Baumann and Burch Conversations #12: Belts

Tim: Happy Super Bowl Sunday, buddy. May the Pats be struck down.

Matt: Now and forever, amen.

Tim: (This is going to look worse when this goes up and the Patriots win by thirty two hours later.) Speaking of championships, ha ha, today we chat a smidge about this championship belt project that both of us have suckered ourselves into.

Matt: I’m sort of amazed we hadn’t suckered ourselves in earlier. It’s a…genre?…we’ve at least known about for awhile.

Tim: Which I had forgotten about, honestly.

Matt: basically we’re asking who wins the Super Bowl of a particular thing each year and writing about why. Speaking of forgetting, you reminded me this format existed, but what actually prompted that? I remembered Hyden’s forays and a bit of Barnwell’s, but was there a new one I missed?

Tim: I read through Hyden’s American band belt, which you sent me, right? I haven’t seen anyone fool with the format in a while. I feel like we owe him something, incidentally.

Matt: I often feel like I owe him something. Meeting him was great. Whatever the exact inspiration for this was, I know it brought us both some mental, anguish seems a bit too strong but let’s go with anguish. It’s a certifiably weird task.

Tim: The first thing that occurs to me is the sheer amount of research that this takes to do, which we’ll get to in a minute when we talk about how I almost finished one before something dumb happened. But no matter what you’re up to with a belt activity, if there’s enough there to pass a belt around, you have to really get deep into the “content.”

Matt: Which can be oddly fun but is certainly a tall order. Especially for you, who decided 100 years was a good idea.

Tim: Boy, 100 years is a long time. I feel lucky that there’s a fair bit of what I had to look up/work through is stuff that I’ve compiled before.

Should we pause for a second and explain the “belt” thing?

Matt: The people might appreciate it. You’ve expressed your lack of wrestling knowledge before, so I’ll talk to the audience who might happen to know wrestling.

Tim: Alas at my dull, Legos ‘90s childhood.

Matt: I doubt much of our audience knows wrestling, let alone anywhere near what I do. So the championship belt ostensibly signifies the “best” and that person holds the belt until someone defeats them in a match. Often times whoever holds the belt is really the most popular person (either positively or negatively) and I mention that because popularity/exposure had a role in some of my decisions. But think king of the hill: someone is at the top and holds the belt and we call them the best. Eventually they get knocked off and the belt passes on to whoever claimed the top spot. You have layman’s terms for my ramblings?

Tim: The king of the hill term is a good one. I will say that for my “Anglophone Directors” joint that you don’t have to actually throw people off the hill, but the hill does it after a set period of time, which feels like an important thing to do.

Matt: Mine – emo bands – has a wrinkle of its own in that I wanted to write about as many bands as possible so it switches almost every year. Hyden writes in his criteria how, in theory, someone could hold the belt for any amount of time, but we fooled with that a bit.

Tim: It seemed inappropriate to let Hitchcock have the thing until after his death. (Not that that would have happened, but point stands.)

Matt: I’m wondering if anyone else even gets that same theoretical consideration. I guess for mine Death Cab for Cutie could have had the sucker for a long time, but nowhere near what some of the directors could have pulled off.

Tim: There’s a really goofy spot throughout most of the ‘80s where I could imagine someone like Kubrick, who is not known for his crazy ‘80s output or anything, could have taken it just on reputation.

How about this: I know you’re still waiting to publish your emo belt, but why don’t you explain what you want to explain without giving away too many spoilers? (Or lots of spoilers, whatever.)

Matt: Eh, spoilers are fine. It’s written in my head, just a few years left on paper so it’ll be out close enough to this. I wanted to look at bands in general, but it got a smidge weird since I decided to switch basically every year so it looks like I’m just deciding the best emo album every year. Which, not wrong but not really the spirit of the thing. I was really interested in tracing the ebbs and flows of a fairly creatively volatile genre (one whose reputation precedes itself and is often wrong) and really just seeing why it keeps connecting with me and others. I’d say defining “emo” was the hardest part, and I defer a bit to what others have said in my introduction.

Tim: This is about to be part four of Matt’s lecture series about the progress of rock. (We were overdue.)

Matt: The real dissertation I should be writing. Basically, in its beginning, emo (emocore) meant punk/hardcore music with individually emotional lyrics. It’s not a genre until the mid-80s, when a bunch of DC bands build it from the ground up, and the major shifts are a focus on melody and personal rather than political lyrics (which is a false dichotomy but there’s a difference between talking about Reagan’s imperial practice and why you fucked up with your ex). Additionally, emo is, for better and worse, a scene culture and the bands generally work and tour with each other. You can see over the 30 some years I tackle how the sound of emo develops, but there are clear lineages to trace. It’s not just the whining, preening acoustic fare you may think of.

I don’t know if that’s what you meant for me to explain; what do you need to tell the people?

Tim: I think yours is trickier than mine to explain because I think “emo” requires explaining because it definitely comes with a lot of baggage that I’m not sure still means the same thing to people since like, 2002. So that was good! Mine is really simple…just had to be directors who were directing movies made in English. The two qualifications that seem important to me are, one, that I did mine every three years so it wouldn’t just be “Who’s got the best movie of 1984” or whatever, and two, that it’s not just about who has the best movie or movies of a three-year period. That seemed to be against the spirit of this as well. I wonder why that is.

Matt: I was a bit curious about that as well. Like, I totally get the logic of a couple good movies can take down a great one. But I was curious about your dealings with, for lack of a better word, classics. I think you pick Kubrick on the strength of 2001 for one set, but isn’t that about it? (Sorry, I spoiled part of yours).

Tim: Naw, man, mine’s all out there. There are two trienniums in the ‘60s where one movie got a director the top spot, and that’s for David Lean making Lawrence of Arabia and Stanley Kubrick making 2001. But the movie that I think ought to win somebody a directing prize is probably Citizen Kane, and that got buried in an absolutely brutal three-year stretch. Most of it is about competition. During the ‘60s in particular, there really aren’t that many American directors who are either in their primes or making a lot of movies, and so I felt okay about an out-and-out classic like Lawrence or 2001 taking it home for a director. And there are a lot of other single movies that you’d think would get somebody that kind of prize (Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, etc.) that don’t. I think the real question is whether this ought to be more like mastery grading, where you just have to see it once, or if there’s something to be said about putting together a sample size.

Matt: Consistency means something, especially when it comes with a quicker work rate. I know I’m sad about PTA not getting more, but dude takes awhile to make movies even if all of them are good.

Tim: He has that problem…Terrence Malick definitely has that problem. Louis Malle had that issue too, actually, which is kind of funny given that his best movies are French. But that was definitely something that bothered me, because if it had been 2012-2014 instead of 2011-2013/2014-2016, Anderson would have one because he could put The Master and Inherent Vice together. There’s something to be said for the straight king of the hill model because of that sort of thing.

Matt: That only works if you’re doing year-by-year, which feels like it would have been insane for 100 of them but maybe it leads to a bunch of long reigns anyway.

Tim: It’d feel choppy.

Matt: Incidentally, I went choppy on purpose to avoid figuring out a couple stretches, 1999-2002 and 2003-2007. Both of those have at least two bands that would win just about any other stretch facing each other and I wimped out and decide to oscillate to highlight all of them.

Tim: I have been privy to many of the anguished (there’s that word again) lamentations about the ‘99 to ‘02 sequence, though I have not read about the wimping out : p

Matt: I’ll do this here: If I were doing a long-reign version of this Jimmy Eat World has ‘99-’02 and Death Cab has ‘03-…I can’t actually figure out the end year because they overlap with the major My Chemical Romance output (and MCR is more or less the style Hot Topic jacked). ‘01 is the absolute killer for me: Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, Thursday, Sunny Day Real Estate, Ranier Maria, Owls, and [shudders] Brand New. I hated choosing that year, and ‘99 isn’t much easier.

Tim: I posited that there are years where a guy or gal should get a bigger belt based on the competition…2001 should be a belt the size of a pickup truck.

Matt: Good lord should it ever. But Bleed American is one of my top three albums across the whole thing (I’m pretty sure I’m standing by that). ‘01 is difficult because it’s the year emo went to the stratosphere and became the dominant rock genre for a minute. I see you garage rock revival, but you were never actually as popular as the pop-punk wave of emo. ‘99 is difficult because between Ranier Maria, American Football, and earlier Jimmy Eat World, it has touchstones for the current crop of emo bands, who are not really playing pop-punk. ‘05, weirdly, is where the subgenres come to a bit of a head and, more weirdly, is the only year I actually considered a tie for. You have Death Cab’s Plans and Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree, the latter is peak popularity and the last half step before pop-punk and emo diverge again. Plans is Plans (and is the better album of the two, definitely, but somehow maybe not as emblematic). Which is why I mentioned the wrestling thing where often the belt recognizes popularity, sometimes you need to listen to where the fans are looking.

Tim: That’s interesting to me, because I feel like Plans is everything you said it is…in a lot of ways it feels like the emo album. And fairly popular, too! Not underground or anything like that.

Matt: “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” are peak emo songs and were hugely popular. (My regular plug that Transatlanticism is the better album). There’s something to be said, I think, for the differences between Plans and From Under the Cork Tree, which is all I really want to highlight here. And “Sugar We’re Going Down” is probably the most popular song from any of these bands…maybe. I haven’t actually said which one I chose :p

Tim: No you haven’t. The popularity thing makes sense, though that makes your life so much harder.

Matt: I was able to ignore it most everywhere else. Emo hasn’t actually been that popular besides a six or seven year run. ‘05 just feels like a big year where the bubble was about to burst but wasn’t ready to yet. ‘06, which is Welcome to the Black Parade year, is kind of where that happens. That’s a great album, but people can see it as cartoonish.

Tim: It’s definitely very far on the side of the pop-punk popularity angle. Though when I was thinking about this a little while ago, I did wonder if pop-punk wasn’t the primary way of understanding the genre now that it’s had its peak.

Matt: The stereotype is pop-punk. If I say “emo” to most people they’ll name MCR or Taking Back Sunday or something like that. The roots of emo are in Jawbreaker and Rites of Spring (which also means the whole genre is Fugazi adjacent), and those are not pop-punk bands as we think of them. I blame Weezer for this, of course.

Tim: Oh, I like the sound of that a lot.

Matt: Pinkerton is an emo album. It’s a fun album. It’s also the paradigm for pop-punk with some chunky chords and a sad white man bemoaning his love life (and blaming the women). There’s an actual argument to be made that Rivers was exaggerating as a means of critique, which I used to believe more but that band keeps getting worse and shows no want to engage in any way like that. Part of which is because of Pinkerton, which got such bad press at the time that Rivers developed his current detached persona.

Tim: I was not at all attuned to critical reviews of music at that time, but like, even I knew Pinkerton was getting the hurt.

Matt: No one liked that album and now there’s an entire class of Weezer fan that says it’s their best. (Blue is still their best). That’s such a weird album in terms of their history and emo’s, because it’s caught between albums by Cap’n Jazz and Sunny Day Real Estate, who are doing really different things.

Tim: Is there a band in there that you’re surprised has multiple runs with a belt?

Matt: I think only three do, so not really…A few of the early bands have multiple year runs, but then it’s a lot of switching with three bands (Death Cab, MCR, and The Hotelier) holding it twice each. If this were a different reality where Jesse Lacey weren’t a terrible person, ‘06 would have been my nightmare and probably knocked MCR from multiple reigns.

Tim: The Jesse Lacey thing is a really big deal for your belt competition, which I don’t know I have an obvious corollary for because Brand New is so big. I know I dodged Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and late-stage Hitchcock, but you really had something to consider above and beyond.

Matt: ‘03 is Deja Entendu but that’s Transatlanticism year so I’m not too phased. The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me is better than Welcome to the Black Parade and is the major reason Brand New was a named influence on so many newer emo and indie bands. That’s a top-shelf album and I actually probably should have written about it (again) because Lacey’s actions aren’t unique within the genre; it’s long been a site of misogyny and abuse. Which is super weird because the 80s bands that started it all made their own little scene because they were critical of the treatment of women and non-whites in the punk scene.

Tim: I don’t think I knew that.

Matt: It’s not a well known thing. It’s the bit of history I always have to pull out when people, understandably, say the genre is just sexist white dudes. It’s not, but it was also sadly full of them for awhile. That’s misleading, allegations came out against the frontmen of Pinegrove and Sorority Noise within the last year or two, so it’s still a problem. All of that to say, I dodged Brand New but not because I’m ignoring the dark parts of emo’s history. I am sad that I couldn’t get the dude who’s been railing against all of this from within the genre a spot, and that’s Max Bemis of Say Anything.

Tim: Oh no! Sorry. That was loud. I had hopes for them, though I know they’re in that crowded time.

Matt: They’re the omission that hurts the most (followed closely by Taking Back Sunday and Thursday). …Is a Real Boy runs headlong into Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and there’s just never a year where I can make a solid case for them afterward. Except maybe there is because they just dropped a new album last week and it’s pretty good! ‘04 is a good example of my attempt to balance the purely best albums and the best emo albums. Three Cheers is just so thoroughly the genre (and good!) even if I like …Is a Real Boy more.

Tim: I would be very glad to see them get some justice in the inevitable update we’re all going to have to do. The reason I brought up the surprise multiple run question is because I looked at the people in mine who have six or more years on top, and the list is: Hitchcock, Altman, Lean, Scorsese…and Richard Linklater.

Matt: Who is the emo director. (I’m being somewhat glib here, but not totally)

Tim: I mean, that’s honestly not the worst interpretation of his work. I froze because I thought you were asking which person is the emo director, and I had a moment.

Matt: I may have an answer, not based totally in who you gave the belt to.

Tim: Go for it. (I have a couple weird answers in my head.)

Matt: Tim Burton is the stereotype of emo. I think Linklater is a good answer for the genre when you know it’s full history. I’m about to start wedging the Wachowski’s in here so stop letting me be a distraction and talk about your surprise runs…

Tim: I went with Joshua Logan and Blake Edwards in my head, because the ‘50s were emo. Maybe Elia Kazan kind of squeezes in there. Anyway, I didn’t have a lot to say about it, just that I was surprised when the dust settled and I had a guy who’s not famous for his overwhelming technical brilliance in there for six years while people like Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg and William Wyler never got theirs. And more than that, that I decided that directing Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park was like, not good enough compared to Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise.

Matt: Which to me is the correct choice, but that’s probably why we’re the type of people who write these things. When is his second run again?

Tim: It’s 2014-2016 (Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!), which is a really strange collection of directors. If you’re a normie you give it to Damien Chazelle…if you’re me on a different day it’s George Miller’s…Ken Loach almost snared his, but I decided against it. If I admired Inarritu or Villeneuve more, they might have gotten it.

Matt: I actually assumed Inarritu would be the normie choice. I’m probably the George Miller day of you, but I love Linklater getting the belt.

Tim: Probably. It wouldn’t even have been a bad one to choose Inarritu, because Birdman and The Revenant have some pizzazz. I know I really thought hard about letting George Miller walk away with it just for Fury Road, which, once again, is still great mostly because of its direction.

Matt: And Doof Warrior.

How often did you think to yourself, “this isn’t the normie choice” during this? My more serious question, is which decision was hardest for you, maybe in terms of both most competition and least inspiring options.

Tim: The least inspiring one by a long shot is the ‘63-’65 triennium, which John Schlesinger won for Billy Liar and Darling. It could have been Sergio Leone, who made Fistful of Dollars twice in that period, Hitchcock when he was abusing Tippi Hedren, Samuel Fuller, Joseph Losey…it’s some good directors but very few great ones. The toughest triennium is 1939-1941, which has an absolutely enormous number of directors either at peak or very near to it: aside from John Ford, who won, it’s Orson Welles with Citizen Kane, Victor Fleming with Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, Preston Sturges, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch…it’s just absolutely stacked. That was a tough one for me, but I think the one that hurt my feelings most is probably the 1945-1947 field, when there’s a good argument to be made that British cinema peaked. It’s David Lean’s Brief Encounter period against three of Michael Powell’s most wonderful and creative movies, and you can’t not give it to Brief Encounter, which is so direct and stunning, but that means taking away from the inventiveness of A Matter of Life and Death or the majesty of Black Narcissus. There are a lot of my favorites hanging around in that little zone, whatever that counts for.

Matt: I appreciate the distinction. There were definitely years I had a hard time with academically while others were emotionally difficult because of personal favorites. I’m amused that all the trienniums you mentioned for toughest competition are in a ten year period…75 years ago.

Tim: It’s somewhere in the 1950s that directors stop making so many movies all in a row. Like, I look back at my spreadsheet/cheat sheet, and the number of movies I have to account for in the ‘30s is just so much greater than the number I have to account for from the ‘80s on.

Matt: Similar to rock, actually. 60s and 70s bands put out an album every year or maybe two if they were making a double album. Now 2-3 years is the standard wait.

Tim: If Paul Thomas Anderson were putting out two movies in three years, which is sort of the normal thing the guys in the ‘70s were doing, he’d have a belt. Unless people these days really need to wait around to let things percolate or, maybe it’s just about the time it takes to get funding. Is that a music problem too?

Matt: Everything costs more now, I’m guessing that’s a lot of it. Music is hard for me to say, because artists make more money touring now than off album sales so theoretically they’d tour a bunch and record less…but old bands toured a ton anyway. Maybe it’s just a less cocaine now.

Tim: I was just about to ask if the difference is drugs.

Matt: Like, musicians can still get any drugs they want. I think downers are more popular now though, so maybe it’s the difference in drugs.

Tim: Makes you appreciate the old time directors who were straight alcoholics and would still make three movies a year just going from one set to another, basically.

Matt: There was a lovely piece recently that interviewed nine(?) different now-sober musicians and their accounts are stark. Joe Walsh is there and he talks about using cocaine to do everything, alcohol to chase the cocaine, and then cocaine again.

Tim: That’s horrifying.

Matt: Now that I think about it, the younger musicians in that piece were generally addicted to alcohol or opioids, the old folks were usually cocaine or acid (or some unholy combination of four things). Anyway, I wanted to ask about sets. Is that a big difference for directors now?

Tim: You get a lot of people who try to get on location now, which is totally different than what most directors were doing eighty years and more ago. If George Miller made Fury Road then, he would have just gone out to whatever they had in southern California rather than going to Namibia. It’s part of the reason why Ford and Huston are so interesting to me. Stagecoach went to Monument Valley, which was really unusual. And The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was the first Hollywood movie to be filmed in Mexico. I think that’s part of the expense, too.

Matt: And certainly getting an entire cast and crew wherever they need to be instead of saying “come to the lot.” Not that Monument Valley or Mexico didn’t require travel, but they’re closer.

Tim: I mean, it’s not like going to the Philippines for Apocalypse Now, which lol.

Matt: I didn’t actually have a follow up but here’s a random question: Who’s the worst director to win the belt?

Tim: Probably John Schlesinger. But that’s just off the top of my head. I’ll go look. [I looked.] There’s a case to be made that sort of hurts my feelings that says it might be John Carpenter. Leo McCarey had a terribly rough career from the mid-’40s on, not critically or commercially, but with the benefit of hindsight his work really went downhill.

Matt: Not Carpenter, don’t be that guy.

Tim: I know, that one doesn’t feel great to say. I do think he gets a little lucky with the years he’s active, because this is the set of years with Blade Runner and Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Right Stuff, but there’s not a backup for those directors. I think The Thing is a genuine masterpiece of a thriller. (Do I have time to pop that in before the Super Bowl starts? I might…) That’s the reason he has the 1981-1983 belt above all else.

Matt: I love The Thing. I’m also a firm believer in Escape from New York.

Tim: I don’t love the movie, but I think the vision in that one is really stellar. It’s made so well, and the setting is somehow campy and believable and futuristic and recognizable all at once. I wrote about this a little bit in my write-up on him, but Escape from New York is so interesting because there are a good ten years and more of prestige, Oscar-winning, even Best Picture winning movies about how New York City is, for lack of a better word, a shithole, and then Carpenter swoops in and just takes a huge swing at the genre in his own way. That intelligence is definitely part of the reason he has his belt, just like Linklater’s ability to make us feel so much for so many people in such loose settings is part of the reason he got his (twice).

I am now watching The Thing.

Matt: Huzzah! Who, besides PTA, is the Say Anything of yours? Who got the shaft that you wish hadn’t? (You may have covered this when you wrestled with toughest years already, that just occurred to me…)

Tim: No, I have actually not said the director’s name yet who I am most hurt to have left off. It’s actually Billy Wilder, who I think was a real genius and a magnificent director and who never walks away with a belt in this jawn.

Matt: Thought you would say Robert Zemeckis.

Tim: Hardy har har. I should complain about him more than I do, though I think that guy is obliterating whatever legacy he still has from underneath him.

Matt: Wax poetic about Wilder. Or maybe I’m more interested in why you say he’s more or less inherently screwed in this.

Tim: First off, he’s screwed because his three best movies are each in different years. Double Indemnity is part an early period that is really good but that is definitely outstripped by Powell (that set’s winner), Lubitsch (who is up there with Wilder for people who I wish could have won), Sturges, and Michael Curtiz. Some Like It Hot is in the same set as Vertigo. And The Apartment is in the same group as Lawerence of Arabia. His best chance was in ‘51-’53, which was awfully close, and if you want to make the case that Ace in the Hole and Stalag 17 are of greater overall quality than Vincente Minnelli’s peak, I am very sympathetic. It burns me because I really do think he’s one of the top five to ten directors this country’s ever had, and he had a long career that should have given him ample opportunity to take home a belt. If the years shook out a little differently, he’d have one.

Matt: The next logical step is to somehow make this into a Royal Rumble and see what happens.

Tim: Is that a bracket?

Matt: I think mostly but not entirely? I’m working through that part. It probably is but we’ve done that.

Tim: I was about to say, this is like, the most I’ve ever understood wrestling.

Matt: Now you’re a true American.

Tim: All I can think about is that scene from Gangs of New York now.

Matt: (foreshadowing) Is DDL the hardest competitor to dethrone when we do the actors/actresses version of this?

Tim: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood is Stanley Kubrick directing 2001.

Matt: That’s a good analogy.

Tim: I suppose we’re giving away future projects for the masses (“masses”), which if nothing else is a nice way to maintain some kind of…what’s the word for one you don’t go the gym unless someone else is going to the gym with you.

Matt: Accountability?

Tim: Darn skippy. So the way this started off for me was I wanted to do a belt for Anglophone actors and actresses, but realized two problems at different stages. First, about halfway through I realized that giving out the belt once every other year was a little too often, and second, about 90% of the way in, I realized I counted 1933 twice and that threw off everything else I’d done. So someday we can look forward to an actor/actress belt which is a zillion times more work than this. What comes after emo? Is it hair metal? Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin impersonators?

Matt: All rock bands are Led Zeppelin impersonators. It would be hair metal if that had lasted more than like 10 years. The correct answer is Def Leppard anyway.

Tim: I read an interview with some guys from Greta Van Fleet that basically boiled down to “Please stop comparing us to Led Zeppelin but also we like that you do that.”

Matt: I think it was Deadspin that ran a song-by-song review of their album and it was just links to the songs on Led Zeppelin I. There’s a hilarious debate about them among music critics because they’re super popular and it’s just brazen pastiche. Or simulacra perhaps. Both, weirdly. Maybe my next project is tracking postmodernity in music. But Wolfmother got all the comparisons to Led Zeppelin 15 years ago and no one thinks about Wolfmother now. I sense a similar fate for Greta Van Fleet.

Tim: Your projects feel a lot harder than my projects.

Matt: If my dissertation weren’t doing half the work they’d be impossible.

Tim: This is a fair point. Wilford Brimley is making an incredible face right now, not that that’s relevant to Led Zeppelin “homage.”

Do we want to hint at another project we have in mind, which is sort of like belts but for lifetime achievement?

Matt: Fancy medal necklaces. Ever looked at the Nobel Prize winners and literature and thought “you idiots”? Well we have a project for you…

Tim: Have you ever thought to yourself, “There should be Nobel Prizes for popular cinema and popular music?” See above.

Matt: It is kind of the championship belt in a way. That’s fun. Like good Marxists, we’re redistributing the wealth and naming our own, and objectively correct, Nobel Prize winners. So stay tuned for that audacity.

Tim: Accountability. Yeah.

One thought on “Baumann and Burch Conversations #12: Belts

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