza of rarities.

Incidentally, I loved the Charley Chase short Snappy Sneezer, but there’s one point I recall differently from your account: correct me if I’m wrong, and I’m not a zoologist or anything, but wasn’t Charley’s glove stuck between the tail of a mule (rather than a cow) and its buttock? Some details tend to blur after one has been watching comedies for several days, but I could’ve sworn it was a mule. Maybe I'm dreaming, or mixing it up with a different mule buttock sequence from something else. And I have a question about the finale of that film, when Charley is attempting to give Thelma a driving lesson, and their car gets caught on some sort of rolling, up-and-down, winding track; does anyone know where that sequence was filmed? What kind of a track were they stuck on? At first I thought it was an amusement park ride, but then it appeared to be more like a device used at a racetrack. The location had me baffled.

I was sorry to miss the Sunday night, post-Slapsticon banquet, but that evening marked my only opportunity to see an old friend from college days, so I had to dash out after the last film. But I look forward to lingering a little longer in the twilight, as the song says, next year.


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