The Seventh Annual Kangaroo Valley
Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival

Kangaroo Valley Hall, Kangaroo Valley

7.30pm Sat August 15 2009

a fund-raiser for the Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership,
this unique show has become an annual highlight of Kangaroo Valley life

a family show (kids generally love silent movies),
there will be three hilarious Buster Keaton classics
accompanied live by pianist

Robert Constable

featuring the return of Buster Keaton's
classic silent feature film

The Navigator [59', 1924]

buster keaton

plus two Buster Keaton shorts:

Neighbors [18', 1920]
and The Electric House [23', 1922]

Free refreshments at interval!!

tickets: $25, $5 (concession - children under 16 only) from
Kangaroo Valley Supermarket, Moss Vale Road

proceeds to assist projects in East Timor

email Martin Wesley-Smith
or call him on (02) 44 651 299

mail order booking form


The Electric House


The Navigator

click here to see the poster for last year's event [344KB] by Diana Jaffray
click here to see Diana's poster for this year's event [404KB]
click here to see a larger version of Sue Prescott's caricature of Robert Constable

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

Buster Keaton


When only a few months old, (Buster Keaton) nearly suffocated after being accidentally shut in a costume trunk off stage while his mother and father performed, an incident that encouraged his parents to begin leaving him at whatever boarding house they were residing in. According to family legend, the Keatons then escaped from a series of fires and train wrecks that would have destroyed a less charmed family.

Finally, on one harrowing day when he was nearly three: Buster caught his right forefinger in a clothes wringer, losing the first joint, gashed his head near the eye with a brick that boomeranged after he threw it at a peach tree and was sucked out of an upstairs window by a passing cyclone that carried him floating through the air and conveniently deposited him, unhurt, in the middle of a street a few blocks away.

After that, his parents decided he'd be safer on stage ...

(read more here, and here (Wikipedia))

see Buster Keaton and the Rise of Modernism in America

born 4 October 1895 in Piqua, Kansas, as Joseph Frank Keaton Jr.
married to actress Natalie Talmadge; two sons
married another in 1930s
married Eleanor Ruth Norris in 1940; together until Buster's death on February 1 1966 of lung cancer

began in vaudeville with father Joe Keaton and mother Myra Keaton in 1896
began film work in 1917 for Comique


Buster Keaton was one of the greatest screen comedians the world has ever seen.

Born in 1895 when film-making was in its infancy, by the end of the 1920s he had become the most versatile star of the silent era. Actor, comedian, stuntman, writer, director. He excelled at them all.

The most graceful of actors, his films are filled with wonderful moments, from deceptively simple but effective gags through to elaborate and life-threatening stunts. He was a pioneer in the use of special effects, appearing on-screen simultaneously nine times in The Playhouse (1921).

By the end of the 1920s he had appeared in over 20 shorts and a dozen features, among them some of the greatest comedies ever seen. The General, his 1926 masterpiece, often appears in lists of the 'Top 100 Films Of All Time'.

At the start of the thirties, with changes in studio structures and the introduction of sound, Buster lost artistic control over his films. He became dependant on alcohol, and as the 1930s and 1940s passed he moved out of the public eye. He continued to make films, but nothing matched the quality of his early work.

During the fifties, with appearances on television and cameos in a handful of major studio films, interest in his silent films began to grow. Prints that hadn't been seen since the 1920s were unearthed and screened to enthusiastic audiences.

Just before his death in 1966, Buster Keaton was finally receiving the recognition he deserved.


for an excellent article about Keaton by Dan Callahan, in the senses of cinema series, click here

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

Robert Constable

Robert is a well-known Australian pianist, composer and improviser. He has a particular fascination with improvising accompaniments for silent films (at least three of his great-aunts and -uncles used to play professionally for the "silents" in the period following World War 1) and has been presenting some of the classics in this genre for many years. His work with silent films transcends mere background music, combining his various pianistic, composing and improvising abilities to create an instant soundscape for the images on the screen. With this approach he enters into a genuine artistic partnership with the film. He has a particular affinity with Buster Keaton and over the last ten years has interpreted most of the Keaton classics. Having retired as Professor and Dean of Music at the University of Newcastle, Robert is now Head of the School of Music, University of Auckland.

The caricature of Robert at the top of the page is by KVRP member Sue Prescott. For a larger version (292KB), click here.

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

Neighbors [1920, 18']

The Romeo and Juliet story played out in a tenement neighborhood with Buster and Virginia's families hating each other over the fence separating their buildings.

A comment by rick_7 from Manchester, England:

If I were King of the World, I would force everybody to begin the day with a cup of tea and a Buster short, such is the powerful joyousness of his comedy. Neighbors is among his best: a frenetic mixture of farce and stuntwork, hung - of course - on the thinnest of plots. Buster and Virginia Fox are lovers from warring families, living in opposite tenement buildings, separated by a large wooden fence. In their desire to communicate they unsurprisingly raise hell, and we're treated to astonishing wire-work and acrobatics, ingenious slapstick and some dated but decent "blackface" gags.

All in all, a must-see.

cast & crew:
Buster Keaton:
Virginia Fox:
Joe Roberts:
Joe Keaton:
Edward F. Cline:
James Duffy:
The Flying Escalantes:

Joseph M. Schenck:
Fred Gabourie:
Elgin Lesslie:
Metro Pictures Corporation:

The Boy
The Girl
Her Father
His Father
The Cop
The Judge

technical director
production company

Written & directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton

The Art of Buster Keaton

During the early comedies of most screen comedians, you can see them working on their characters, trying certain characteristics as they honed their on-screen personas. Harold Lloyd would imitate Charlie Chaplin in his Lonesome Luke comedies before perfecting his bespectacled, everyman character. And Chaplin would play a variety of rambunctious characters in his early films at Keystone. However, from his first comedies, Buster Keaton's trademark stone face was evident. During three years of apprentice work with Fatty Arbuckle, Keaton would occasionally smile, and even laugh, but even then, Keaton fought against reactions. His character's most recognizable trait--an unwavering dead pan expression--had already taken firm root, and by the time he began making his own shorts in 1920, Keaton's screen persona was set. In a very real sense, however, Keaton had been working on his screen persona since he was only four years old. It was at this young age that Keaton had entered the family vaudeville act. Wielding a mop, his father would smack young Buster in the face, and Buster would stare dumbfounded for several seconds before muttering "ow." The stone face was born. When he was 25 years old, Keaton received an offer from producer Joseph Schenck to make his own solo comedies. After watching Arbuckle make movies during their three years together, Keaton was ready to go it alone. He'd paid close attention to Arbuckle and the mechanics of filmmaking. The subsequent movies that Keaton made for Schenck are among the greatest screen comedies ever created ...

by Gary Johnson, more

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

The Electric House [1922]

Review by Robert Wilfred Franson:

There was a time when the all-electric house, or at least a house enlivened with neat labor-saving electrical gadgets, was a gleam in the eye of many inventors, manufacturers, salesmen, and householders. Buster Keaton made The Electric House in 1922, near the beginning of that era of great electrical promise. This short film may reasonably be called science fiction, although made before that term was coined toward the end of the silent-film period. With more sophistication as to the gadgeteers' promises, and self-consciousness as to the process, and a lot more gadgets - we really still are developing within that era.

The Electric House starts with Buster Keaton's graduation ceremony as the first of his comic misfortunes, including a mix-up of diplomas so Buster mistakenly receives a diploma in electrical engineering. This leads to a job opportunity: electrifying the family house of the girl he's sweet on. A great chance, so Buster studies hard and soon installs a useful and impressive set of electric appliances.

Escalator and dishwasher are useful; the electrified pool table is cute; and the electric toy train that carries plates with food out from the kitchen and conveys empty dishes back is the sort of thing that model-train enthusiasts dream of to justify setting up permanent track layouts in the house.

When the family returns from vacation to try out their new electrified house, all goes well at first. But the fellow graduate who was supposed to receive the electrical diploma shows up and decides to cross the wires and sabotage Buster's showplace, so all the gadgets begin acting unpredictably. Buster's efforts to understand what is going wrong, and then to cope are hilarious. Yet he does cope, with thoughtfulness and perseverance - including the actor's standard physical bravery as his own stuntman.

The Electric House is funny, imaginative, fast-moving. An excellent movie.

Written & directed by Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline, The Electric House stars Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton, Louise Keaton, Myra Keaton & Joe Roberts.

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

The Navigator [59', 1924]

Buster Keaton (as Rollo Treadway) is accidentally stranded on a ship with the girl who scorned him, Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn_McGuire)

The Navigator contains some of Keaton's most elaborate and well-known stunts. The actual vessel used was the S.S. Buford, a passenger liner that had also served as a World War I troopship and was infamous as the "Red Ark" for carrying 249 Communists deported during the First Red Scare. Scheduled to be scrapped, Keaton bought it as a very large prop.

When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine gave the film a mixed review:

"Buster Keaton's comedy is spotty. That is to say it's both commonplace and novel, with the latter sufficient to make the picture a laugh getter ... The actual story carries little weight. It has Keaton as a wealthy young man being matrimonially rejected by the girl. Having secured passage to Hawaii, he unknowingly boards a deserted steamship selected to be destroyed by foreign and warring factions. The girl's father, owner of the vessel, visits the dock, is set upon by the rogues who are bent on casting the liner adrift, and when the girl goes to her parent's rescue she is also caught on board with no chance of a return to land. The entire action practically takes place on the deserted ship, with the girl (Kathryn McGuire) and Keaton the only figures."

More currently, film critic Dennis Schwartz praised the film:

"The film was shot in ten weeks, in Avalon Bay off the coast of Catalina Island. It proved to be Keaton's biggest commercial success. Its theme of civilized man versus the machine (seen as making life difficult for modern man because we have become so dependent on it and it's not always reliable), was never used more effectively in cinema."

Written by Keaton with Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez & Joseph A. Mitchell, and directed by Keaton & Donald Crisp, The Navigator stars Buster Keaton as Rollo Treadway, Frederick Vroom as John O'Brien, Kathryn_McGuire as Betsy O'Brien, Clarence Burton as Spy, H. N. Clugston as Spy, Clarence Burton as Spy, Donald Crisp as Face on picture at porthole, and Noble Johnson as Cannibal chief.

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

kvrp logo
The Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership

After the destruction and killing which swept East Timor in September 1999, a small group of KV residents felt a need to do something. A partnership was discussed with an East Timorese village and the Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership was formed. Now, several years on, we have a mix of vital local and district people working with many East Timorese in Australia and East Timor.

Remexio is a cluster of small villages in the hills about one hour's drive south of Dili.

The KV-RP is a "bottom up" or "grass roots" approach to helping the East Timorese help themselves. We hope to assist the East Timorese achieve dignified living through health, education, justice and ecologically sustainable industry. We selectively try to help in ways that are different from those of the UN and of other NGOs.

The current situation in East Timor has not deterred us from continuing this work (indeed, Libby and I returned from East Timor just before the more serious disruptions commenced in 2006, although several other intended visits by Kangaroo Valley people had to be cancelled). Clearly, the needs of the East Timorese people are now even more acute ...

Donations (tax-deductible) are always welcome! If you would like to assist, please contact me, Paul Turnock, on 02 4465 1357 (email me here). 100% of donations go to East Timor as we self-fund our own administration and activities.

Rather than large single projects, we pursue a multitude of small, personal and usually integrated activities. Being substantially self-funded, and consistent with our philosophy, our material contributions are small. Instead, we rely on sharing our existing skills in day to day situations.

We try to foster long-term personal relationships with East Timorese people and actively encourage this approach in others. That part which is conducted in Australia is the provision of education and training to those who have appropriate interests and aptitudes for leadership and mentoring roles back in East Timor.

We now enjoy the beginnings of likely long-term relationships with numerous on-going activities. In addition, much of our involvement is outside of Remexio, in other parts of East Timor, as well as in active networking within Australia. Along the way we have tried to identify the best and worst of our respective Australian and East Timorese lifestyles, to better influence both our paths into the future.

Remexio kids left: kids in Remexio, March 2002


KV-RP is largely self-funded but donations are always very helpful. If made to "AFAP KV-Remexio Partnership" they will be tax deductible (AFAP - Australian Foundation for the Peoples of Asia and the Pacific Ltd - is our umbrella group, which is recognised by the ATO for tax deductibility).

We cover all our own expenses such as air fares, accommodation etc as well as all administration overheads. 100% of funds raised from the public go directly towards helping the East Timorese and are fully accounted for. Donors may request that their funds be directed towards particular areas of their own special interest, such as health, education, etc.

for more information, see

Paul Turnock (02 4465 1357)

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

reviews, comments etc: 2003 | 2004 | 2006 | 2007

a review of "Buster Keaton Goes to Timor" (the First Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival), Sat Aug 2 2003:

The "Buster Keaton Goes to Timor" film show last Saturday night was a great success. And what a great night it was! Film buffs from far and wide packed Upper River Hall for a selection of Buster Keaton silent films accompanied by excellent pianist Robert Constable. But for most people - especially for this reviewer - the highlight of the evening was the new Kangaroo Valley film "Dirty Dan the Pump-Out Man"!

We all laughed ourselves sick as the dreaded and dreadful Dirty Dan (artfully, and with great style, played by Paul Turnock) absconded with the delightful Fluff the Magic Virgin (Helen George in a stunning debut on the silver screen), only to be forced, by the pursuing mob of angry townsfolk, to leap from Hampden Bridge.

There were two problems, however: [1] the script called for Fluff to leap too, causing the audience great consternation; and [2] the film makers obviously had no idea how to finish the thing, so they turned it into part one of a serial. It seems that we'll all have to wait for the next episode to find out what happened in the end. Generally, though, it was a cinematic triumph, possibly one of the finest films to have been produced in Kangaroo Valley so far this month.

I was lucky enough to be given a sneak preview as it turned out that I had to be elsewhere and couldn't actually get there on the night. Many thanks to the Voice for allowing me - due to copy deadline problems - to submit this review beforehand.

Ken Park, Sat July 26 2003

from post-event e-mails received about "Buster Keaton Goes to Timor":

1. "I went to the Buster Keaton film night ... it was amazing! I really needed the laugh and it was sheer pure fun ... Having the music live was another masterstroke - from the angle I was sitting, Robert's back was in the darkness and the small lamp illuminated his hands, beyond lay the screen. It was truly a classic memorable night. I overheard people commenting on having a great night the next morning near the Bella Cafe."

2. "It was a great night. For us, it was worth all your work; we hope it was worth it for you. The music really made the Buster Keaton films. Robert Constable did it very well and the films were much funnier because of it ... Am looking forward to the sequel (of "Dirty Dan"); another film with the two newly discovered and talented stars enhanced by judicious editing ..."

3. "Chris the mulled wine was just gorgeous ... Terry the dummies were just incredible, if only Paul Turnock was that good looking, such a lot of work and spectacular results. Martin, who'd have thought such a creative mind could not only direct but pull off such a smooth and well oiled performance, the bats were a touch of genius and trained in such a short time. It all went so well and was such a pleasure to sit back and watch. And Peter, such profound and provoking words, even though everyone else thinks you are a slack bastard and left the ship, I recognized your genius all over that dirty movie. Congrats to you all, laugh? thought I'd never stop ..."

4. "It really was quite amazing. The creativity was striking ... the night was a tour de force of cooperative creativity - incredible when one reflects that the whole night emerged from the human mind ... ideas and energy ... it was brilliant to assimilate the KV community into Keaton's slapstick. I loved the written quips between scenes and the masterstroke of fusing film and reality ... plus the plus of live music. Terrific to make it an annual event."

Back from the brink!

Fluff pulls Dan off
the bridge ...

[click the photo for a
larger, better view]

photo: Peter Stanton


program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

the Kangaroo Valley Voice review of the Second Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival, Sat Aug 28 2004:

On Friday August 27, a packed Upper River Hall thrilled to the further adventures of Dirty Dan the Pump-Out Man and his delicious young sweetheart Fluff the Magic Virgin. What a great night! The new Kangaroo Valley-made silent movie, "Dirty Dan: The Old Grey Mayor", features Dan (Paul Turnock) as the new Mayor of Kangaroo Council and Fluff (Helen George) as the Lady Mayoress. Local residents, having welcomed them enthusiastically, soon tire of their petty corruption and chase them out of town. Accompanied brilliantly by pianist Robert Constable, the movie provoked continuous laughter, particularly when Dan set out to disprove the adage "There's no such thing as a free lunch".

The occasion was the first night of "The Second Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Film Festival". Robert Constable repeated last year's success with superb accompaniments to all the movies shown (Buster Keaton's "Sherlock Junior" and "Cops" as well as both episodes of the Dirty Dan saga). The following night he did it all again, this time with different Keaton movies ("The Playhouse", "The Blacksmith" and "One Week"). His playing adds another level of humour to what's on screen as well as helping to maintain the drama. Much of the humour is abstract, with kids often seeing things that were missed by the adults. A real family night!

It is hoped that a silent film festival such as this will become an annual event, attracting devotees from far and wide. The Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership, which mounted the festival to raise money for projects in East Timor, is to be congratulated for its initiative here.

I'm giving the event four and a half out of five! I'd give it five except I haven't actually seen it yet - these Valley Voice deadlines are impossible ...

Margaret Pomegranate

from post-event e-mails received about the Second Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival:

"Congratulations on another fine production, I laughed myself into a state of wheeziness, always a good sign I think because I actually have to laugh an awful lot to reach the wheeze. Hopefully tightened up a few abdominal muscles as well ... but that could be a short-term benefit only. I think Cipi should get an award for the loudest laugher, she certainly did some serious thigh slapping and I saw her slap H. George across the back several times. Laughing is such a happy little side effect isn't it? Great medicine for us all. I loved seeing HG's chubby little legs sticking out of that wheelbarrow, isn't she a great sport? I thought she and Paul were beautifully under-stated. Olivia was just gorgeous as the threatening flirting tart. Great film editing Martin, obliviously a great script ... whoever wrote it ... Really guys it was just great."

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

from post-event e-mails received about the Fourth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival, Sat 28 October 2006:

"I loved the whole evening. Particularly 'the general'. What an incredible talent and matched by Robert whose playing was so inspired. I feel so lucky to live in this valley."

"I was sitting beside X and was aware, at times, that he was often looking at Robert. I'm afraid I was the opposite: I was engrossed in the film and kept forgetting that the music was live - at one stage thinking, when I heard the bridal march, "Oh, they must have had the same music for weddings then, too ..." Y said he was like X, watching Robert a lot, and being worried that his fingers were flying so fast that at any moment they would overtake the action and get out of sync (or that his fingers might fall off!) ... So we all enjoyed it in separate ways, but enjoy it we did. By next year (if Robert is willing) we may have a final Dirty Dan with which to challenge his creative hands?"

"Thankyou for a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the Upper KV Hall last Saturday. Every so often I realised I was listening to a live pianist playing live music and the wow factor seeped through my body and made me feel so lucky to be exposed to this level of talent and generosity. Please pass on my appreciation to him."

"The film night was wonderful. I think knowing what to expect now makes it more enjoyable because I arrive so relaxed and knowing that I can kick back and truly enjoy the music and film. What a luxury, you operate the film and Robert plays his heart out and surely wears out his fingers, and all I have to do his support my sides whilst belly laughing for 2 hours. Bloody brilliant. Can't wait for the next Buster night."

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

a review of the Fifth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival, Sat 27 October 2007:

Dirty Dan the Pump-Out Man was a highlight of the Fifth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival, held recently in Upper River Hall.

It stars many local residents, including Paul Turnock as Dirty Dan, Helen George as Fluff, and John George as Froth - but in many ways the most prominent star on the night was pianist Robert Constable, whose nimble fingers made sense of the nonsense we saw on screen.

No small task: this movie has matured into a deep and complex window into the human condition. No mere collection of slapstick antics here. I mean, plenty of slapstick antics, to be sure, and very funny, but all interconnected and revolving around a central point. That point? If you didn't see it then I don't want to spoil the fun of deciphering it for yourself when the DVD is released.

Also on the program were Buster Keaton's The Goat [1921], in which not a single goat was to be seen, and his 1928 feature film Steamboat Bill Jr. Non-stop laughter!

The Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership is to be congratulated on another fine event put on to raise funds for its projects in East Timor.

from post-event e-mails:

"everyone at tennis, at yoga, and in Spanish class who attended (= most of them) was full of enthusiasm and hopeful Buster Keaton and Robert will be back next year"

"What a great night that was! The pianist was so good and so funny - I don't know how he does it, playing at that level for so long."

"Wasn't that the most fabulous on Saturday night? We had such fun!"

"I had trouble seeing the screen properly, but the music was so good it didn't really matter."

"The atmosphere was fantastic, and really makes you appreciate living in Kangaroo Valley. I heard several visitors comment on how friendly everyone was. There was a real buzz about the place."

"You've done it again, East Timor people. I don't know how you manage to persuade that marvellous pianist to come each year - he's so clever being able to do that, without one mistake."

"In a world of films filled with noise and destructive, violent images, how refreshing and delightful it was to watch a master of silence and gentleness be embellished by a master of musical interpretation."

"As I have known for a while now, you really are an imaginative and talented bunch at Kangaroo Valley. What a fantastic idea for a fundraiser. This was the first of your film festivals I have been to and was probably the first time I had ever seen a silent movie, let alone one made in Australia. Congratulations on Dirty Dan - there were some very funny antics going on there.

"I am now a big Buster Keaton fan and a Robert Constable fan as well. Please tell the latter what an amazing job he did. I loved the music - so light and lively, it fitted with the movies perfectly and it was good to hear a few familiar tunes woven in ... It's amazing to think he can play non-stop like that for over an hour!"

"the house was bursting with laughter and happiness"

program | Keaton | Constable | Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator | KVRP | reviews | top

The Seventh Annual Kangaroo Valley
Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival

Kangaroo Valley Hall

7.30pm Sat August 15 2009

Keaton | Constable
movies: Neighbors | The Electric House | The Navigator
KV-RP | reviews of previous festivals | top

enquiries: e-mail Martin Wesley-Smith or call him on [02] 44 651 299;
tickets: $25, $5 (concession - children under 16 only)
available from Kangaroo Valley Supermarket (this event will sell out!)
or, by mail order,
download this booking form
and post it, with a cheque made out to KVRP, to
KVRP, PO Box 6159 Kangaroo Valley NSW 2577

Busy that night? Can't get to Kangaroo Valley? Then consider

The First Annual Kangaloon Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival

the night before, also with pianist Robert Constable
7.30pm Friday 14th August 2009, Kangaloon Hall
shorts: The Blacksmith and The Electric House; feature: The General

click here to see Diana Jaffray's poster for this event

Previous Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festivals:
first | second | third | fourth | fifth | sixth

special thanks to David Loneragan and Hugh Sinclair for 16mm projection of The Electric House,
and to Tekee Media Inc for the loan of the data projector

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page last updated 11th August 2009
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