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Before Bikini Bottom: Watch Stephen Hillenburg’s first ever animated short


 
You don’t have to be a child to appreciate the genius of Stephen Hillenburg. I think that’s why his passing especially hurts. I still watch Spongebob and Rocko’s Modern Life regularly. And I’m pretty sure both are even better as an adult.
 
Before he was an animator, Stephen Hillenburg taught marine biology. As a visual aid to his course curriculum, Hillenburg wrote and designed an informative comic book titled The Intertidal Zone. It was about anthropomorphic tide-pool animals and featured a particular sea sponge - one who would go on to warm the hearts of millions. As the story goes, the educational comic eventually developed into the fifth longest-running animated series in American history - Spongebob Squarepants.
 

 
Hillenburg always had a passion for the arts. When he was in third grade, in 1970 and during the Vietnam War, his teacher commended him for an illustration that he did featuring “a bunch of army men… kissing and hugging instead of fighting.” It was at that moment that Stephen’s creative talent (and potential) was first recognized. After getting the nautical comic book idea turned down by publishers (it still is unpublished), Hillenburg followed his artistic ambitions and enrolled in animation school at CalArts.
 

‘The Green Beret’
 
Stephen Hillenburg created two animated shorts while at CalArts, both in 1992. The first was The Green Beret. It was about a Girl Scout with enormous fists who toppled homes while trying to sell cookies. Rife with political satire (George Washington in the war trenches) and a hint of farce directed at American excess and television culture, the short contained the same tongue-in-cheek humor that made Hillenburg’s later works so satisfying. The Green Beret kind of reminds me of Meet the Fat Heads, the absurd in-universe cartoon program that had several cameos in Rocko’s Modern Life.
 

The only online evidence of ‘Wormholes’
 
Hillenburg’s thesis film was a seven-minute animation titled Wormholes. It was based on the theory of relativity and while the short does not exist anywhere on the web, Hillenburg has been quoted as describing it as “a poetic animated film based on relativistic phenomena.” The film was shown at several international film festivals, including the 1992 Ottawa Film Festival, where Hillenburg met Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life. After seeing Wormholes, Murray offered Stephen the directorial role on his new cartoon for Nickelodeon. And the rest was history.
 
It is without a doubt that Stephen Hillenburg has inspired something special within us all. May he rest in peace.
 
Watch Hillenburg’s first animated short film ‘The Green Beret,’ after the jump…

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Posted by Bennett Kogon
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12.03.2018
07:03 am
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Watching ‘The Prisoner’ with ‘Repo Man’ director Alex Cox
11.12.2018
06:34 am
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It turns out leaving your house still pays sometimes: if I hadn’t stepped into a bookstore last weekend, I would be unaware of Alex Cox’s latest volume, I Am (Not) A Number: Decoding the Prisoner. Kamera Books published it in the UK last December to mark the series’ 50th anniversary, and the book came out in the US this May.

Like his introductions to cult movies on Moviedrome—like his interpretation of his own Repo Man, for that matter, a movie Cox insists is really about nuclear war—the director’s reading of The Prisoner is idiosyncratic and ingenious. Even though I don’t buy them yet, the solutions he proposes to the series’ riddles are brilliant and original; I won’t spoil them here, but it’s safe to say you’re unlikely to have come up with them yourself.
 

 
The 17 episodes of The Prisoner were broadcast in a different order in the UK and the US, and their correct sequence has never been settled. The Wikipedia page on the subject compares the production order (“not an intended viewing order,” the alt.tv.prisoner FAQ of blessed memory asserts) with four plausible running orders advanced or defended by fans over the years, based on the original broadcast or on different kinds of internal evidence in the shows: dates mentioned, logical sequence of plot developments, etc.

Cox has no use for any of these. Along with the series’ call sheets and screenplays, his interpretation is based on watching the episodes in the order of their filming—i.e., the production order most cultists reject as totally unsuitable for viewing. While this sequence is as reasonable as any other, it radically shuffles the narrative. For instance, “Once Upon a Time,” which is the second-to-last episode in every other programming of the series because it seems to lead directly to the finale, is sixth in Cox’s.

I’ve just started rewatching the series as Cox recommends. It’s too early to say whether the production order supports his conclusions, but I’m enjoying the shake-up so far. Below, the director discusses his book in a short promotional video.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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11.12.2018
06:34 am
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Watch Mike from ‘Better Call Saul’ in a bizarre 1980s motivational video


 
Season 4 of Better Call Saul, which wrapped up a few weeks ago, is on the shortlist of my favorite seasons of television ever. The Emmy people have not shown Better Call Saul undue respect—it has never won a single Emmy for anything—but in my view the Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould creation is running rings around every other show in a bunch of different ways. It’s got the best acting, the best writing, and the best direction, for starters. Particularly in the writing arena, it’s a little preposterous that any other drama would beat Better Call Saul, at least that’s my opinion.

One of the amusing aspects of Better Call Saul is that it showcases so many different depictions of excellence in its narrative. Jimmy McGill (later to become Saul Goodman) is a world-class con artist, his brother Chuck is a genius-level attorney, Mike Ehrmantraut is an unusually gifted all-purpose security dude, Gustavo Fring is a regional/international drug kingpin of distinction, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Kim is a pretty gifted negotiator of plea deals and the like as a sideline to her regular gig of representing multinational corporations (with Jimmy, she also grifts unwitting saps for fun). The show has a deep abiding interest in professionalism and excellence in all of its forms.
 

 
As portrayed by Jonathan Banks, the utterly unflappable Mike Ehrmantraut has become the object of no small fascination. I know several people who’d swap places with him in an instant, given the option. Until he landed the role of Mike in Breaking Bad, Banks was a respected if by no means famous character actor whose notable credits had included the TV series Wiseguy and the movies Freejack and Gremlins.

One of Banks’ early credits was a bizarre self-help videotape from 1985 called You Can Win! Negotiating for Power, Love and Money. The videotape was intended to showcase the penetrating insights of a lady named Dr. Tessa Albert Warschaw. I’m guessing that You Can Win! was tolerably successful in its day—before most everyone had the ability to call up life advice on the Internet—for as recently as 2015 she was appearing at a TEDxPasadenaWomen event discussing the importance of resiliency.

In You Can Win! Banks is given the task of portraying the idealized “type” of “the Dictator,” the unpleasant, exacting prig who has precise expectations in every interaction. The video alternates between explanations from Dr. Warschaw and demonstrations of the insights by a team of NYC actors who are really not bad at all, the whole thing is really fairly good but just horribly dated. Skip through it for the bits involving Banks (who knows, you might have a use for a clip of Banks saying the words “Massage! ... ha ha ha ha ha ha, don’t be perverse”). But mainly it’s best to think of it as a highly bizarre conceptual play.
 

 
via r/ObscureMedia
 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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11.05.2018
08:26 am
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Tuxedomoon play a mostly empty hall in Hamburg in the middle of the night, 1985
10.24.2018
06:42 am
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In August of 1985 San Francisco “cabaret no-wave” heroes Tuxedomoon took part in an interesting evening of entertainment presented by the Hamburg-based television channel NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk). The program was called “Video Night” and—possibly accidentally—sounds a hell of a lot like the program Night Flight, which cable subscribers in the United States could consume on the USA Network during the same period. Here’s a description of the “Video Night” courtesy of Der Spiegel (translation executed by yours truly):
 

In addition to art videos from New York and Tokyo, clips from classic Hollywood movies and amateur films, the filmmaker Marianne Enzensberger and the popular singer Marianne Rosenberg serve as moderators for several avant-garde acts. Among them are: the formation AGZ (Anarchist Rubber Cell) and the American act Tuxedomoon.

 
For some reason, after all of the scheduled programming was over, Tuxedomoon were obliged to take the stage in front of a largely empty hall and play a couple of tunes in the wee hours of the night, with the knowledge that the proceedings were being transmitted to TVs live. Bruce Geduldig and Steven Brown kicked off the curious performance with some gallows-humor banter, in a practice known to musicians the world over as “making the best of a bad situation”:
 

Geduldig: Let’s hear it for late-night TV! Ahhhhhh!
Brown: All right, is anybody still awake out there?
Geduldig: I’m sure somebody’s awake out there in TV Land.
Brown: Well.
Geduldig: There’s gotta be someone awake, Steven!
Brown: Well, I think, um. We’re, we’re called Tuxedomoon, and well, isn’t late-night TV great?
Geduldig: We’re just always saying hello. It’s like religion, you know. It’s like a new educational religion.
Brown: I don’t know if I’d go so far as that, Bruce, but myself….
Geduldig: I learned a lot, myself. I learned a lot tonight.
Brown: Well, I like to come home at four o’clock in the morning and turn on the TV and see something like this, myself….
Geduldig: This is nice for a change, isn’t it? I get tired of snow.
Brown: Well, I mean, Dallas isn’t on at two in the morning, right?
Geduldig: It’s an honor. This is an honor.
Brown: It’s an honor. Unfortunately, it’s snowing onstage.
Geduldig: Well, we’re going to go on blind faith, anyway. We’re just gonna do this, because we have faith that somebody out there is still awake.
Brown: Blind Faith couldn’t make it tonight…..
Geduldig: We know you’re awake.
Brown: Is anybody still awake out there? I hear an answer…. Hello, TV Land!
Geduldig: Well, we’re still here.
Brown: This is Hamburg calling, this is Hamburg calling. Hello world! Here we go….

 
Quick guide for younger readers: It was uncommon for TV to be broadcast at night until the widespread adoption of cable TV, and 1985 was still early days for that progression—this partly informs Geduldig’s mordant assumption that there really is nobody out there watching. “Snow” is what an old-school tube TV broadcasts if the unit is turned on but there is no active input—it’s a synonym for “static.” It’s what most TV channels would have played in the middle of the night. Dallas was a popular nighttime soap opera in America. Blind Faith was a British blues-rock combo featuring Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech that released an album in 1969.

There can be little doubt that Tuxedomoon really did make the best of it. Geduldig spends most of the first song, “Watching the Blood Flow,” swinging from a handy rope hanging down from the ceiling, while for the follow-up, “Reeding, Righting, Rhythmatic,” Brown consents to sing blindfolded. After the credits roll, the video jumps to their performance from earlier in the evening, which featured “Special Treatment for the Family Man” and “Hugging the Earth.”
 

 
Here’s the full page from Der Spiegel from July 22, 1985, featuring the “Video Nacht” writeup in the bottom-right corner:

Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.24.2018
06:42 am
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Echo and the Bunnymen and Billy Bragg cover the Velvets’ ‘Run Run Run’ on the BBC, 1986


 
In the 1980s the BBC used to do this thing every now and then where they would take a day and dedicate like 15 consecutive hours of programming to pop music. The recurring program was called “Rock Around the Clock”; it’s surprisingly challenging to track down information about this practice, but at the same time it seems likely that a great many DM readers in the U.K. remember these so-called TV marathons quite vividly. These “Rock Around the Clock” events were pretty much a grab bag of whatever the BBC felt like tossing in there, in a manner that might remind American readers of Night Flight during in the same era. But having a bigger budget than Night Flight, the BBC would also provide a studio for live performances.

One of these “Rock Around the Clock” days was September 20, 1986. That day rock connoisseurs could enjoy, on BBC2, the musical stylings of a-ha, Stan Ridgway, Dire Straits, and the Housemartins. A decided highlight for sure was an in-studio appearance by Echo and the Bunnymen, during which they played “The Game” and “Lips Like Sugar,” neither of which would be released officially for several months.

In addition, Ian McCulloch and Co. recruited a singer with whom they’d toured North America in 1984, that being Billy Bragg, to assist on a cover of “Run Run Run,” off of The Velvet Underground and Nico.

“Run Run Run” was in the Bunnymen repertoire at that moment, as the gang were indulging their taste for classic rock somewhat. Their cover of the Doors’ “People Are Strange” appeared on the Lost Boys soundtrack a year later, and the 1988 12-inch of “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo” featured a wealth of covers recorded at a gig in Gothenburg, Sweden: the three tracks were the already-mentioned VU cover, the Stones’ “Paint It Black,” and Television’s “Friction.” (You can also find the same three tracks on WEA’s Japan-only release New Live and Rare.)

According to Chris Adams’ exhaustive Turquoise Days: The Weird World of Echo & the Bunnymen, they also played part of the old Sinatra classic “One For My Baby,” but that section isn’t captured in this clip.
 
Watch for yourself, after the jump…...
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.17.2018
09:15 am
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Alice Cooper gets pied in the face on ‘The Soupy Sales Show’
10.16.2018
06:38 am
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When the legendary comedian Soupy Sales died in 2009, Alice Cooper issued a brief statement through his publicist:

Being from Detroit, I came home every day and watched Soupy at lunch. One of the greatest moments of my life was getting piefaced by Soupy. He was one of my all-time heroes.

Soupy Sales and a pie in the face have more to do with the Detroit of John Sinclair than you might guess. As “The Heart of Detroit by Moonlight” by the Destroy All Monsters Collective (Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, and Jim Shaw) makes clear, Soupy’s TV image inhabited the same psychic space as Alice, the MC5 and Lester Bangs. Not only was Soupy’s anarchic spirit beloved of Motor City rockers, but his actual sons, Hunt and Tony, played in Iggy Pop’s band in the seventies. The Sales brothers were Iggy’s rhythm section on part of Kill City, all of Lust for Life, and the famous 1977 tour with David Bowie.

And the way Alice Cooper took a pie (cake?) in the face at the 1970 Cincinnati Pop Festival was central to the case for the Stooges’ greatness Lester Bangs made in the pages of Creem:

So there he was: Alice Cooper, rock star, crouched frontstage in the middle of his act with a faceful of pie and cream with clots dripping from his ears and chin. So what did he do? How did he recoup the sacred time-honored dignity of the performing artist which claims the stage as his magic force field from which to bedazzle and entertain the helpless audience? Well, he pulled a handful of pie gook out of his face and slapped it right back again, smearing it into his pores and eyes and sneaking the odd little fingerlicking taste. Again and again he repeated this gesture, smearing it in good. The audience said not another word.

 

 
Here’s the full 1979 episode of The New Soupy Sales Show where Alice takes another pie in the face, cued up to Alice’s bit. Soupy finds a bug in the backyard that can sing and play piano, and he figures he can make big money if he books the insect, Buggy, as the opening act on his buddy Alice Cooper’s upcoming tour. Perhaps remembering the early-morning audition at Frank Zappa’s house that gave him his own entrée into the world of showbiz, Alice drops by Soupy’s place and listens as Buggy tears up “Autumn in New York.” It’s sensational—a star is born! But how will White Fang, the meanest dog in Detroit, react to the sudden rise of this upstart arthropod?

Find out after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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10.16.2018
06:38 am
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The Adam Ant episode of ‘Tales from the Crypt’
10.09.2018
08:29 am
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The cover of Crime SuspenStories #27, 1955; first publication of ‘Maniac at Large’
 
John Frankenheimer, the director of The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and Seconds, got his start working in TV in the fifties. After a long absence, he returned to the medium in 1992 with this episode of Tales from the Crypt.

In “Maniac at Large,” Adam Ant plays a crime-obsessed nerd whose preoccupation with murder terrorizes the new librarian, Blythe Danner, who is all het up about a serial killer on the loose. Ant’s quite good; I’m puzzled that his acting career faltered after his promising debut in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, and he wound up in movies like Sunset Heat and Cyber Bandits. (Someday I’ll get around to watching Wayne Wang’s Slam Dance, just to see Harry Dean Stanton, John Doe of X and Adam Ant in the same movie.)

Frankenheimer’s psychological direction, which foregrounds the distorted perspective of one of the characters, transforms the public library where the story is set into a clammy tomb of terror. I got the fears!
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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10.09.2018
08:29 am
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Biddi-Biddi-Biddi: The beautiful outer-space babes from ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’


Actress Markie Post and Gil Gerard getting their leather and spandex look on in a still from ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.’
 
If my homage to adorable robot Twiki—one of the stars of the sci-fi television show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), went above your head, I’m sorry. But I’m only sorry because this means that you maybe never watched the show which ran for two seasons on NBC. At the time, I was just a kid and never missed an episode as it was a continuation of its predecessor, Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979). I was such a big fan of BG and was obsessed with actor Dirk Benedict and his character Lieutenant Starbuck. The show was full of nutty plotlines and came complete with a disco soundtrack from the masterful Giorgio Moroder, which I am sure I was not able to appreciate at the time. There was even a fictional alien girl group featured on the show called the Space Angels who had the voices of singers Carolyn Willis, Marti McCall, and Myrna Matthews, a long-time collaborator with Steely Dan. Now that you can see I’m in full-on sci-fi nerd mode let’s move on to the actual point of this post, the far-out females of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Buck Rogers cast of female characters in the first season alone included Jamie Lee Curtis, Catwoman Julie Newmar, Pamela Hensley, and Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten. The show was a departure from Battlestar Galactica when it came to many things including the appearance of their female cast being more akin to the women William Shatner encountered on Star Trek. In fact, Gil Gerard’s character on Buck Rogers mirrors Captain Kirk’s when it pertains to his ability to become lip-locked with pretty much every female woman or alien he comes into contact with. Even Buck Rogers co-star the beautiful Erin Gray wasn’t immune to Rogers’ outer-space swagger. Like Battlestar, the plotlines were pushed to the edge of reason including battles with space vampires and an episode where the gang spends time on an intergalactic cruise ship filled with chicks in bikinis.

I’ve posted some great stills from the show to help illustrate my point about what a treat to the eyes this show was. And though we are technically not discussing Battlestar Galactica, I’ve posted a video of shirtless Dirk Benedict showing you how to get a “steel stomach” in an old-school workout video because it’s too awesome to keep to myself.
 

The super cool, completely hot Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering.
 

Erin Gray all dolled up in the episode “Cruise Ship to the Stars” (season one, episode eleven).
 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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09.24.2018
11:27 am
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John, Yoko and Jerry Lewis play reggae on the MDA Telethon
09.07.2018
07:51 am
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John, Yoko, and the Nutty Beatle

This was once the time of year Harry Shearer called Telethon Season. Back-to-school sales coincided with the annual broadcast of the Jerry Lewis Telethon, whose host would come totally unglued over the show’s 21-plus hours, sobbing, geshreying and fulminating against his critics in the press.

But the golden age of telethons is over, and the show people who gave of themselves until we begged them to stop are mostly dead. The Chabad telethon still happens, but even if I could find it on the cable box (LA has a channel 18?), it wouldn’t be the same without Harry Dean Stanton and Bob Dylan playing “Hava Nagila” together, or my own sainted grandfather cutting up beneath the tote board.
 

 
So I was delighted to come across this clip of John and Yoko’s performance on the 1972 Jerry Lewis Telethon, even though Lennon biographer (and emeritus history professor and Nation contributor) Jon Wiener identifies this moment as the nadir of Lennon’s life in showbiz. The Nixon administration was then aggressively trying to have Lennon deported, and he and Yoko hoped the appearance would help them remain in the country, Wiener writes:

Before and after John and Yoko appeared, Jerry Lewis went through his telethon shtick, making maudlin appeals for cash, alternately mugging and weeping, parading victims of muscular dystrophy across the Las Vegas stage, and generally claiming to be the friend to the sick. Most offensive of all was his cuddling up to corporate America. Public-relations men from United Airlines, McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch, and others appeared to hand Jerry checks. He responded by pontificating about what wonderful friends we all have in the corporations.

John and Yoko permitted themselves to be exploited in this way because they were trying to clean up their act, to impress the immigration authorities that they were good citizens. And, to be fair, many big stars went on the telethon; Paul and Ringo did in subsequent years. However, there were other points where John and Yoko could have stopped on their way from Jerry Rubin to Jerry Lewis.

 

 
Below, backed by Elephant’s Memory, John and Yoko play “Imagine,” “Now or Never,” and a reggae arrangement of “Give Peace a Chance.” Jerry Lewis blows his trumpet on the last number.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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09.07.2018
07:51 am
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Dennis Hopper is private detective H. P. Lovecraft in the occult noir TV movie ‘Witch Hunt’
08.31.2018
06:23 am
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Night Tide it isn’t, but I like this cheapo TV movie with Dennis Hopper as hardboiled private dick H. Phillip Lovecraft. In Witch Hunt, the sequel to Cast A Deadly Spell, Hopper takes over the role from Fred Ward, and Paul Schrader relieves Martin Campbell of the director’s chair.

Both early nineties HBO features are set in a post-WWII Hollywood where everyone dabbles in black magic—the Portuguese title of Witch Hunt is Ilusões Satânicas, “Satanic Illusions”—and all dirty work is left to gnomes, sylphs, undines and salamanders.

Eric Bogosian plays Senator Larson Crockett, a McCarthyite anti-magic crusader whose voice emanates from every TV and radio, speechifying about the threat the dark arts pose to the American way of life. When the actress Kim Hudson (Penelope Ann Miller) hires Lovecraft to investigate her husband, the case draws them toward some mass-movement jingoistic witchery that makes Hollywood look sweet.

The score is Twin Peaks-y jazz by Angelo Badalamenti. One scene echoes Dean Stockwell’s performance of “In Dreams” from Blue Velvet, only this time it’s Lypsinka miming “I Put A Spell on You” as Hopper looks on with pain and delight.

Have a look after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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08.31.2018
06:23 am
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