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British Cinema Essay, Research Paper

On January 14, 1896, at England's Royal Photographic Society, American-born photographer and inventor Birt Acres held a public screening of motion pictures he'd made in 1895, using a camera he'd designed with Robert William Paul (based on the Edison Kinetoscope); Acres' films included Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race and Rough Sea At Dover. The next month, Frenchman F?licen Trewey, the Lumi?re Brothers' London representative, gave England's first film program to charge admission, with short documentaries and glimpses of music-hall performers. Later that year, Acres made comedies and a drama, The Arrest Of A Pickpocket, but by 1900 returned to inventing. Paul kept with film until 1910, mostly producing trick-photography shorts like those of Georges M?li?s, such as The Twins' Tea Party (1897). In 1899 he built England's first indoor film studio and made such imaginative fantasies as Voyage To The Arctic (1903) and The? Motorist (1906). George Albert Smith, who also produced M?li?s-style comedies, used innovations such as close-ups, in Grandma's Reading Glass (1900), and color: He patented the Kinemacolor process with American-born Charles Urban in 1906, which was used in his Kinemacolor Puzzle (1909) and Urban's The Durbar At Delhi (1911). In the early 1900s, Scottish-born producer/director James Williamson made accomplished dramas such as Attack On A Chinese Mission Station (1900) and Fire (1902). Music-hall comic Alf Collins became a skilled director in the editing and camerawork of such films as The Pickpocket (1903). Cecil Hepworth, a former assistant to Acres, produced the polished and highly popular Rescued By Rover (1905, directed by Lewin Fitzhamon), in which he starred with his family (and their dog!). William George Barker produced England's first two-reeler in 1911: Henry VIII, directed by Louis N. Parker, with stage actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Scottish director Arthur Vivian followed with a three-reel Rob Roy. In 1912 Hepworth produced the four-reel Oliver Twist, directed by Thomas Bentley, and Wilfred Loy directed the five-reel Lorna Doone; the next year, Barker produced a six-reel East Lynne, and Hepworth and Bentley their eight-reel David Copperfield Despite these advances, British film was already in trouble. By 1910, Europe and Hollywood dominated the market, with domestic productions comprising only 15 percent of the films shown in England. The war further hurt the industry, despite such notable productions as the first Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study In Scarlet (1914), and the Feuillade-style serial Ultus — The Man From The Dead (1916), both directed by George Pearson. After the war, Pearson made a star of teenage Betty Balfour, whom he introduced in the hit sentimental comedies Nothing Else Matters (1920) and Squibs (1921); they continued to work together in the 1920s. Hepworth, however, had his last successes with such films as Alf's Button (1920) and Comin' Thro' The Rye (1922). Michael Balcon became a producer with the international hit Woman To Woman (1923), directed by Graham Cutts and starring Hollywood's Betty Compson; Cutts later scored directing stage star Ivor Novello in Balcon's The Rat (1925) and The Triumph Of The Rat (1926). Balcon also launched the career of Cutts' assistant, who would become one of England's greatest filmmakers: Alfred Hitchcock. However, only their third collaboration, the Jack The Ripper thriller The Lodger (1926, also with Novello), looked ahead to the style and shocks of Hitchcock's talkies. Producer/director Herbert Wilcox had hits with Nell Gwynn (1926), starring Dorothy Gish, and Dawn (1928) with Sybil Thorndike. Yet by 1926 a mere five percent of films shown in England were British-made. The government set a quota system that forced theaters to exhibit an increasing amount of British films. The jumpstart afforded by this legislation, however, worked against the industry in the 1930s, when cheap and uninspired "quota quickies" filled British cinemas — and emptied them. Hitchcock directed the first British talkie, Blackmail (1929), and used sound creatively; also impressive were his whodunit Murder (1930) and his provocative black comedy Rich And Strange (1932). Anthony Asquith, who'd been co-writer and associate director on the stylish movie-industry comedy/drama Shooting Stars (1928), used sound well in his first talkies, the romantic-triangle drama A Cottage On Dartmoor (1930) and the war film Tell England (1931, co-directed with Geoffrey Barkas). Most early sound films, however, brought little imagination to the technology. Hungarian producer/director Alexander Korda, who came to England in 1932, made several quota quickies before scoring an international hit with the lavish biopic The Private Life Of Henry VIII (1933) starring Charles Laughton. Korda produced several major films in the '30s, including The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) with Leslie Howard; Sanders Of The River (1935), directed by his brother Zolt?n; and the H.G. Wells adaptation Things To Come (1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies. Korda also directed Laughton in their classic biopic Rembrandt (1936). Michael Balcon produced many beloved films in these years, including the Jessie Matthews musicals Evergreen (1934) and First A Girl (1935) with director Victor Saville; Robert Flaherty's classic documentary Man Of Aran (1934); the Boris Karloff horror tales The Ghoul (1933) and The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936); and Will Hay's 1936 comedies Where There's A Will and Windbag The Sailor, both directed by William Beaudine. Balcon also produced four of Hitchcock's classic spy films: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), and Sabotage (1936). Hitchcock went on to direct the thriller Young And Innocent (1937), the brilliant spy mystery The Lady Vanishes (1938), and Jamaica Inn (1939) with Laughton before leaving to work in Hollywood. The end of the decade saw the release of Asquith's Shaw adaptation Pygmalion (1938), Zolt?n Korda's rousing adventure tale The Four Feathers (1939), and the A.J. Cronin adaptation The Stars Look Down (1939), directed by Carol Reed. But the industry was collapsing under the crush of profitless quota quickies and began to cut back on production. With the start of World War II, all film resources went to the war effort. Michael Powell, who'd made the realistic adventure tale The Edge of The World (1937), directed the Nazi-espionage drama The Spy In Black (1939, aka U-Boat 29). Producer Alexander Korda brought in Powell on The Lion Has Wings (1939, co-directed with Brian Desmond Hurst and Adrian Brunel), a morale-booster of British air power, and the classic fantasy The Thief Of Bagdad (1940, co-directed with Ludwig Berger and Tim Whelan). With writer Emeric Pressburger, Powell made the behind-enemy-lines dramas 49th Parallel (1941) and One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942); together they produced, wrote, and directed a controversial tale of a British officer's long career, The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943). David Lean went from editor to director, sharing the helming tasks with Noel Coward, who was also writer, producer, and star of In Which We Serve (1942), a classic hymn to the British navy. Other notable wartime films include the semi-documentary Next Of Kin (1942), directed by Thorold Dickinson; Balcon's production of Nazis commandos in England, Went The Day Well? (1942), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; The First Of The Few (1942), about the maker of the Spitfire plane, and the last film of actor/director Leslie Howard; Asquith's airfield-personnel drama The Way To The Stars (1945); and two looks at civilian life, Millions Like Us (1943), written and directed by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and The Way Ahead (1944), directed by Carol Reed. Equally patriotic in spirit was actor/director Laurence Olivier's stirring Henry V (1944). Respite from the war came in the Shaw adaptation Major Barbara (1941), directed by Gabriel Pascal; Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's pilgrimage drama A Canterbury Tale (1944) and their romantic tale I Know Where I'm Going (1945); David Lean's films of the Noel Coward plays This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945), and Brief Encounter (1945); and Balcon's classic horror anthology Dead Of Night (1945).After the war, Powell and Pressburger created three of the best loved of all British films: the fantasy/drama A Matter Of Life And Death (1946, aka Stairway To Heaven), with its trial held in heaven; the stylish convent psychodrama Black Narcissus (1947); and the landmark ballet film The Red Shoes (1948) with Moira Shearer. David Lean outdid himself with two classic adaptations of Charles Dickens', Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), both starring Alec Guinness. Carol Reed, now a producer/director, made the films that are the basis of his reputation: the classic tale of a fugitive Irish rebel, Odd Man Out (1947) with James Mason; the Graham Greene adaptation The Fallen Idol (1948) with Ralph Richardson; and the black-market thriller in postwar Vienna, The Third Man (1949), scripted by Greene and starring Orson Welles. Olivier had another hit with the Bard, starring in and directing Hamlet (1948). Balcon's best productions included the comedy Whiskey Galore! (1949, aka Tight Little Island), directed by Alexander Mackendrick, with Scottish islanders scrambling to salvage whiskey from a sinking ship, and two films directed by Robert Hamer: the escaped-convict drama It Always Rains On Sunday (1947) and the black comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), with Alec Guinness as eight family members/victims.Balcon's last major films of the 1950s were his comedies with Guinness. Charles Crichton directed the caper satire The Lavender Hill Mob (1951); Mackendrick helmed The Man In The White Suit (1951), in which Guinness panics industry by inventing a suit that won't deteriorate, and The Ladykillers (1955), with Guinness leading a pack of murderers who can't dispose of one little old lady. Powell and Pressburger's work became more erratic but boasted such important titles as The Tales Of Hoffman (1951), a production of Offenbach's opera, and their last two collaborations, the war actioners The Battle Of The River Plate (1956, aka Pursuit Of The Graf Spee) and Ill Met By Moonlight (1957, aka Night Ambush). David Lean continued making major works: The Sound Barrier (1952, aka Breaking The Sound Barrier), an account of the invention of jet planes, written by Terence Rattigan; the sly 1890s comedy Hobson's Choice (1954) with Charles Laughton; Summer Madness (1955, aka Summertime), written by Lean and H.E. Bates, with Katharine Hepburn as a spinster who falls in love with a married man while vacationing in Venice; and the international box-office smash The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), with Alec Guinness as the British POW who leads his men to build a bridge for their hated Japanese captors. Other major British films of the '50s include the terrorist thriller Seven Days To Noon (1950) and the labor-union satire I'm All Right, Jack (1959) with Peter Sellers, both directed by John Boulting and produced by his twin brother Ray; The Horse's Mouth (1958), with Guinness' classic portrayal of the eccentric artist; Olivier's film of Shakespeare's Richard III (1955) and his comedy with Marilyn Monroe, The Prince And The Showgirl (1957), written by Terence Rattigan; Carol Reed's Joseph Conrad adaptation, Outcast Of The Islands (1951), and The Man Between (1953), set in postwar Berlin; Asquith's adaptations of the Rattigan plays The Winslow Boy (1950) and The Browning Version (1951), and his film of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest (1952); director Peter Brook's first film, The Beggar's Opera (1953), a production of the John Gay opera; A Night To Remember (1958), a powerful account of the sinking of the Titanic, directed by Roy Ward Baker; and director Jack Clayton's first film, Room At The Top (1958), a look at the corporate mentality in England. Several long-running comedy series also started in the 1950s. Frank Launder wrote, produced, and directed the school comedy The Happiest Days Of Your Life (1950), initiating his wild "St. Trinian's" series, with Alastair Sim as the headmistress of a school filled with devilish girls — most notably The Belles Of St. Trinian's (1954). The medical-school comedy Doctor In The House (1954), directed by Ralph Thomas, put six more doctors into practice over the next ten years, played mostly by Dirk Bogarde. Thomas' brother Gerald directed the low-budget and lowbrow Carry On Sergeant (1958) and launched a series of broad "Carry On" comedies for the next 20 years. Turning to a different genre, Hammer Films became the most successful film studio in British history with inexpensive but slick horror films, starting with The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror Of Dracula (1958), directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Michael Powell turned to horror in 1960 with the serial-killer shocker Peeping Tom. Today considered a classic, the film was a financial and critical flop. Powell worked only sporadically thereafter, and although Pressburger scripted his They're A Weird Mob (1966) and The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972), the old magic didn't re-ignite. Carol Reed, working increasingly in the United States, also failed to recapture his earlier success, despite the acclaim given his film of the musical Oliver! (1968). Anthony Asquith, again with Rattigan, had his last hurrah with the multi-episode drama The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964). David Lean, now working with writer Robert Bolt, stuck to exotic epics. He completed only two films in the '60s, but they were huge financial successes as well as two of Lean's best: Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), a biopic of T.E. Lawrence, which made a star of Peter O'Toole, and Doctor Zhivago (1965), a romantic adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel of the Russian revolution. Both Peter Brook and Jack Clayton did some of their finest work in the '60s. Brook made his best-known films: Lord Of The Flies (1963), an adaptation of William Golding's allegory in which a group of boys on a desert island revert to savagery, and Marat/Sade (1967), from the play by Peter Weiss, with the Marquis de Sade critiquing post-Revolutionary France (and contemporary Europe) by staging a play in the insane asylum that's also his prison. Clayton's The Innocents (1961) was a chilling adaptation of Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw, and his Our Mother's House (1967) with Dirk Bogarde was a touching and disturbing tale of children living on their own after the death of their parents. American-born director Joseph Losey, blacklisted during the McCarthy era, settled in England in the mid 1950s; with writer Harold Pinter, he made the films for which he is best known: The Servant (1963), Accident (1967), and The Go-Between (1971), all chilling assaults on the upper class. American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick settled in England in 1961 and made three of his best films: the Nabokov adaptation Lolita (1962) with James Mason and Peter Sellers; the doomsday satire Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964), also with Sellers; and the science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The British theater's realism and social commentary in the late '50s emerged in cinema with director Tony Richardson's first features, Look Back In Anger (1959) with Richard Burton and The Entertainer (1960) with Laurence Olivier, both from plays by John Osborne. Richardson also made two strong looks at lower-class British life, A Taste Of Honey (1961) from the Shelagh Delaney play, and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (1962), a reform-school drama by writer Alan Sillitoe. His first international hit was the landmark bawdy comedy Tom Jones (1963), from Henry Fielding's novel, which made a star of Albert Finney. Richardson's other '60s films include the striking psychodrama Mademoiselle (1966) with Jeanne Moreau, written by Jean Genet, and a blistering look at military incompetence, The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1968). Other directors worked in the same "Angry Young Man" vein and went on to other types of stories. Karl Reisz made the working-class drama Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960) as well as the hip black comedy Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment (1966) and the Isadora Duncan biopic Isadora (1968, aka The Loves Of Isadora). John Schlesinger debuted with A Kind Of Loving (1962), an unexpected-pregnancy drama, and Billy Liar (1963), a comic look at a young man who lives in a fantasy world; he followed with an acclaimed look at upper-class emptiness, Darling (1965), and an adaptation of Thomas Hardy, Far From The Madding Crowd (1967), both with Julie Christie, before his international hit with the American-made drama of street hustlers, Midnight Cowboy (1969). Lindsay Anderson's first feature was This Sporting Life (1963), a brutal look at a rugby player, written by David Storey; he later scored with If … (1968) a black comedy of a boys-school uprising. Ken Loach kept the faith and starting with Poor Cow (1967) has made realistic films of the disenfranchised, often with non-professional actors: Kes (1969), Looks And Smiles, 1982). Writer/director Mike Leigh also shares this sensibility, with such striking working-class dramas as High Hopes (1988), Life Is Sweet (1990), Naked (1993), and Secrets And Lies (1996). In 1960, actor-turned-writer Bryan Forbes scripted the caper film The League Of Gentlemen, directed by Basil Dearden, and the labor drama The Angry Silence, directed by Guy Green and starring Richard Attenborough. With Attenborough producing, Forbes debuted as a director with Whistle Down The Wind (1961), in which three school children shelter a criminal whom they think is Jesus Christ. Forbes followed by writing and directing the boarding-house drama The L-Shaped Room (1962); the kidnaping thriller Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964), starring Attenborough and Kim Stanley; the Japanese POW drama King Rat (1965); and an offbeat drama of old age, The Whisperers (1967) with Edith Evans. American-born Richard Lester began directing films in England with the zany short The Running, Jumping And Standing Still Film (1960), starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan from television's The Goon Show. Lester followed with three funny and fast-paced rock musicals which defined swinging London of the '60s: It's Trad, Dad! (1962, aka Ring-A-Ding Rhythm), his first feature, and two landmark films with the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Lester's other important '60s work includes the farce The Knack … And How To Get It (1965), the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966), the antiwar satire How I Won The War (1967) with John Lennon, the comedy/drama Petulia (1968), and the post-World War III comedy The Bed Sitting Room (1969). The most original and controversial of the 1960s' filmmakers was Ken Russell. His first two features, the modest farce French Dressing (1963) and the spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain (1967), hinted at what was to come, but his television biopics of Isadora Duncan (Isadora: The Biggest Dancer In The World, 1966), Dante Rossetti (Dante's Inferno, 1967), and Frederick Delius (Song Of Summer, 1968) were pure Russell: provocative blends of nature painting, hallucinatory fantasy, and black comedy. His breakthrough feature, the erotic D.H. Lawrence adaptation Women In Love (1969), made stars of both Russell and actress Glenda Jackson, and he began making his most extreme and memorable films: The Music Lovers (1970), a Tchaikovsky biopic he called the story of a homosexual who marries a nymphomaniac, with Jackson and Richard Chamberlain; the phantasmagoric look at possession and religious madness in 17th-century France, The Devils (1971); the charming Busby Berkeley-style musical The Boy Friend (1971); biopics of the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (Savage Messiah, 1972) and the great post-romantic composer Gustav Mahler (Mahler, 1974); a dazzling rock opera of The Who's Tommy (1975), starring Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret; the anti-Wagner diatribe Lisztomania (1975) with Daltrey as Franz Liszt; and Valentino (1977), a biopic of the silent-screen legend, starring Rudolf Nureyev. Derek Jarman, who'd designed the bizarre sets for The Devils, began making his own features in the '70s: a homoerotic drama of St. Sebastian, Sebastiane (1976), with the dialogue in subtitled Latin; the classic vision of punk England, Jubilee (1978); and a stylish Shakespeare adaptation, The Tempest (1979). Actor Richard Attenborough began directing with the surreal antiwar musical Oh! What A Lovely War (1969), and had box-office hits with his war epics Young Winston (1972) and A Bridge Too Far (1977). Cinematographer Nicolas Roeg became a director by sharing the helming of Performance (1970) with its writer, Donald Cammell; this psychodrama of rockers and gangsters, starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, made Roeg's career, and he had critical hits with his ensuing films: the Australian outback drama Walkabout (1971), the scary and erotic Don't Look Now (1973), and the unusual science-fictioner The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), written by Paul Mayersburg and starring David Bowie. The writers and stars of the television comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin — began making films with And Now For Something Completely Different (1972), which re-created their best TV routines. Their original follow-ups are some of the funniest films ever made: the Arthurian send-up Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1974); a satire set in the time of Christ, The Life Of Brian (1979); and a potpourri of comic mayhem, Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life (1983). Independent filmmaker Terence Davies made the powerful, semi-autobiographical short Children in 1976; he followed with Madonna And Child (1980) and Death And Transfiguration (1983), two more accounts of his protagonist's struggle with homosexuality, and all three are now shown collectively as The Terence Davies Trilogy. An elliptical storyteller and a poet of nostalgia and loss, Davies made the features Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1993), two further journeys into autobiography, and The Neon Bible (1996) with Gena Rowlands, an adaptation of the John Kennedy Toole novel. Scotland's Bill Forsyth wrote and directed That Sinking Feeling (1979), a clever caper satire in which kids steal sinks from a warehouse. Gregory's Girl (1981), his comedy of teen love, was a hit in the States and led to Local Hero (1983), a classic satire of Americans hunting for oil in Scotland. After Comfort And Joy (1984), his comedy of warring ice-cream makers, Forsyth made American films — Housekeeping (1987) with Christine Lahti, Breaking In (1989), written by John Sayles, and Being Human (1994) with Robin Williams — but they all lacked the unique quality of his earlier work. David Lean may have flopped with his overblown romantic drama Ryan's Daughter (1970), but his last film, the E.M. Forester adaptation A Passage To India (1984), lived up to his reputation. Peter Brook made the accomplished King Lear (1971) with Paul Scofield; a Gurdjieff biopic, Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979); and an epic rendition of Hindu cosmology, The Mahabharata (1990). Stanley Kubrick also kept making major films: his version of Anthony Burgess' dystopia, A Clockwork Orange (1971); a lavish Thackeray adaptation, Barry Lyndon (1975); the Stephen King horror tale The Shining (1980); and a brutal look at the Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket (1987). Other filmmakers, however, went into decline during these years. Tony Richardson's best work was behind him, despite such films as the Edward Albee adaptation A Delicate Balance (1973) and a second Fielding comedy, Joseph Andrews (1977) with Ann-Margret and Peter Firth. Jack Clayton made the American flops The Great Gatsby (1974) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). Bryan Forbes stalled with The Raging Moon (1971) and didn't reassert himself with The Stepford Wives (1975) or International Velvet (1978). Lester had hits with The Three Musketeers (1974) and The Four Musketeers (1975), and made the beloved tale of Robin Hood's last days, Robin And Marian (1976) with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn; his later work has been mostly unimportant American films such as Superman II (1980). Since his landmark bisexual drama Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), written by Penelope Gilliat, John Schlesinger has disappeared into such American genre films as The Believers (1987) and Pacific Heights (1990). Attenborough had an international smash with his epic biopic Gandhi (1982), but A Chorus Line (1985) and Chaplin (1992) were less impressive. Nicolas Roeg's recent films have also been erratic, but his look at American fame, Insignificance (1985), the surreal Track 29 (1988), written by Dennis Potter, and his Roald Dahl adaptation The Witches (1990) offer some of his best work. Potter, a celebrated television writer, also scripted the unsettling Brimstone And Treacle (1982); Dreamchild (1985), a look at Lewis Carroll's Alice; and Blackeyes (1990), which he also directed. Derek Jarman continued to do outstanding and original work: his non-narrative features The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Last of England (1987), and The Garden (1990); the stylish biopics Caravaggio (1986) and Wittgenstein (1993); a powerful adaptation of Christopher Marlowe, Edward II (1991); and the minimalist Blue (1993), finished a few months before his death from AIDS. Russell's notable latter-day work includes the American films Altered States (1980) and Crimes Of Passion (1984); his reinvention of Oscar Wilde, Salome's Last Dance (1988); the horror tale The Lair Of The White Worm (1988); another Lawrence adaptation, The Rainbow (1989); and unique television films on composers Ralph Vaughn Williams, Anton Bruckner, and Sir Arnold Bax. Director Stephen Frears established himself with a touching look at race relations and gay love, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), and a biopic of playwright Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears (1987). Mike Figgis showed promise writing and directing the moody dramas Stormy Monday (1988) and Liebestraum (1991). Peter Greenaway is admired for his stylish and sexy art films The Draughtsman's Contract (1983), The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover (1989), and Prospero's Books (1991). Irish-born director Neil Jordan has won acclaim for his dramas mixing romance and violence: the crime film Mona Lisa (1986), the terrorism tale The Crying Game (1992), and a biopic of the Irish politician Michael Collins (1996). England's film industry has survived crisis after crisis thanks to this continuous, seemingly inexhaustible pool of filmmaking talent, generation after generation — the sun will never set on the British cinema.

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