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Domino is
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De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
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mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Two more interviews with Brian De Palma appeared online today. CraveOnline's William Bibbiani asked all kinds of interesting questions, including this one about the contrast between the first and second halves of Passion:

CraveOnline: I was kind of fascinated by how you shot this film because so often your films have a lot of virtuoso camera work and in the first half of Passion, you're relatively restrained. It's beautifully composed but it's a little restrained and then once the murder mystery begins, it goes off in a very different direction and the lighting changes and the camera work changes. Could you tell me about that decision?

BDP: Well, I have heard that but… In this genre, to some extent, you have to set up the characters, the rivalry, the point at which you've basically pushed one to murder the other and it's basically businesswomen, you know, working within an advertising agency so you're trying to restrict it, visually, to characters walking down hallways and talking to each other across desks. So, until we get to the night of the murder, we really can't introduce the surreal element, "Was she dreaming this? Did she take too many sleeping pills?" How she's fooling herself, us and the audience, that you can really kind of take off. So, that's the way it sort of laid its way out.


Later on, Bibbiani asks De Palma about the split-screen ballet/murder sequence, and how its "movie-ness" calls attention to itself. De Palma responds, "Well, I've been doing that my whole career. I'm always making you be aware that this is a movie. In this split screen, it's a trick because it's making you think Isabelle is at the ballet, while in fact, she's at the house and I'm using that tight close-up to make you think she's at the ballet and when I pull back, I show that she's, in reality, underneath the scaffolding at the house. So, you have to find a really good reason to use it and it's always surprising when you juxtapose two images and I had no idea how it was ultimately going to work. I kind of liked the initial idea and then I shot it and then we put it together and it kind of worked, really well. I liked the idea that you get so entranced with the ballet, you sort of forget that the murder is happening over there, on the other side of the screen, and they're both kind of love stories, on each side of the screen."

Bibbiani then says, "That's interesting because the villain… Well, that's a bad word for it. Christine is in many ways this cold, manipulative person and we don't necessarily have sympathy for her the whole time but you made it very clear, whenever you showed her on her own, that there's a genuinely emotional, kind of tragic element to her life."

And De Palma responds, "Yeah, and I think Rachel brought that to the character. That's not in the original film. I mean, every once in a while, she's completely cracking up. You know, the sad story about the twin sister, she has everybody crying. Whether it's true or not, who the hell knows? And then, when she's at home and the date cancels out on her, she completely freaks out. And you see a kind of woman unraveling and she does evoke a little sympathy for the character."

De Palma also talks a bit about the costume choices in the film, saying that Isabelle is "completely uninterested in what she's wearing so she goes completely in black throughout the movie, basically. She's the creator. She's the idea person. She doesn't really think about what's around her or what she's wearing, as opposed to Christine; all she is is a creation of what she wears and the style that she evokes."

Bibbiani starts to talk about the contrast between the "mad" way Raising Cain was shot and the more restrained shots used in the early scenes in Passion, leading De Palma to discuss the original cut of Raising Cain: "Well, the interesting thing about Raising Cain is that the way I originally wrote it, is not the way I ultimately released it. Interestingly enough, some Raising Cain aficionado got the film together and released it on the web the way it should have been constructed. And it kind of worked! [Laughs] I thought it was too complicated but the original idea of Raising Cain is you start with the wife's story, you don't start with his story, and you follow her story, all the way until she gets smothered in bed and then, you start to pick up his story. The problem was, I felt at the time, was that Lithgow was so commanding, so fascinating to watch what he was doing I didn't think that a movie could sustain this kind of soap opera beginning. You know, this woman getting involved with this old lover, threatening her marriage, did she sleep with him or didn't she? So, I started the Lithgow story and flashed back to the wife's story and in retrospect, I think it was sort of a mistake. I should have left it the way it was."

When asked about the possibility of releasing such a cut on DVD, De Palma replies, "Well, usually, a studio has to come to you and say, 'Look, we have a lot of demand here. Would you like to change anything? Would you redo it?' Which I did, with Casualties of War. I put some scenes back in that I took out of the initial release. Sure! I'd be interested to try to put it back the way it originally was edited."

Bibbiani made sure to ask De Palma something he'd been wondering about for years:


CraveOnline: There's a scene of yours I've always loved in Body Double, which is the "Relax" scene. It's very fascinating because it's such a dark film, we've already had a horrific murder in it and it's about voyeurism and then when we actually enter the world of pornography, it's very heightened and very artificial and elaborate. It's almost comical. I was always kind of wondering what your thought was because that scene just comes alive, really suddenly and it's this great oner and I was wondering if you could talk about that and your decision to film that sequence.

BDP: Well, it was a combination of things. It comes right down to a lot of research with a real porn star and I sort of based the Holly Body character on her. And the thing that you discover with porn stars is that they have a hysterical sense of humor. I mean, they're very funny. So, when we got to the point of, the so-called, the actor goes into the porn film in order to get close to Holly Body, so he can find out what she had to do with the murder… This is at the point where people are starting to direct music videos. I think that's also the year I did Bruce Springsteen's first music video.

CraveOnline: "Dancing in the Dark?"

BDP: Yeah, and I think the Michael Jackson ones were first coming out. This was like, the era of the music video, I said to myself, "Why don't we make this into like, a music video? A porn music video, nobody's ever seen that before." Then I think one of the executives at Columbia came up with the song and then I heard the song and said, "This is perfect!" They were very unhappy with the video they had done, so I shot the video and put it in the movie, then gave them the video for them to use but they were not very happy with that, either so they went on and it turned into another video. So, I think there are like, 3 videos of Relax. We shot it way after the principle photography. I'm trying to remember how this happened but we went and shot it almost 6 or 7 months after the principle photography. We went back and shot the "Relax" video, then I put it into the movie so I'm trying to remember, what was in the movie before we put this in? [Laughs]

CraveOnline: I'd be very curious to find that out.

I don't quite remember.

After telling Bibbiani that he now has a script for Happy Valley and is figuring out how to shoot it, the following exchange takes place:


CraveOnline: Everyone's opinions on that are so strange to me.

BDP: I know. They're all over the place.

Do you have a specific take on it or are you going to try to keep this accessible for everyone?

BDP: I don't know. It's a very difficult story. All kinds of conflicting testimonies. You know, it's a terrible tragedy but we're going to try to make… It's strong stuff. What can I tell you? It's very strong stuff and it's very sad stuff.

Film.com's Calum Marsh interviewed De Palma just yesterday, prior to De Palma's appearance on stage at the Film Society Lincoln Center. At the start of the interview, Marsh says that when he saw Passion at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, "it seemed that people had a hard time understanding what they were supposed to take seriously and what was supposed to be funny." Marsh then asks, "Do you want that to be ambiguous or is supposed to be pretty clear?"


BDP: It’s clear to me. [Laughs]

Marsh: It’s clearly funny to you?

BDP: I always have a kind of ironic sense of humor about the outrageousness of what these girls were doing to each other. That’s more or less throughout all of my movies, so I don’t know why it comes as a particular surprise to anybody.

Marsh: Do you think that people who aren’t particularly familiar with your filmography might have a harder time understanding that what seems to be played straight is more tongue-in-cheek?

BDP: Well, if you want to see straightforward mysteries, you just have to turn on your television set. They’re playing 24 hours a day. You can listen to people being interviewed, talking to each other, investigating things. It goes on ad nauseum. I try to do something a little different. That’s why it may appear that it’s not what you’re used to seeing day in and day out.


Marsh continues to press a discussion of whether or not viewers watching Passion are meant to find certain things in the film funny. "For example," Marsh says, "there’s a moment in the film in which Isabelle is called in the middle of the night by her boss after she uploads a video from work to YouTube surreptitiously, and her boss tells her that the video has been seen 10 million times in five hours. That’s clearly a joke, because obviously there’s no way a video is going to be seen 10 million times in five hours." Here's what happens after that:

BDP: I took that statistic right off the web.

Marsh: …that a video was seen ten million times in five hours?

BDP: Yeah.

Marsh: …okay. That seems really improbable to me. And, I mean, that line gets a laugh—people think it seems absurd.

BDP: Well, that speaks to an audience being very observant of the rates at which YouTube videos are seen. I would hardly be one who would know that. I just took that statistic from a piece of information on the internet. I think it’s a correct statistic. It’s not meant as a joke.

Marsh: Okay. Well, were you at the screening in Toronto? Have you seen in with an audience?

BDP: Yes.

Marsh: When I saw it there was a lot of laughter. And not necessarily at the film, but with the film, because I think it’s sort of a fun genre film that seems a little more playful than most films of that kind. You’re not parodying the genre, necessarily, but it does seem a little arch and a little silly. If you’re watching it with an audience and they’re laughing, do you feel like it they’re not taking it seriously when they should be taking it seriously?

BDP: It’s a murder mystery! These are women outrageously destroying each other! And sometimes I find it quite amusing.

Marsh: So do I. But murder mysteries usually seem more self-serious. I don’t think this film seems to be taking itself so seriously, and I don’t think people will watch Passion in the same way they might watch an ordinary murder mystery.

BDP: I’ve been making movies my whole life with this kind of ironic stance, in which sometimes the characters are doing things so seemingly excessive, but you can be amused by it. It’s nothing new to me. If you want to see straightforward murder mysteries, turn on your television set! They’re very drab as far as I’m concerned. I’m always pushing the envelope. Some people find that difficult to take, and maybe they laugh at it, but that’s I guess the risk you take.


Marsh also presses De Palma about why the eroticization of the female form is more prevalent than that of the male form in thrillers such as Passion:

BDP: Men have been undressing women in various art forms since the beginning of visual art. You could make this film with two men, but, I mean, all you have to do is look on your television screen or go Googling or pick up a magazine, and what do you see? Women, dressed or undressed. That’s what people are interested in.

Marsh: If we’re so saturated in that then why are you interested in offering more of the same?

BDP: It’s a reality. It isn’t like we’re interested, it’s just how it is. They draw the eye. That’s why they’re there.

Marsh: Sorry, can you elaborate on that?

BDP: People have been looking at beautiful women since the beginning of time.

Marsh: And so you feel like just because they’ve been doing that since the beginning of time that makes it inherently interesting?

BDP: When was the last time you looked at a woman?

Marsh: Recently, I imagine.

BDP: Good. Then you’re like a normal individual to me. I have a rather attractive one right across the table.

Posted by Geoff at 6:28 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 6:32 PM CDT
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It seems as though everybody is posting lists of their favorite Brian De Palma films these days. Film.com yesterday posted Jake Cole's ranking of every De Palma film from worst to best (the site has been doing such rankings regularly for various directors). De Palma's newest film, Passion, just misses the top ten for Cole, ranking at number 11. At the very bottom of the list is the "soulless" gangster comedy Wise Guys. Other De Palma comedies, such as Home Movies and The Bonfire Of The Vanities, also rank near the bottom for Cole, although Hi, Mom! takes the number three spot. (Cole seems to have missed the irony in De Palma's adaptation of Bonfire, arguing that the film "turns a satire of corrupted social values into a celebration of them." He also seems to have missed the irony in the final line of The Untouchables, which he seems to think is spoken near the beginning of the film. This latter slip-up makes his entire weird dismissal of that film seem wrong all over the place. The train station sequence is hardly a "beat-for-beat duplication" of the "Odessa Steps" sequence from Battleship Potemkin, De Palma's direction is excellent, and David Mamet's script is top drawer material.)

Cole's number one choice is Carlito's Way ("De Palma’s swooning movements and intense close-ups have never been more gracefully used to draw out the human from the generic and stereotypical," Cole states, "and no other De Palma film offers so great a fusion of form and content.")

One of the more surprising choices is Cole's ranking of The Black Dahlia at number five. "Unfairly maligned upon its release," Cole explains, “The Black Dahlia represents the best fusion of the director’s classical eye and postmodern deconstruction since Carlito’s Way. Body Double shows ‘80s cinema inexorably linked to pornography, but this postwar vision of Hollywood finds sets from silent masterpieces reused to film porn, cast with a never-ending supply of exploited small-town dreamers. L.A. Confidential remains the standard for James Ellroy adaptations for its tediously safe aesthetic and narrative structures, but it is The Black Dahlia that truly sinks into Ellroy’s noxious world, the swirling torrents of chauvinist supremacy, xenophobia and capitalist opportunism that powers the film industry as much as the city around it."

Two other films from the 2000s made Cole's top ten: Femme Fatale (#7) and Mission To Mars (#8).

Cole's dismissal of The Untouchables (#21) seems wrong all over the place.

Meanwhile, Alex Withrow at And So It Begins... posted his top 5 De Palma films, placing Snake Eyes at number 5. "I am fully aware that this is not a sentiment shared by many people," writes Withrow, "but I fucking love Snake Eyes. I love how Nicolas Cage just barely keeps it together (which is to say, barely keeping zany Cage at bay), I love the insanely long tracking shots (which is to say, I appreciate De Palma doing his best to hide them via digital technology), I love Gary Sinise stepping as far away from Lt. Dan as he can, the double-back narrative, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s perfect music – everything. 'You got snake eyes. The house wins.'" Blow Out tops Withrow's list, with Body Double in second place.

And finally, The Artifice's Vic Millar serves up "A Beginner’s Guide to Brian De Palma." Millar explains, "With an impressively daunting body of work consisting of almost 30 films dating as far back as the 1960′s, Brian De Palma is a director than can be a bit difficult to dive into. De Palma’s new film Passion hits theaters on August 30th and is already available on VOD platforms, and it really is a return to form for the director who has stumbled with his last few outings. In Passion, De Palma not only has a chance to deploy many of his favorite visual signatures, but it also provides him with the opportunity to return to some of the subject matter he frequently enjoys exploring. Because of this, it’s worth looking back at De Palma’s most important films to identify how he’s used these themes and tricks throughout his lengthy career. If you’re a novice when it comes to Brian De Palma’s work, these six films are the perfect place to start."

Millar suggests: 1) Blow Out, 2) Carlito's Way, 3) Body Double, 4) Carrie, 5) Mission: Impossible, and 6) Phantom Of The Paradise. "A joyously weird musical-horror hybrid," says Millar of the latter, "Phantom of the Paradise finds De Palma at his most wacky and experimental. With a mash-up plot drawing from The Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and Dorian Grey, this movie follows a scarred and deformed masked man who haunts the Paradise Theater to get revenge on the musician who stole his work. As if the popping music and tragic characters weren’t enough, De Palma loads the film with startling amounts of violence and cultural satire. This movie shows off how gleefully excessive De Palma can be. Look at one key scene halfway through the movie: De Palma uses one of his favorite techniques, splitting the screen down the middle to show us two images at once. On one side, we follow a car with a ticking bomb in it being pushed onto the stage during a performance. On the other side, we see a band called the Juicy Fruits rocking out to the applause of the crowd. Partly a Touch of EvilThe Beach Boys, this scene sums up everything there is to love about Brian De Palma. Who else could give us film references, mounting tension and violence, and ironic musical numbers not only in the same scene – but in the same frame?"

Posted by Geoff at 1:14 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 12:15 AM CDT
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Posted by Geoff at 5:48 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, August 19, 2013 7:24 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Guardian's Damon Wise posted an interview with Brian De Palma today. The article begins with De Palma sighing about critical reactions to Passion and saying, "I just like to shoot beautiful women, as elegantly as possible." The "elegant" part seems in contrast to critical reactions that use words such as "sleaze." Continuing, De Palma tells Wise, "It's kind of a lost art. I mean, I don't think anybody's interested in it any more. I'm always surprised when I get critical reactions saying my films are sleazy." Wise writes that De Palma then laughs, and continues, "What's sleazy about them? They say they're 'erotic European trash'. I'm like, 'What are they talking about? These women look fantastic. I spent a lot of time making them look as stylish as possible!'"

De Palma tells Wise about the Afternoon Of A Faun ballet sequence in Passion: "I've been fascinated by that ballet for years. It was on YouTube. It was shot in the 60s, a very grainy black-and-white video. I loved the idea – the dancers are interacting with each other and looking at themselves all the time. It was a shocker when it was first done, because it was so explicitly sexual. So I always wanted to use it. And when I saw the Corneau film, there was a scene where the detective says to the suspect, 'Where were you?' She says, 'I was at the ballet.' And I thought, 'Wow, now I have a place to put it.'" {Note: in the Corneau film, it was "at the movies", and De Palma saw the opportunity to make it "at the ballet" for his version.]

Wise gets into the discussion of big screens and smaller screens, and De Palma laughs and tells him, "I saw Vertigo in VistaVision – in 1958 at Radio City Music Hall. No wonder it made an impression on me!"

"Nevertheless," Wise writes, "as his movies seem to be getting smaller again (Passion is being released here only on DVD), De Palma says he is not struggling to find work."

De Palma tells Wise, "I get offered a lot of things I'm not really interested in. I can work on big budgets, little budgets. I'm just interested in doing what interests me."

At the end of the article, Wise asks De Palma about potential retirement. De Palma tells him, "In the words of William Wyler, when the legs go, that's when you've gotta pack it in. My cinematographer is older than I am. He does Almodóvar's movies. He's 74. I watch him standing up all the time. I say, 'Why don't you sit down?' He says, 'If I sit down, I fall asleep.' I think that's waiting for me."

Tomorrow night (Monday) at 7pm, De Palma takes the stage at the Film Society Lincoln Center, where he will discuss Passion and take questions from the audience. The hour-long event is part of a series called "Summer Talks". The Lincoln Center website states, "Complimentary tickets will be available only at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center box office on a first-come, first-served basis. Limit: One ticket per person." Video of each discussion will also be posted on the website (Filmlinc.com). Passion will open at Film Society on August 30.

Posted by Geoff at 2:41 PM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 11:11 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 18, 2013 11:13 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Posted by Geoff at 11:03 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 18, 2013 11:13 AM CDT
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Friday, August 16, 2013

Tom Seymour at Ideas Tap posted a terrific interview with Brian De Palma yesterday, focusing on aspects of filmmaking such as preparation, improvisation, and motivation. When asked by Seymour how much preparation he does before he shoots a film, De Palma replies, "Pre-production is extensive. For Passion, I spent years laying out the whole movie with computer architectural programs. I scouted the locations myself and storyboarded every shot in the movie. I spent a lot of time working out the lighting for the surrealistic aspects of the film.

"Every film I make, I try and incorporate new technology in order to pre-visualise the movie from beginning to end, and modern programmes allow you to do practically everything. So I designed each storyboard, and when it came to printing them out, I had these huge stacks of the whole movie; I knew exactly what I wanted minute from minute on set."

Seymour then asks if De Palma believes in improvisation on the set. "Yes," De Palma replies, "you have to adjust your vision for the film according to what happens on the day. I focus really intently when I’m on set. I’m always looking for emotional shifts, for little interactions between the actors, for what’s happening to the weather or the light. If you have a plan to return to, it affords you the ability to freestyle a little bit. Filmmaking is like catching [lightning] in a bottle; you have to be adept at looking at what’s going on at that moment, because if it’s on the film it will be there forever."

When Seymour asks what motivates him as a director, De Palma replies, "I’m motivated by big cinematic ideas and broad canvasses. I believe deeply in the big screen. A lot of independent films now are walking and talking movies, which hold little interest to me, while the top of the industry is dominated by comic books. There’s a lot of opportunity for people to explore the boundaries of cinema still – even if they’re working on a $2,000 budget – and I’d encourage anyone to do that."

Seymour concludes by asking De Palma for his advice to young filmmakers. Read the answer to that, along with the rest of the interview, at Ideas Tap.

Posted by Geoff at 8:41 PM CDT
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Thursday, August 15, 2013
A couple of interesting Passion reviews were posted the other day. Michael Ewins begins his review with this paragraph:

"If there’s a more definitive auteurist statement put to film this year than the dazzling split-screen centrepiece of Brian De Palma’s Passion – a close-up on trembling female eyes and puckered lips; a showering blonde; an elegant ballet; black gloves and a giallo mask – I’ve yet to see it, and frankly I don’t want to. A lithe, luscious and serpentine thriller, varnished and executed to perfection, Passion is equivalent to Cocteau’s Orphée (1950), Fellini’s City Of Women (1980) and even Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) as a summation, examination and evolution of the aesthetic and thematic motifs of a director’s cinema – it is a rare item of authorial perfection, even if the experience itself is not perfect."

Ewins states that, "like the best of De Palma, Passion evokes such a precise feel through framing, light and editing that you could follow the story just as well with the sound off," adding that "the fever-pitch finale is a wordless, cross-cut masterstroke." He concludes with the following two paragraphs:

"A final note – watch it twice. A first viewing will find you figuring out the tone, nodding toward the references and enjoying the ride as it picks up traction. The second time around those initial twenty minutes sit more comfortably – a whirlwind of office politics, sexual betrayal and callback setups (it threatens us with a doppelgänger motif and then holds it back for the duration), it plays more self-aware in the knowledge of what follows, and you gather that the slightly undisciplined structure is all in service of a greater good – those juicy auteurist cues.

"Passion is an extraordinary return to form for De Palma, and its presumed (not to mention expected) awfulness turns out to be gleeful, self-aware genre abandon – this is a mucky, perverse world full of ludicrous twists and turns, flashbacks, lesbian trysts and pill-popping anti-heroes. If you’re not having fun, you’re just not doing it right."

Keith Uhlich posted a Letterboxd review of Passion, in which he states, "I'm totally with this movie right from the moment Rachel McAdams chokingly says, 'It's organic.'" Uhlich loves how Passion "is a tri-perspective thriller that moves from the cold, calculating blonde to the all-in vengeful brunette to the haunt-you-even-in-death redhead. The surfaces are so enticing, and the depth emerges from the collision of emblems—not just hair color but zeitgeisty products (Mac computers; Panasonic cell phones; an ill-fated Coca-Cola machine) and strata of art (an ass-cam advertisement that goes YouTube viral and the Jerome Robbins version of Afternoon of a Faun, which may or may not have actually been witnessed)."

Uhlich concludes, "The key scene for me is the one in which McAdams tearily talks about her twin sister (who of course appears subsequently with bloody scarf—this film's Hermès handbag—in murderous hand), if only because it brings me back to that great Mission: Impossible exchange between Jean Reno and Emmanuelle Béart, which concisely and poetically sums up the polarizing De Palma project: 'Is he serious?'/'Always.'"

Posted by Geoff at 1:09 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 15, 2013 1:10 AM CDT
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013
A new 35mm print of Brian De Palma's The Fury will screen at 7pm Thursday night as part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cinematheque series tribute to Roger Ebert. The series summer opened July 12 with Carol Reed's The Third Man. Cinematheque director Jim Healy told Madison.com that with the series, he "wanted to showcase the sheer range and eclecticism of Ebert’s tastes, from the great movies he loved to the guilty pleasures he enjoyed to the little-seen underdogs he championed," according to the article by Rob Thomas. A sidebar with Thomas' article includes a quote from Ebert about The Fury: "I'm not quite sure it makes a lot of sense, but that's the sort of criticism you only make after it's over. During the movie, too much else is happening."

Posted by Geoff at 11:54 PM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 12:14 AM CDT
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