Josephine Baker Story

 
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Product Description

You know how it goes. You hear about what a sensation someone like Josephine Baker was in her prime (in her case, the 1920s and '30s), how she pushed boundaries in such delicate areas as race and sex, how she both thrilled and scandalized Paris with her exotic dancing and personal behavior. You have all these loose strands of legend and random fact, your curiosity is running high, and then you hear that a feature film is being made about the very subject. You watch, and then wonder: what was the big deal about Josephine Baker? The problem with this 1991 TV movie is the same as with a number of HBO films from the 1980s and early '90s: it isn't particularly well written, the production looks rushed, and the entire point is obscured in a whirl of biographical material that doesn't sufficiently develop into insightful, organic unity. What The Josephine Baker Story does do, however, is provide a reference point from which to begin an appreciation of Baker's life. A poor, African American girl from St. Louis, Baker found fame and wealth in Europe as a dancer whose partially nude, unbridled performances invoked wit, sexual liberation, and passion--without, somehow, seeming vulgar or obscene. As Baker, Lynn Whitfield gets into the uninhibited spirit of things, free with her body and enthusiastic about re-creating many of her character's performances (yes, the famed Banana Dance is a highlight). The film superficially suggests that Baker was celebrated as an expressive artist, a healthy force of nature rather than a lewd exhibitionist, but it doesn't go far enough down that road to tell us why she matters. Somewhat better is the script's contrasting emphasis on Baker's celebrity overseas and her second-class status as a black woman in America. In the end, the film's real accomplishment is underscoring how racism truly determines the course of an individual's life, and the way Baker understood that both from the vantage point of a refugee and a victim. --Tom Keogh

Customer Reviews:

  • " Bravo ! "
    Lynn Whitfields work in this movie was quite simply elegant, as always. I can honestly say that this movie was just breathtaking and beautifully made....more info
  • Poignant look at how racism motivates, cripples and distorts
    I must say that I have an entirely new respect for Ms. Baker. Although I have to admit that I still don't (critically or objectively) understand the appeal of her as a singer or performer beyond the mere fact that she was a novelty to the over indulged european masses, she is certainly portrayed as an extrordinary human being.

    The most important idea this film expresses is how racism can become the central influence affecting and directing the lives of its' victims. In Ms. Baker's case it drove her to both phenomenal fame and wealth. It also prevented her from ever really being happy in her personal life because minorities both then and now are unrelentingly confronted by racism regardless of their fame or wealth. Golf's latest young tiger is a prime example of how nothing can erase the perceived stain of colored skin.

    Ms. Baker was so consumed by her endeavor to overcome racism and the poverty of children (amongst other things) that she bankrupt herself in the attempt.

    Very well acted by Ms. Whitfield and Reuben Blades in particular. Although looking at Ms. Whitfield is far superior to looking upon Ms. Baker.

    The film definitely makes its point but it is sometimes not the most entertainingly engaging of films....more info

  • The Josephine Baker Story
    I found the movie informative, interesting and delightful. I had heard of Ms. Baker but Lynn Whitfield truly brought her to life for me on screen....more info
  • Viva La Baker!!! Felicidades Ms. Whitfield!!
    After waiting years for La Diva Ross to finally bring the Josephine Baker story to the big screen, HBO upended her with this truly moving portrayal of a true American legend's story. In many ways, the screenplay pays homage to Ross' "Lady Sings the Blues" (Billie Holiday-Biopic). However, it is the stunning performance by Lynn Whitfield that ultimately satisfies. The art direction is on point, the costumes are fabulous and the music is addictive (I have searched for a soundtrack to this movie for years...to no avail). Ms. Whitfield won a well deserved Best Actress Emmy (making me still wince for Diana's efforts).Don't miss great supporting roles from Ruben Blades and the late David Dukes). It would be difficult to fully tell the story of La Baker.....but this one comes close. ...more info
  • Beautifully acted piece of fiction
    Any time a movie is made about a real person, there will be complaints that certain things are not correct. We all know that events get changed, rearranged or omitted for the sake of moving a story along. But this isn't a complaint about small details being omitted or changed. This is a complaint about a story that is barely true.

    I assume that Josephine's story was rewritten to make her a more likable person. By many accounts, she was both barely tolerable and extremely lovable, both brilliant and self-destructive, loving to a point of fault and downright disloyal, extremely insightful and downright delusional. Baker showed strong signs of what we now know is bipolar disorder. But rather than showing us the story of a woman whose inner demons and manic depression nearly swallowed her whole, we get poor, poor Josephine constantly falling victim to a series of unfortunate events and being blacklisted because of her participation in the civil rights movement. Nothing is ever Josephine's fault - not her exile from the United States (thanks to her pro-communist comments), nor her failed marriages (to men whom she abused and were abusive in return), nor her eventually losing Les Milandes (which was saved on four separate occasions before finally being sold).

    Additionally, this film suggests that Baker was driven by racism and the desire to prove to a Jim Crow America that a black woman could be as successful and beloved as a white woman. I'm sure this was partially true. However, Baker had an streak of self-hatred in her, best evidenced by the constant changing of her father's race to depict herself as being biracial. (At one point, she went on record as saying he was a Spanish Jew.) Josephine despised light skinned blacks (possibly out of jealousy), shunned dating men of color (except for her first two husbands, whom she left and later denied existed), and rarely patronized African-American businesses until the U.S. government had all but deported her due to her fierce anti-American statements. One has to wonder if her sudden leap into the civil rights movement was spurned by her suddenly becoming persona non grata in the United States. Ironically, Baker had virtually nothing to say about the poor treatment of French Africans in her own country, possibly because there was no publicity in it.

    Baker's relationships with husbands Abatino and Boulliard, husbands three and five, are misrepresented to the point of parody. Her film career, along with her pre-Paris career, is completely ignored. Her role in the civil rights movement, along with the Resistance, is so understated that it's offensive. Additionally - and this is why this film is a beautiful failure - there is little depiction of Josephine's hard work, insight, intelligence and drive. This film shows us an interracial version of "My Fair Lady," with Pepito more or less shaping the performer that Baker became. In fact, nearly all of Baker's success is due to whites in this movie, completely omitting the numerous African-Americans who worked so hard with and for Baker. Even Baker's family, who lived with Baker in France (brother Richard and his children, along with sister Margaret), are conspicuously absent from this film.

    This isn't to say that the film should have trashed Baker, or portrayed her as a self-loathing loony bird who just so happened to sing and dance. Rather, I wish it had shown us a more multifacted character, a perpetual phoenix who spent her entire career destroying herself just to rise again, stronger and hotter than ever. There is no question that Whitfield deserved her Emmy award, but Josephine deserved more than what this movie gave her. TJBS is largely panned among Josephine Baker fans, with good reason. If you want to watch a wonderfully acted movie about a half naked, booty-shaking singer, this movie is fine. If you want to know about a legend whose work still impacts the entertainment industry over 30 years after her death, look elsewhere....more info
  • 'The Josephine Baker Story' Is A Treasure In My Movie Collection
    Ever since I was 9 years old and watched the French documentary 'Chasing A Rainbow' I was emmediatly fascinated by Josephine Baker. It was like The Beatles in a way-she has one of the greatest celebrity stories in know history!And it wasn't until several years later did I realize that this movie had been made but it was an HBO exclusive and I didn't have cable.It came out on VHS and was hard to find for awhile but when it came out on DVD,I waited awhile and at the strong recommendation of a friend went for this.Considering how much I enjoyed Introducing Dorothy Dandridge I naturally assumed this would be at least just as good.Well 'The Josephine Baker Story' is BETTER then just as good.As noted in other reviews this film takes a look at Josephine Baker the women rather then the performer.That is covered too but Josephine (portrayed by the lovely and dynamic Lynn Whitfiend)is given a real humanity outside her larger then life persona.One thing I learned about Josephine from this was that I COULD SEE why she'd want to get out of her area of St.Louis.From the point of view of her it looked to be a terrible violent place that should've never been bestowed on anyone of any color. She dreamed of a fairy tale life and after playing the baffoon long enough in America she blissfully went to Paris along with her fellow artist and buddy Sidney Bechet.And so La Baker's assault on France begins-her and other members of Le Revue Negre' dancing in the streets of the city,her being painted and adored by many. But as her pseudo count "husband" Pepito pointed out,she needed to truly break out.So over the years,through returns to her own country she realized that the racism she'd once tried to escape needed to be dealt with and,in middle age (through her famous Rainbow Tribe and activism)she did conquer racism with a somewhat heavy handed,if well meaning fist-in her own words "If I see a roach I step on it".She did lose much perspective (and another husband in the kindly Joe Boullian) when she began to become obsessed with adopting every foundling child she heard about.As she had many times before she endured a beating to leave her chateau Les Milandes but made a triumphant comeback,slying admitting in a phone call at the premire of her final revue in 1975 that she was'nt "behind the times" as she cited Mick Jaggers presense at the revue and concluded with what sounded like a slightly altered "Josephine-ized" version of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are-A-Changin"-it was quite a road to that from "Je Deux Amour".There are many many highlites here to mention-one being the dramatic and exciting interpretation of Josephine's performance in the (allegedly) unfilmed Le Revue' Negre',her banana dance and (my favorite) the beautifully filmed scene where a glowing Pepito (Rueban Blades) watches as a wistful young Josephine records her theme song "Je Deux Amour" in the early 1930's.As stated some things are missing but there are some poignant moments,such as a distraught Josephine learning of her inability to bare children while in the hospital in North Africa.So even though it is not a biographically flawless movie (it would've taken a MINI SERIES to put all of Josephine's amazing story) this is a must see for any fan of Josephine Baker or even the curious.Because even if you know her story to heart as I do this superbly acted and beautifully photographed movie will show you who she was while she lived her own history.One reason why we have the art of film in the first place....more info
  • Probably wouldn't have worked with kiwi fruit
    THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY is a fast-forward, 2-hour plus life synopsis of the celebrated black entertainer from 1917, when she was eleven and running from murderous racial violence in St. Louis, to her death in 1975 in Paris. Lynn Whitfield stars in this HBO production.

    The film manages to catch the key points of her life: early vaudeville gigs in the U.S. as a very young girl, notoriety as an exotic dancer in 1920's Paris, rise to major world stardom in the late 20's/early 30's, disastrous return to the U.S. entertainment circuit in the late 30's, French Resistance war hero, a near-fatality from peritonitis, entertainer of U.S. troops in North Africa, post-war civil rights champion back in the U.S., loving mother of a dozen, adopted, multi-racial children on her French estate, financial destitution in the late 60's, and resurrection in the 70's with the help of Prince and Princess Rainier of Monaco.

    Since TJBS covers so many decades and events in such short a time, much is lost: the marriage to her first and third husbands (Willie Wells and Jean Lion respectively), her brief film career, her stint as a Red Cross nurse after the Nazi occupation of Belgium, her many legal imbroglios, her late-life relationship with American artist Robert Brady, and her presence in the 1963 Washington D.C. civil rights march led by Martin Luther King. Sometimes the viewer feels shortchanged, as when the scene shifts from late 30's New York to wartime France to 1942 North Africa in the blink of an eye. (Don't go to the kitchen for that pastrami sandwich and beer - you may miss something.)

    The gorgeous Whitfield is sparkling as Josephine, who's always driven to rise above her skin color, and, during different periods of her life, either manipulated or manipulative, selfish or generous, and insensitive or loving. And HBO doesn't shrink from depicting Baker's most notorious and exotic routine, the Jungle Banana Dance, in which she performs naked except for a girdle of bananas around her loins. We're talking full-frontal, topless, nudity here (which scores high in my book, Male Pig that I am).

    Perhaps the best feature of the movie is its emphasis on Baker's relationship, from 1926 to 1936, with the Sicilian Pepito Abatino (Ruben Blades), who styled himself a "count" and served as Josephine's lover and manager. If the script is to be believed, it was his persistent effort and canniness that transformed Josephine from a simple cabaret dancer to world class star by pushing her to diversify her talent. In any case, the majority of the Web bios of Baker that I've read don't give Abatino the credit he's apparently due, much less even mention him at all.

    David Dukes is excellent as jazz bandleader Jo Boullion, Josephine's fourth husband, who separated from her in 1957 after ten years of marriage, ostensibly due to her extravagant lifestyle and penchant for adopting every homeless child that she stumbled across.

    Despite its occasional unevenness, THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY is both excellent entertainment and an instructive piece about a scintillating entertainer virtually forgotten by large chunks of the American public....more info

  • Goin' Bananas!!
    Lynn Whitfield does an incredible portrayal of Josephine Baker. She carries the movie and truely becomes the character. I didn't even know who Josephine Baker was until seeing this, nor did I really care. I like films about interesting characters that face adversity, and a tragic ending, as sad as it is, makes for a good story. This film takes you on a journey through Josephine's life, and what makes it so special is the fantastic acting by Lynn Whitfield, and the singing and dancing numbers are incredible. I think she won an award for this movie if I'm not mistaken. What this world needs now is more Lynn Whitfield, where is she?...more info
  • EXCELLENT!!
    I was very pleased with the feedback I received. I knew when it was going to be shipped and what day it was going to arrive. I had absolutely no problems. Everything arrived intact and on time!...more info
  • Beautifully acted piece of fiction
    Any time a movie is made about a real person, there will be complaints that certain things are not correct. We all know that events get changed, rearranged or omitted for the sake of moving a story along. But this isn't a complaint about small details being omitted or changed. This is a complaint about a story that is barely true.

    I assume that Josephine's story was rewritten to make her a more likable person. By many accounts, she was both barely tolerable and extremely lovable, both brilliant and self-destructive, loving to a point of fault and downright disloyal, extremely insightful and downright delusional. Baker showed strong signs of what we now know is bipolar disorder. But rather than showing us the story of a woman whose inner demons and manic depression nearly swallowed her whole, we get poor, poor Josephine constantly falling victim to a series of unfortunate events and being blacklisted because of her participation in the civil rights movement. Nothing is ever Josephine's fault - not her exile from the United States (thanks to her pro-communist comments), nor her failed marriages (to men whom she abused and were abusive in return), nor her eventually losing Les Milandes (which was saved on four separate occasions before finally being sold).

    Additionally, this film suggests that Baker was driven by racism and the desire to prove to a Jim Crow America that a black woman could be as successful and beloved as a white woman. I'm sure this was partially true. However, Baker had an streak of self-hatred in her, best evidenced by the constant changing of her father's race to depict herself as being biracial. (At one point, she went on record as saying he was a Spanish Jew.) Josephine despised light skinned blacks (possibly out of jealousy), shunned dating men of color (except for her first two husbands, whom she left and later denied existed), and rarely patronized African-American businesses until the U.S. government had all but deported her due to her fierce anti-American statements. One has to wonder if her sudden leap into the civil rights movement was spurned by her suddenly becoming persona non grata in the United States. Ironically, Baker had virtually nothing to say about the poor treatment of French Africans in her own country, possibly because there was no publicity in it.

    Baker's relationships with husbands Abatino and Boulliard, husbands three and five, are misrepresented to the point of parody. Her film career, along with her pre-Paris career, is completely ignored. Her role in the civil rights movement, along with the Resistance, is so understated that it's offensive. Additionally - and this is why this film is a beautiful failure - there is little depiction of Josephine's hard work, insight, intelligence and drive. This film shows us an interracial version of "My Fair Lady," with Pepito more or less shaping the performer that Baker became. In fact, nearly all of Baker's success is due to whites in this movie, completely omitting the numerous African-Americans who worked so hard with and for Baker. Even Baker's family, who lived with Baker in France (brother Richard and his children, along with sister Margaret), are conspicuously absent from this film.

    This isn't to say that the film should have trashed Baker, or portrayed her as a self-loathing loony bird who just so happened to sing and dance. Rather, I wish it had shown us a more multifacted character, a perpetual phoenix who spent her entire career destroying herself just to rise again, stronger and hotter than ever. There is no question that Whitfield deserved her Emmy award, but Josephine deserved more than what this movie gave her. TJBS is largely panned among Josephine Baker fans, with good reason. If you want to watch a wonderfully acted movie about a half naked, booty-shaking singer, this movie is fine. If you want to know about a legend whose work still impacts the entertainment industry over 30 years after her death, look elsewhere....more info
  • A magnificent film
    This film is fantastic. I have scene this film many times,Yet I never get tired of it.Lynn Whitfield as Ms. Baker is phenomenal, she deserved more than just an Emmy for her protrayal. This movie captures the intricate and eccentric sides of Josephine Baker....more info
  • Heartwrenching erotic saga
    I found "The Josephine Baker Story" to be a very good video biography of the famous yet infamous Josephine Baker. This film brought this erotic icon to the suface for all to see and love. Lynn Whitfield gave a five star performance, and her vivid portrayal of the star indulges ones curiousity about Ms. Baker, this movie is definitely a keeper if I ever did see one....more info
  • Black is beautifull
    African-americans have reason to be proud of the great entertainer, Josephine Baker, portrayed by the great actress, Lynn Whitfield. White Americans never foregave them: Josephine Baker who abandoned America and Lynn Whitfield who dared to show white Americans how and what they were and are....more info
  • A life worth remembering
    Buoyed by a strong performance from Lynn Whitfield, this HBO film touches on the highlights of La Baker's career and life. Since I didn't know much about her life, most everything in the film was new to me. Even though it doesn't delve too deeply into any one area, we experience her childhood motivations, marriage tribulations, career successes and love of children. We also get some distinct impressions that she left the United States for France because the racism and oppression in the US were unbearable. Apparently being African-American qualified her to entertain folks, but not to enter by the same door or eat at the same tables as them. She married a Caucasian, "no `count Count" from Italy and adopted a "rainbow" of children from around the world. Throughout her life, she sought to break down racial barriers and fight racism in her own, not insignificant way. While she will be remembered as an exotic dancer, it is her struggle with racism on which this film justifiably focuses. HBO seems to have a knack for making above-average biopics that probably would not stand a chance in theaters. This stands alongside "Gia," "Norma Jean and Marilyn," and others as a well-made chronicle of a life well worth remembering. ...more info
  • MRSWLJ FACTS ABOUT BULLS**T
    WHAT MOST PEOPLE FAIL TO REALIZE IS THAT MOST LIFE STORY MOVIES ARE NOT MADE FOR THE PURPOSE OF GLORIFICATION TO THE VIEWER, BUT TO LET THEM KNOW OF THE REAL LIFE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF THAT PERSON. HOW CAN YOU CRITICISE SOMEONES LIFE STORY? TO GO THREW WHAT THEY WENT THREW TO SEE WHAT THEY SAW, AND TO EXPERIENCE LIFE THREW TIMES WHEN LIFE WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO GRASP? I THINK JOSEPHINE BAKER WAS A VERY GREAT PERSON REGARDLESS OF HER NATIONALITY ANYONE WITH THE GUTS TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST AND OVERCOME IMPOSSIBLE BARRIERS DESERVES MUCH PRAISE....more info
  • Viva La Baker!!! Felicidades Ms. Whitfield!!
    After waiting years for La Diva Ross to finally bring the Josephine Baker story to the big screen, HBO upended her with this truly moving portrayal of a true American legend's story. In many ways, the screenplay pays homage to Ross' "Lady Sings the Blues" (Billie Holiday-Biopic). However, it is the stunning performance by Lynn Whitfield that ultimately satisfies. The art direction is on point, the costumes are fabulous and the music is addictive (I have searched for a soundtrack to this movie for years...to no avail). Ms. Whitfield won a well deserved Best Actress Emmy (making me still wince for Diana's efforts).Don't miss great supporting roles from Ruben Blades and the late David Dukes). It would be difficult to fully tell the story of La Baker.....but this one comes close. ...more info
  • A movie I rented for a naughty reason
    I had ignored this movie on the rental shelf many times, thinking that it would be a very boreing bio about a forgotten old actress. Then one day I examined the pictures on the box and notices the star wearing the sexy "banana suit". So of-course, I rented it immediately !

    It turned out to be a beautiful movie about the life of a fallen angel/fallen hero. It shows you how she became one of the richest black women in showbusiness, a member of the resistance in World War 2, and a fighter for civil rights.

    I noticed a lot of symbolism in this movie. Like during the first 5 minutes of the movie, she does her provacative topless night dance. If you look really deep, you won't just focus on her body....what you will begin to focus on is HER EYES, her wild untameable eyes. During her life she was untameable, always fighting, not willing to giveup.

    The star Lynn Whitfield is very entoxicating. If you're a guy, she'll make you forget all about Hally Berry....more info
  • a must see
    ms.baker broke ground and was an incredible entertainer.it's a shame that she had to make a living overseas but the film shows the ignorance and racist vibes that she had to encounter.lynn whitfield not only does a great job in the lead but she looks good as well.this is history....more info
  • a thrilling performance by Lynn Whitfield
    Lynn Whitfields exciting portrayal of one of France's premiere entertainers inspires all to rediscover the glory of Josephine Baker's hey-day....more info
  • They didnt even use her voice!!!! WHAT RUBBISH
    This movie is a travesty. Its only real use is that it might make those who know nothing about Josephine Baker want to learn more, but I must stress that it is NOT "Josephine Baker's Story", just as "Lady Sings the Blues" doesnt even come close to Billie Holiday's true life story.

    It is very sad that so many people in the US dont know anything about this extraordinary woman as person and as an artist. The ignorance is really shown by reading the reviews on this page - not once does anyone comment on the fact that this film doesnt even use Baker's real vocals - just imagine seeing the film "Ray" without Ray Charles' vocals turning up - youd probably change the channel or turn off your DVD player. They supplemented Baker's magnificent voice with some low-grade singer who doesnt even hold a candle to La Baker (maybe its Whitfield, but I have no clue), all the while ruining such songs as "J'ai deux amours", or "La Petite Tonkinoise". "Ray" used Ray Charles's voice, "La Mome" (aka "La Vie en Rose") used Edith Piaf's real voice, "Whats Love Got to Do With It" used Tina Turner's real voice ... so why didnt this movie use Baker's?

    I couldnt believe this film - I thought to myself "La Baker must be turning over in her grave". They only show one clip of the real Josephine Baker in the entire movie - an old news-reel shot right before the scene in the Miami club that lasts for about 3 seconds.

    I suppose the film captures who Josephine was as a person (in a way), but who she was as an artist is not even authentically shown - the way in which her career is portrayed gives one the wrong impression, making it look over over by the end of the 50s. What most people outside of Europe dont realize, is that Baker was in her prime from circa 1955 until her death - her voice completely transformed from the lithe and light 1920s chanteuse, to an incredible instrument of marvelous power - in the words of Shirley Bassey, " ... the greatest cabaret act the world has ever seen. I swear in all of my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer."

    The only really "authentic" re-creation of Baker's shows is the "banana dance" from her first appearance at the Folies Bergere, at least regarding sets and costumes. They dont even bother trying to really re-create the grand cabarets she put on in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and they even do a cheap recreation of her last show at the Bobino in 1975, which was a spectacle if there ever was.

    This film skips over key events with usual film quickness - but Josephine 'the artist' is lost. For example, they dont show her march with Dr. King, they didnt show Coretta Scott King asking Josephine to take her husband's place after his death, they dont even touch on her move to Monacco, her freindships, the fact that her sister lived with her, what Les Milandes REALLY was, the fact that she was the first entertainer to intergrate an american Theatre...I could go on and on.

    Its such a shame. In America, most people think of Josephine Baker as a dancer in a banana skirt who tried to make sorry comebacks when she aged, while in Europe, she is known as one of the greatest Divas that has ever lived.

    If you really want to know the true "Josephine Baker Story", read "Josephine: The Hungry Heart" by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase (1993), as well as "Josephine" by Joe Bouillon and Baker herself (1976). Theres also a great documentary called "Chasing a Rainbow", and "Josephine Baker: The First International Black Supertar". To REALLY hear Josephine singing in all of her glory, I reccomend the albums "The Fabulous Josephine Baker" (1959), "Josephine a Bobino 1975" (her last show), "En La Habana" (1966) and "C'est vous"....more info
  • The Josephine Baker Story
    It is an excellent dramatic, inspiring, and historic account of the life and times of the legendary Josephine Baker....more info
  • Beautiful Cinamatic masterpiece
    There are very few times that a movie can hold a flame to the life of the actual person that is intended to be portrayed but this movie does just that. It gives the ultimate respect and dignity that an artist of this calibur truly deserves. Her life is artfully displayed through from her turbulant rise to fame to her rocky downfall. It is a movie that can be enjoyed on all too many levels and should be marked as an ethereal masterpiece....more info

 

 
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