Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

B-Fest 2014: My 10th anniversary 10thtacular feat. Robot girls, robot robots, & kittens with whips.

Every January in spite of my better judgement, I make the annual trek to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois to B-Fest: the 24-hour festival of B-movies. This is not a film festival for the faint of heart. It takes place in a campus lecture hall, which is not a very comfortable place to spend an entire day. Still. Every year I go, every year I vow never to do it again, and then I do it the following year anyway.

2014 is my tenth year at B-Fest.


But it was a good time. It's always a good time in retrospect, when my back has recovered and I've gotten plenty of rest. We started off on Friday morning; I picked up splott (attending for her first time!) and to evil_jim's, since he'd be driving. The drive down to Chicagoland was uneventful--we listened to a couple of TelstarMan's B-Fest mixes on the way, and arrived at Mitsuwa around 1:30 (or so). There we met up with henrietta1 and her friend Stephanie.

Mitsuwa Marketplace is an Asian mall in Arlington Heights, Illinois, but there's probably no one reading this who isn't already aware of that. We always stop on the way down, have lunch, and do a little shopping. The mall has changed a lot since my first visit ten years ago, but it's been pretty constant for at least five years. The main draw is the food court and the grocery store which sells more than junk food, but you wouldn't know it from what we buy. One thing I have learned from my stops at Mitsuwa: I'm very picky about authentic Asian cuisine. There's plenty of good food in the food court, but the last two times I've gone, I've settled for a hamburger. They put wasabi on it, which makes me feel like I'm doing something exotic. Probably should have ordered the oyako donburi, but I just wasn't feeling like it. Also: I purchased vegetable-flavored hard candies, which, upon examining the package, are supposed to taste like oranges with a hint of carrot and onion. They do not.

So. On to Northwestern University. We arrived around 4:00, which is when you want to arrive; free parking goes into effect at 4:00 on Friday, and tickets have been received in the past. We made the long trip inside, queued for our tickets, and then set up our stuff in the auditorium. Sometimes in the past, they've allowed us to grab seats first, then shooed us out to collect tickets. I prefer doing it that way, but this is probably easier for the staff.

At some point we spied TelstarMan passing out copies of his 2014 mix CD, so we all picked one up. He told us that the Fest Mix may be on its way out. It'll be sad to see it end, if it is ending, but with twelve mixes over thirteen years, he had a good run. I still make a lot of playlists, so if I were more ambitious I'd take up the torch, but I don't really want to duplicate all those CDs. Maybe a business card with a QR code that points to a file on Probably not, though.

Anyway, soon the lights dimmed, and the film festival began.

6:00 PM - Robot Jox (1990)
We began with Robot Jox, which sees director Stuart Gordon--mostly known for his H.P. Lovecraft adaptations--charting unusual territory. It's 50 years after WWIII, and the world has divided into two factions: The Market (us) and The Confederation (the commies). Resources are scarce, so the two sides settle their disputes via giant robot gladiatorial matches. The righteous Achilles (Gary Graham) pilots robots for Our side, and the ruthless Alexander (Paul Koslo) is on Theirs in a battle over the Alaskan territory. Meanwhile, a new class of genetically engineered fighters is maturing, and the Powers That Be are undecided about the merits of natural humans versus the gene jockeys. There's also an espionage plot.

Robot Jox falls squarely into a genre that was unique to the latter part of the Cold War: elite fighters train to compete for the highest stakes, only to realize in the final moments that they don't have to destroy each other. This is the plot of maybe 20% the Golan-Globus movies. Robot Jox has a pretty simple plot and doesn't even execute it very well, but there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in the background that saves it from total mediocrity. None of that matters, though. The first movie of B-Fest is always drowned by a shouting audience, and if the film has any subtlety, you'll miss it thanks to the general excitement of the crowd. Robot Jox delivers exactly what you want for an opening movie at B-Fest: It's loud, it's dumb, the special effects are cheap and silly (but not bad, exactly), and the dialogue is both laughable and delivered with the gravest portentousness. It was a good kickoff movie.

7:45 PM - The Amazing Colossal Man Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
The Amazing Colossal Man was scheduled, but it was damaged or the distributor couldn't find it (or something--I don't remember), so they swapped it out for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians which I've seen a million billion times (or at least three). I think most people agree with me in finding this movie pretty rough to sit through, but B-fest is a good place for it, because everybody is making fun of the movie, and nobody is really paying attention.

As Santa Claus Conquers the Martians opens, the children of Mars are becoming listless and despondent from watching Christmas television broadcasts from Earth. Unsure how to address the situation, the Martian leader Kimar turns to the wise and ancient sage Chochem, who explains that Martian culture is too stifling for the children. From birth they are regimented and given a constant stream of formal education. There's no time for play or even childhood, really, and Earth TV has shown the kids that they're missing out on toys and Santa, and bad, bad jokes.

Kimar sets up an expedition to Earth to kidnap Santa Claus, and along the way, they pick up a couple of average Earth children. Kimar is opposed by Voldar who believes that fun and humor will destroy the Martian race, and spends most of the movie trying blatantly to kill Santa Claus and the kids, which makes you wonder why Kimar invited him along in the first place. Back on Mars, Santa's presence brightens the Martian kids, and Voldar--who looks a little like a green Frank Zappa--intensifies his personal War on Christmas. At the end there's a fight with pressurized soap bubbles, a Martian Santa Claus is appointed, the earthlings are returned home, and Santa is all like, "the spirits martians have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can."

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the kind of children's entertainment which assumes that kids will lap up anything if you tell them it'll be fun, but that's not really true, and I suspect the film has very few fans in its target demographic.

Having seen Santa Claus Conquers the Martians before, I took part of the movie to call my wife, after which I took a stroll down to the Norris Center Food Court to buy a sandwich from Subway, which turned out to be a good idea. I can never tell, when I pack my pile o' food on Thursday night, whether I've got too much or too little. This year I packed a little less than I'd have liked to, which I didn't realize until Saturday morning.

I also went to the Starbucks which is officially open until 9:00 to get a latté, but at 8:20 I was told that they were closed. "Well, the register is still open," I said. "Can I buy something in a bottle?" I ended up with two big bottles of sweet, milky coffee which more or less saw me through the Fest. I usually buy a latté on Friday and two on Saturday, but the lines were so long on Saturday that I gave up. Their loss (I guess). I tend to over-tip baristas.

At some point--during Megaforce, I think, but I don't recall, mattwilliam and his girlfriend Jen showed up and settled into the row where I was sitting, which made me feel a little less self-conscious; I was sitting in a mostly empty row of seats, and it's not as though the auditorium offers a huge amount of seating.

Up next we had a couple of short films: The Gipsie's Warning (1907) (sic) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). The latter was shown last year, and is a 5-minute cut of the Universal film of the same name. It manages to tell a complete story, but is otherwise pretty lackluster. The former is a silent film from 1913 in which a Nice Boy seduces, and then mistreats a Young Itinerant Lady. Could be classified as racist.

I was unimpressed by the two shorts. We've seen both the short and full length versions of Frankie & Wolfie at B-Fests past, and I've seen some really good silent shorts, but The Gipsie's Warning strikes me as one of the lesser.

This is one of my qualms about the last couple of B-Fests; during the first few years I attended, the shorts were inserted unexpectedly between the films, and they were weird, experimental things you wouldn't see anywhere else. Recently, the number of shorts has decreased, and the strangeness has been toned way down. Bring back the weird stuff! And give us more of it!

9:50 PM - MegaForce (1982)
MegaForce was shown in 2009. At that time, I described it as "a 1980s paramilitary cartoon ala M.A.S.K. or GI Joe adapted verbatim for live action without a trace of irony." That description still holds, but I am now tempted to describe it as Team America: World Police without the self-referential winking at the audience. Team America is to MegaForce as Young Frankenstein is to Frankenstein.

MegaForce is the story of a dispute between Sardun and Gamibia, two fictional countries in Northern Africa (I guess). This is not important. What's important is MegaForce, an elite squadron of international soldiers of fortune who hang around in a sweet, high-tech facility and blow stuff up all day, all while wearing the kind of flamboyant duds that can only be pulled off by those carrying semiautomatic weapons (which for whatever reason shoot lasers and make "pew pew" sound effects). There's a love story and some international espionage and Henry Silva shows up driving a tank, but we're not here for the story: we're here for Barry Bostwick riding a flying motorcycle. I've said this before: MegaForce is not a good movie. It is an awesome movie.

A good time was had by all. Truly. There's a reason we watched this one at my bachelor party. Like most of the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Barry Bostwick once discussed that film with open hostility toward its fans, and has since mellowed. I wonder how he really feels about MegaForce?

11:45 PM - The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979)
There is little that I can add to what I've said in years past about The Wizard of Speed and Time, a stop-motion short from 1979 which is shown annually at B-Fest, then reversed and shown upside down as the film is respooled. It's manic and joyful and it wakes us up. You can see it on YouTube.

12:00 AM - Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Again, an annual B-Fest staple, and there's not much I can add to this one either. Plan 9 is the official Audience Participation piece at B-Fest, and I joined the theater in gleefully shouting at the screen. It's less sophisticated than Rocky Horror, but we only do it once a year. Highlights of the audience participation involve:
  • shouting "BELA!" when Bela Lugosi is onscreen
  • shouting "NOT BELA!" when Bela Lugosi's replacement is onscreen
  • shouting "TOR!" whenever Tor Johnson shows up
  • shouting "WHAT?" whenever Tor Johnson mumbles his way through badly written dialogue
  • shouting "HOT!" whenever Vampira is onscreen
  • arguing loudly about whether the chairs in the movie are "WICKER!" or "RATTAN!"
  • shouting "ASS!" when the beefy good Samaritan rescues what's-her-name and carries her back to his car
  • tossing paper plates into the air whenever one of the UFOs appears onscreen
  • giving up at some point and shouting "STILL NOT BELA!" at everything
It's fun, and as usual I had a good time. I usually make a point of catching as many paper plates as I possibly can in order to take them home, photograph them, and release them back into the wild at next year's B-Fest, but that didn't happen this year because I'd positioned myself in a seat where I caught maybe ten plates. I had a small stack by the end of the festival, but it was pitiful in comparison to the stack I've retrieved in years past. I haven't done it yet, but I'll take pictures and post a link here within the next few days.

1:34 AM - Thomasine & Bushrod (1974)
The slot immediately following Plan 9 has traditionally been reserved for blaxploitation films, which I always look forward to. I like these movies, but I've discovered lately that I they're best when they stick to urban action and film noir genres; the blaxploitation horror movies can be pretty spotty, and when they veer into other genres, they tend not to be very good.

So it was with Thomasine & Bushrod, which bills itself as Bonnie & Clyde meets Robin Hood in 1911. I have little memory of this one, because I decided to sleep through it. What I do remember: Bushrod is an outlaw who is reunited with his old flame, Thomasine, who has been working as a bounty hunter. They go on a crime spree, stealing from Rich White Guys and spreading the wealth among everyone else.

The other thing I remember is that the movie contained at least two montages that used still photographs to reconstruct IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS that were probably too expensive to film. It's probably a better movie than I remember, but I don't want good at B-Fest; I want fun, and this one put me to sleep.

3:20 AM - Lifeforce (1985)
I have a love/tolerate relationship with Lifeforce which extends far beyond B-Fest and the movie. Briefly, it's based on a novel called The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, a British amateur psychologist who is largely responsible for bringing H.P. Lovecraft's works to the other side of the Atlantic, and for extrapolating Lovecraft's fiction into a pernicious biographical sketch which A) refuses to die, and B) is completely fabricated. The first Lovecraft anthology I read was prefaced with an introduction by Colin Wilson which ranted at length about Lovecraft's homosexuality, his refusal to speak with other people to whom he was not related, and the xenophobia that prevented him from ever setting foot outside of Providence, Rhode Island--three "facts" which are soundly refuted by actual biographical information which Wilson absolutely refused to acknowledge, presumably because it would hurt the sales of the books he'd already published.

Whatever. Lifeforce is apparently a poor adaptation of Wilson's novel, which doesn't surprise me, but also doesn't matter. Basically, a deep space exploration expedition discovers a derelict spacecraft full of mummified, bat-like aliens. It also contains two men and a woman preserved naked in stasis. The bodies are recovered and brought aboard the ship, which begins to return to earth. Mission Control loses contact with our heroes, and by the time the rescue mission arrives, the ship is damaged and our heroes are dead. The naked space people are fine, though, so they are shipped off to London for an autopsy, where it turns out that they are vampires who subsist on the vital essence--life force, if you will--of their victims. It also turns out that humans are remarkably bad at resisting the charms of attractive, naked people. There's also a whole bunch of Colin Wilsony garbage about psychic linkage and the origin of vampire myths.

People like this movie, and people my age have fond memories of watching the nude scenes (i.e., most of the movie) on late-night cable, but we didn't have cable when I was a kid, so I have no such fond memories. I have seen the movie within the last year, though, and opted to sleep through most of it.

This might be a good time for me to mention sleep, actually.

So B-Fest, as I've explained in previous years' posts which you haven't read, is conducted in a campus lecture hall with movie theater-style seating. There's an aisle down the side of stage right, and another somewhat left of center separating the two sides of the theater, and my group generally sits in the first few rows in front of stage left. They sell about half of the venue's seats, so I reserve one chair for my gear and one for myself. I like to move around between movies, so I've generally sat near the aisle so that I don't have to clamber over people, which is a serious hazard early on Saturday morning.

This year, for whatever reason, I chose the seat nearest the wall for my stuff, and the seat next to it to sit in. It was a bad place to catch Plan 9 plates, but it was perfect for catching Zs. I spread a blanket over the floor of the wall seat, and sort-of-kind-of curled into a fetal position. I see people sleep like this every year, but I don't do it because I don't want to be stepped on or awoken by somebody who needs me to stand up. The wall seat, however, ensures that nobody needs to sneak past me. I guess there's a chance of being crushed by someone climbing over the seats, but that didn't happen either. It was nice.

So nice, in fact, that I slept through War of the Planets, as well.

5:25 AM - War of the Planets (1966)
I was worried about War of the Planets. There are two movies with this name, and I've seen the one from 1977. It's a painful slog which I didn't want to repeat. Luckily, this War of the Planets wasn't that War of the Planets. Unluckily, that's the only thing I managed to absorb of this one.

7:00 AM - Kitten with a Whip (1964)
I woke up a bit for Kitten with a Whip, which was one of those juvenile delinquency movies that were so popular in the '50s and early '60s. This one stars John Forsythe as a politician whose wife and daughter are out of town. While he is out one night, his home is invaded by Ann-Margaret, playing a 17-year-old girl who has a look around, decides she likes the place, and goes to sleep in his daughter's bed. She is discovered in the morning, and gives him a sob story about being mistreated by her step father. He buys it until a news broadcast reveals her to be a dangerous escapee from a detention home. "You get out of here," he says, "and don't come back." "I'll scream," she says. "I'll tell them you were trying to rape me."

He gives her every opportunity to leave, she takes every opportunity to sink her claws in deeper, and there is no reason that he couldn't simply walk away at any point in the story, except that he's a politician who's trying to Do the Right Thing. The matter becomes more complicated when a couple of her friends, including a beatnik philosopher and a moron with wall-to-wall muscles on his chest show up and demand to be driven to Tijuana. Ultimately everybody dies, except for our hero who ends up in a full-body cast.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. Can't really explain that, except to say that I was surprised because I had low expectations. It feels like a David Lynch movie without the weirdness; noir-ish, sexy, dangerous.

8:35 AM - Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Super Mario Bros. was probably the first real cinematic disappointment experienced by people my age. We were too young too be really critical of Ghostbusters 2, but when the first trailers for Super Mario Bros. were released, we were excited for a turtle-stomping, pipe-exploring epic. And when it was revealed to be a little more urban than expected, we imagined a mushroom-popping Mario stomping kaiju-style through the streets of New York. And then Dennis Hopper showed up with weird Max Headroom hair, and we realized he was supposed to be King Koopa, and we gave up.

Well, I gave up, anyway. I did not see Super Mario Bros. until I was well into my 20s. My friends mostly saw it when it came out, and the disillusionment was a bit of a watershed moment.

I've seen the movie a few times since then, and I have come to two conclusions:
  1. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo (Mario and Luigi) and Dennis Hopper all publicly and repeatedly distanced themselves from the movie, and no matter what criticisms I have, they all commit themselves wholeheartedly to the film, which is admirable; nobody is sleepwalking through his role.
  2. Had this movie not been called Super Mario Bros. it might have been a modestly successful children's film, been mostly forgotten within five years, and we'd all be slightly nostalgic whenever it comes up.
No such luck. Super Mario Bros. borrows the names of the characters from the game, but little else as it takes Mario and Luigi into a bizarre, nonsensical mirror universe where people evolved from dinosaurs and life, generally sucks; we've got air pollution, but they've got an invasive, sentient fungus which is slowly enveloping the world. There's a love story, and the actress who played Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter movies chews a lot of scenery, Fisher Stevens and Mojo Nixon give slightly better performances than the movie warrants, and the story spends a lot of time spinning its wheels. The credits tell me this mess was co-written by Ed Solomon (the Bill & Ted movies, Men in Black, and Charlie's Angels), but I bet he leaves it off his resume.

10:45 AM - Code of the Secret Service (1939)
...starring good ol' Ronald Reagan. I slept through this one, but Wikipedia says that it was part of a series of pro-law enforcement films Warner Bros. made in the late-'30s under the auspices of the Roosevelt administration. Wikipedia's plot summary is only two sentences long, so I figure I didn't miss much; something about counterfeiting, murder, and false accusations. Reagan reportedly found it embarrassing, so there's that.

12:00 PM - Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)
I watched this one on a portable media player many years ago at my last job, when I was trying very passively to get fired. It's an AIP picture starring Vincent Price as the titular Dr. Goldfoot, a mad scientist who has discovered how to reanimate dead flesh. He uses his skills to create attractive female robots which are indistinguishable from real women. The robots are designed to seduce rich weirdos, marry them, and then become their sole beneficiaries. Frankie Avalon co-stars as poor weirdo who is no good at wooing robots, and some guy named Jack Mullaney plays a role that was probably written for Paul Lynde. There are a couple of hilarious callbacks to Beach Blanket Bingo, which I didn't catch the first time I saw the film.

It's campy and funny, and rumor has it that musical numbers were cut that would have made it even funnier and campier. Regardless, it woke me up a lot; you can't go wrong with Vincent Price and AIP. And in case you're wondering, I'm not sure how the resurrection of dead bodies goes together with robots, but it was probably explained at some point. evil_jim pointed out that Vincent Price might be playing a younger version of his character from Edward Scissorhands, and I like that idea.

1:45 PM - Raffle
The raffle usually occurs on Friday evening before The Wizard of Speed and Time, but they held off for whatever reason until Saturday afternoon, which seemed like a bad idea, because lots of B-Fest attendees plan in advance not to last that long. A lot of tickets had to be redrawn because their holders weren't in the theater. Additionally, the raffle prizes--mostly DVDs donated by attendees--were divided up very poorly by the staff running the raffle. In one case, a gentleman won a single movie in a slim DVD case (i.e., the Dollar Store special), and the lady whose ticket was drawn after his won two movies *and* a 4-film box set. Seemed a bit unfair, and again, it's the staff that decides how the donated items are split up.

But, then, this lack of care and planning seemed to plague this year's B-Fest. My friends and I had been hoping to sponsor a film, which didn't hapen because they never sent out an email soliciting sponsorship (which they've done in years past). They didn't email us to say that tickets were available until two days after I'd already purchased mine, and the schedule wasn't available until less than a week prior to the start of the Fest (okay, six days and some change).

I found the schedule especially frustrating. It was announced without showtimes, so I looked up the runtimes of all the movies and put it into my Google Calendar allowing 5-10 minutes between films. This is how B-Fest is traditionally scheduled: 6:00 Friday to 6:00 Saturday, with a few minutes between films, and a lunch break. I assumed that I might have the lunch break in the wrong place, but otherwise everything fit beautifully into my calendar with the raffle and Plan 9 in the right places. Then we discovered that the formal schedule included an extra break, and had the movies spaced too generously. There was a lot of unnecessary downtime between movies, which caused the festival to run an hour late.

They also charged $2 for the posters, which used to be free. I can't decide whether that's an outrage or inflation; tickets have increased $10 in price since my first year, but they're nice, well-printed posters, and it does cost money to rent all those films from the distributor.

On the plus side? They turned on the lights between most of the movies, which is something they'd stopped doing a few years ago, but which the audience generally appreciates (unless we're trying to sleep).

2:05 PM - Deadly Mantis (1957)
Okay, I said it woke me up, but it didn't wake me up that much. I've seen plenty of giant bug movies, and I decided to sleep through this one, too.

3:40 PM - Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983)
Yor was originally scheduled as the last movie of the festival, but they swapped it at the last minute with Drunken Tai Chi. This one has been recommended to me for years, and now I can scratch it off my list, I guess. I was unimpressed, but I can see the appeal: Yor, the only caveman with blonde hair and blue eyes, goes on a quest to find his people, or at least the meaning of the amulet around his neck. As it turns out, the holocaust has already happened, and Yor's people were the survivors. There are androids and dinosaurs, and an overlord named Overlord, which sounds like a crazy and amazing mix, but...maybe I'll try it again when I'm wide awake.

5:20 PM - Drunken Tai Chi (1984)
I was not anticipating to like Drunken Tai Chi because I don't really like martial arts movies. They're not all bad, but B-Fest has generally ended with kaiju or martial arts, and I've generally not been a fan of the final selection. And Drunken Tai Chi wasn't brilliant, but it was surprisingly entertaining, which is kind of a feat, given the scheduling issues I mentioned earlier.

So, Drunken Tai Chi is mostly an excuse to showcase choreographed comedy stunts, which frankly, are a lot more impressive than fighting. I don't remember the movie very well, except that I laughed a lot, and that the plot took a very long time to materialize. Which is fine; I think most of us were content to watch the stunts. In a way, the best martial arts comedies are like the best comedies of the silent era. You will see things in these movies that you never see in modern Hollywood movies because they're too dangerous for most actors even to attempt.

So. Basically, I watched a lot of people endanger themselves for an hour and a half. Still, it was pretty good. I hope we get more like this in the future.

After the final movie comes the worst part of B-Fest: cleanup, followed by a quarter-mile walk from the theater to the car, through subzero temperatures. I usually get bored during the last movie, and use some of that time to get my stuff packed up so that I'm immediately ready to go--which nobody else does, so I end up waiting around for everybody else (not a big deal). What was a big deal is that two rows behind me--one row behind the rest of my group--were four people who spent the entire festival doing all the things you're not supposed to do in public because they annoy other people, and when my friends ended up with feet in their faces and somebody else's garbage in the seats next to them, they were considered moving (but didn't). Well, these folks packed up early and left an enormous mess for those seated around them to clean up. Bad form, I say.

Still, cleanup went smoothly, and the walk (which is the worst part of the worst part) was tolerable. We checked into the Best Western in Morton Grove, walked a few quick minutes to Zuzu Wraps, which was called Olive Branch Express when we ate there last year. The food was fantastic, again, and then we went back to the hotel when I showered and crashed. Slightly before the crash we discussed setting an alarm for 8:30 in the morning. Alarms were set on three devices, then two were cancelled because one was thought to be enough. Then the alarm failed to go off because we'd set it for 8:30 PM, this being no big deal because we noticed at 8:36.

An hour later we were showered, dressed, and seated at Kappy's Restaurant, next to our friend Tim and his wife, who couldn't make it to B-Fest because they've just had a son. Their other son--now seven years old ("and a half!" he chimed in)--was born on a B-Fest weekend, and both kids were with us at the restaurant. We all had a nice conversation about blaxploitation and MST3K which only occasionally veered off into Spongebob territory.

Kappy's has just about the best selection of savory breakfast foods that I've ever seen (which appeals to me). I almost got their Traditional Irish Breakfast, but I can fry tomatoes at home and I wasn't sure about the white and black puddings, so I chose pretty standard American fare instead and was not disappointed.

Finally, it was time to go (mostly because seven-year-olds get restless), so we said our goodbyes, and hit the road.

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