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Laibach’s nightmarish new short film, ‘So Long, Farewell’: a Dangerous Minds premiere


Photo by Ciril Jazbec
 
The Sound of Music ends with the von Trapp family’s escape from the Nazis through the Alps, crossing from annexed Austria into neutral Switzerland. Or that’s how the stage version ends; the closing shot of the 1965 film is ambiguous. In it, the von Trapps appear to be going in the wrong direction, fleeing into the Bavarian, rather than the Swiss, Alps.

In fact, the mountain at which Robert Wise chose to film the last shot of The Sound of Music was the Obersalzberg, the site of Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. Once you recognize the location, the end of the movie takes on a horrible significance: as they hike up the Obersalzberg, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain (Reprise),” Georg and Maria von Trapp are leading their brood on a death march to the Nazis’ second headquarters. We can easily imagine these Hollywood von Trapps wandering too close to the Berghof after the last notes of the song have died in the chill air, and the camera, like the guilty eyes of Buñuel’s Christ in L’Age d’Or, has averted its gaze from earthly things.

Laibach’s new film “So Long, Farewell” begins with this cinematic wrong turn into horror. The group has been interpreting The Sound of Music since 2015, when, as the first Western (?) band ever to perform in North Korea, Laibach included a number of songs from the musical in their set. In this, the latest video from Laibach’s Sound of Music album, the singing family has not escaped the Nazis—note the swastika-shaped Christmas tree from John Heartfield’s “O Tannenbaum in deutschen Raum, wie krumm sind deine Äste!“ ripped from its parodic context, as a fir is cut from the earth—but, because it is a special time of year, the children are permitted to leave the basement for a few minutes to sing for the adults.

Speaking with a single voice, Laibach answered my questions about “So Long, Farewell” by email. The film follows our conversation below.
 

 
Please remind us why Laibach chose The Sound of Music for the performances in North Korea.

Laibach: Throughout our career we’ve been looking for an opportunity to sink our teeth into The Sound of Music. When we received an invitation to perform in Pyongyang, we knew the moment had finally arrived. The Sound of Music is probably the only piece of American pop culture that is not only allowed, but also actively promoted by North Korean authorities. For years now the musical has been part of their school curricula. It seemed only natural that we address the people of North Korea with something as universal as The Sound of Music, therefore we decided to create the concert program around our interpretations of the songs from this musical. The Sound of Music story really fits well into the North Korean situation and can be understood affirmatively, but also subversively – very much depending on the point of view.

It looks to me as if, in Laibach’s telling of The Sound of Music, the von Trapp family does not escape capture by the Nazis, and a sinister patriarch played by Ivan Novak takes the place of Baron von Trapp. The appearance of Milan Fras as the Reverend Mother further complicates the picture: does the abbess sanction this ghastly ménage by her presence? What is the scenario of the “So Long” video?

“So Long” is in fact more a short film than the music video. The original film is, of course, the first of all the apotheosis of Hollywood entertaining industry standards and clichés, but there are many – not even very well hidden – perverse twists in it, full of sexual and psychoanalytical connotations. Slavoj Žižek has a very thorough (and very Laibachian) observation, claiming that officially the film is in principle showing Austrian resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, but if you look at it closely, you see that the “Nazis are presented as an abstract cosmopolitan occupying power, and the Austrians are the good small fascists, so the implicit message is almost the opposite of the explicit message.” No wonder that Austrians officially don’t like this film much, or maybe they are only denying it on the surface and watching it secretly in their cellars. This “hidden reverse” may also be the reason why the movie was so extremely popular, Žižek argues, because it “addresses our secret fascist dreams.” (Which is an interesting assertion, considering most of the people who created the original musical were Jewish.) Catholicism, of course, plays a key role in The Sound of Music film, therefore it represents an important stance in the “So Long, Farewell” miniature as well. On the surface, Catholicism portrays itself as being all about harsh moral discipline and strict rules. But, under the surface, it provides opportunities for great license, including sexual license. You can have your cake (feeling righteous morally, identifying with this “morally strict” organization) and eat it too (providing opportunities to have fun and play around). According to Žižek the power of the film resides in its obscenely-direct staging of embarrassing intimate fantasies. The film’s narrative turns around resolving the problem stated by the nuns’ chorus in the introductory scene: “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The proposed solution is the one mentioned by Freud in an anecdote: Penis normalis, zwei mal taeglich… Recall what is arguably the most powerful scene of The Sound of Music: after Maria escapes from the von Trapp family back to the monastery, unable to deal with her sexual attraction towards Baron von Trapp, she cannot find peace there, since she is still longing for the Baron; in a memorable scene, the Mother Superior summons her and advises her to return to the von Trapp family and try to sort out her relationship with the Baron. She delivers this message in a weird song “Climb Ev’ry Mountain!” whose surprising motif is: Do it! Take the risk and try everything your heart wants! Do not allow petty considerations to stand in your way! The uncanny power of this scene resides in its unexpected display of the spectacle of desire, an eros energumens which renders the scene literally embarrassing: the very person whom one would expect to preach abstinence and renunciation turns out to be the agent of the fidelity to one’s desire. In other words, Mother Superior effectively is a superego figure, but in Lacan’s sense, for whom the true superego injunction is “Enjoy!” But the real Maria and the real Baron didn’t marry because they loved each other; according to her autobiography they married only for the love of children.
 

 
Red is everywhere in this video: the mistletoe berries, the Reverend Mother’s rosary, the children’s Trumpian neckties, and the hot red light throughout. Instead of climbing to freedom in the snowy Alps at the end, it looks like the family descends into the fires of Hell. Does Laibach’s Sound of Music end in captivity and death?

Yes, in “So Long, Farewell,” the von Trapp family never escaped from the Hollywood Austria, annexed by Nazis. They were “trapped” and they just went a bit “underground.” Same in North Korea, people are trapped within the Pleasure Dome of North Korean controlled society (not that Western society is not controlled…). The Sound of Music certainly ends in captivity and death, like we all do.

When you first saw The Sound of Music, was the film censored or altered in any way? If Laibach were to censor the movie, what would you change?

We could in fact change the ending, that would give a different perspective to the whole film, but the scenario did loosely follow the real story of the von Trump family. We don’t recall that the film was censored anyhow when we saw it first time, but Žižek claims that the three minutes of the “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” song, with Mother Superior singing was in fact censored back then in Yugoslavia, as this is the most obscene moment in the movie.

“The von Trump family” is a wonderful parapraxis. When making this film, did Laibach draw inspiration from Mrs. Trump’s Christmas decorations at the White House?

Quite possible, especially if decorations in White House would be created as a classic Trumpian slip.

As far as I know, the few swastikas that appear in Laibach’s work come from the photomontages of the anti-fascist artist John Heartfield. In this case, it’s the swastika-shaped tree from Heartfield’s parodic poster announcing the Third Reich’s new “standard fir” for the holidays, a festive addition to the hearth of the von Trapp/Trump home. I wonder if, in the film, the proclamation of Heartfield’s poster has become a historical reality. In other words, is it mandatory for the family to display the “crooked” tree?

Using a straightforward reference to the classic Heartfield Christmas tree today would merely present the aesthetization of the subject, while the direct swastika-shaped tree becomes a mandatory festive background of historical reality, the aesthetization of a society that does not find it (very) problematic anymore.
 

 
Writing for Die Welt on the eve of Laibach’s first trip to North Korea, Slavoj Žižek discerned the image of the Josef Fritzl household in The Sound of Music. He argues that warmth, good cheer and sentimentality are not only compatible with brutal crimes, but hospitable to them; when Fritzl imprisoned his children in the basement and raped them, Žižek suggests, he did so with a merry song in his heart. Is there a place for bad conscience in kitsch?

Only if it is a bad kitsch. A good reference to this problem is also possible to detect in the Sharp Objects TV series, especially in its final episode.

Žižek also imagines the children attending an “upstairs reception in the Fritzl villa” where they sing “So Long, Farewell” before departing for bed, one by one. Is that where the idea for the film originated?

There are several different inspirations for the “So Long, Farewell” film miniature; there’s definitely The Sound of Music itself – a film full of latent sexuality within the patriarchal (and matriarchal) musical family with structural elements of fascism, then there’s an ultimate model of utopian, communist/religious (very musical) state, nominally led by the supreme Kim Dynasty, and finally there is a reference to the extreme case of Josef and Rosemarie Fritzl’s family from Austria – a raw model to the similar families around the world, potentially including some famous ones within political and entertainment/musical spheres as well.

Laibach’s The Sound of Music is out on Mute Records, and Morten Traavik’s documentary Liberation Day follows the band’s travels in North Korea. (Also of note, Laibach fans: MIT Press’ excellent book NSK from Kapital to Capital includes a contribution from Alexei Yurchak, the scholar who coined the term “hypernormalisation.”)
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Become a citizen of Laibach’s global state
Buy membership in Laibach for $10,000
Laibach’s ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,’ exclusive video premiere
Laibach’s opening act: a man chopping wood with an axe
Laibach? There’s an app for that
See Laibach’s almost terrifying final performance with Tomaž Hostnik, 1982
Laibach cover ‘Warm Leatherette’

Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.14.2019
09:19 am
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Laibach’s opening act: a man chopping wood with an axe
03.17.2017
08:40 am
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“The earliest Laibach texts suggested a degree of deindividualization and subordination so total and absolute as to make even the North Korean system seem lax and individualistic,” Alexei Monroe wrote in his 2005 study of Laibach and NSK, Interrogation Machine. They can’t be accused of watering it down. A decade after Monroe published his book, when Laibach became the first Western group ever to perform in North Korea, state censors made them cut their set by half.

I used to think the most inspired use of the opening-act slot had been Wire booking the Ex-Lion Tamers to play all of their debut, Pink Flag, so they wouldn’t have to. But I now believe Laibach did it best. Warming up the crowd at some of Laibach’s mid-eighties shows was a man chopping wood with an axe.

(Not “competitive woodchopping.” One person chopping wood is not a sport, just necessary labor.)
 

via Laibach WTC
 
The laibach.org bio confirms that on their first UK tour, the group “bemus[ed] audiences by using antlers, flags, and a man chopping wood on their stage.” Monroe places the woodchopper in the context of the other alienating “effects” Laibach creates before their shows, and of their pseudo-totalitarian iconography:

Before Laibach take the stage, some form of introductory effect is used to build an atmosphere—for instance, the playing of some German Schlager songs or Strauss waltzes. In earlier times, however, far more elaborate and conceptual effects were used to prepare the audience for Laibach. One particularly alarming method was to play tapes of barking dogs or loud noise. The turning of powerful lights on the audience (a technique pioneered by Throbbing Gristle) and the sounds created a threatening, interrogatory atmosphere intended to destabilize and excite the audience, instilling anticipation and a sense of approaching menace. At other shows Laibach were preceded by a uniformed figure chopping wood on stage. This had archaic-völkisch associations, and perpetuated the NSK axe motif (from Heartfield and the NSK logo).

More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.17.2017
08:40 am
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Laibach? There’s an app for that
08.25.2016
09:16 am
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The poster for Laibach’s upcoming show in Ljubljana
 
You say you love Laibach, but what are you really willing to do for the cause? When is the last time you spent NSK State money? Sure, you wear the official Laibach tie, but where is your matching tie clip? And you stink of mortality; where is your bar of Laibach soap? Only Laibach brand soap has been proven to kill every type of pestilence it does not also promote:

This big bar of Saliva, Sweat and Sperm is pressed three times to make a rich and creamy soap. A relaxing fragrance for tired and stressed-out souls calms the nerves and soothes the body. Perfect for beginning or ending your life.



A bar of Laibach soap
 
Have you looked in the mirror lately? There is way too much “you” behind those eyes and not nearly enough Laibach. Citizen, the day of reckoning is at hand! Boots are marching in the public street, and you haven’t even sacrificed your personality to the general will yet! Time is running out. It may not be too late if you get right with Laibach today.

Of course, you will need to replace all your records with Laibach records, all your clothes with Laibach clothes, all your décor with Laibach décor, et cetera. But while you are appropriating the necessary funds for your total, final makeover, you can get started by downloading the free Laibach app. It will help you maintain right speech and right conduct, and after you (inevitably) consent, it will “access your location even when you are not using the app.” It’s kind of like Pokémon GO—except in former Yugoslavian republic of Slovenia, Pokémon catches you!

With the Laibach app you will be able to: get the latest News, listen/buy music, watch Laibach videos, interact with the Laibach Community, send your artworks directly from your mobile device, get the latest info on Laibach tour dates and ticket links, see photos of Laibach, read about Laibach history and everything else you need to help you be a better partisan.


A screenshot from the Laibach app
 
The app is available for Android and iOS.

Next week, Laibach will be performing a special concert on the theme of “the holy war in/of Europe” with the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra in Ljubljana. Tickets and posters are available through laibach.org.

More Laibach after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Oliver Hall
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08.25.2016
09:16 am
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Laibach’s ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,’ exclusive video premiere
05.07.2015
01:12 pm
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Laibach photographed by Luka Kase
 
Laibach’s cover versions constitute a special category of songs. Since 1987’s Opus Dei (at least), the oracular Slovenian group has been transforming familiar tunes, running them through what Laibach scholar Alexei Monroe calls the “interrogation machine” until their every feature sounds strange and self-contradictory. (If you want to know just how mysterious and multivalent Laibach’s position is, read Monroe’s book.) Laibach has given this treatment to the Beatles and the Stones, recording both the entire Let It Be album and eight versions of “Sympathy for the Devil”; to Andrew Lloyd Webber, cutting the definitive version of his “Jesus Christ Superstar”; to Paul Revere and the Raiders, whose “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” Laibach moved to post-Soviet Eastern Europe; to DAF, whose “Alle gegen alle” they rewrote as thrilling Wagnerian pomp; and to the national anthems of fourteen countries, including their own NSK State. The release of a new Laibach cover is a cultural event of great moment.
 

Laibach photographed by Luka Kase
 
Postmodern irony is not what’s going on here. Defending his comrades against charges of fascism in 1993, Laibach partisan Slavoj Žižek argued: “the strategy of Laibach [...] ‘frustrates’ the system (the ruling ideology) precisely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but represents an over-identification with it.” If this sounds obscure, you can see how it works pretty clearly in Laibach’s version of Queen’s universalist anthem “One Vision.” The original’s promise of a world with one race, one god and one nation sounds innocuous enough—it even sounds kind of fun, the way Freddie Mercury sings it—until you’ve heard Laibach’s cover. Titled “Geburt einer Nation,” or “Birth of a Nation,” Laibach’s interpretation of the song points up not only the unsettling fascist dimension of wishing for a single race on planet Earth, but also the discipline, violence and militant belief it would take to realize any utopian vision on a global scale. It’s as if Laibach, believing the message of “One Vision” more fervently than its author, is acting out impulses which no one else will acknowledge are in the song. Not that they lack a sense of humor; Laibach is fond of saying, “Freddie Mercury died soon after he heard our interpretation of ‘One Vision.’”

In the video you’re about to see, Laibach performs Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” the starkest of blues meditations on death, popularized by Bob Dylan on his debut LP. Laibach’s version appears on the special edition of the band’s latest album, Spectre. But why is Tito brushing dust off Churchill’s coat during his 1953 visit to No. 10 Downing Street? Why does a blind quote from a German translation of Aeschylus’ Eumenides flash before our eyes? What is our responsibility to these long-dead factory workers and collectivists who flicker on the screen?
 

 
Laibach’s North American tour begins May 11.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Buy membership in Laibach for $10,000
Become a citizen of Laibach’s global state
See Laibach’s almost terrifying final performance with Tomaž Hostnik, 1982
Laibach cover ‘Warm Leatherette’

Posted by Oliver Hall
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05.07.2015
01:12 pm
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Buy membership in Laibach for $10,000
05.01.2015
08:50 am
Topics:
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With the slogan “A CHICKEN IN EVERY POT AND LAIBACH IN EVERY CITY,” Laibach recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for its planned tour of the US in May and June. It will be Laibach’s first trip to the US since 2008, and the group’s first proper North American tour since 2004.

In exchange for pledges, they’re offering Laibach-brand soap, armbands, cigarette cases, ties, ringtones, posters, and all the other perquisites of the of the Laibach way of life—the manner, let’s face it, to which you have become accustomed. For $300, you can meet the band at one of the shows; for $3,000, you get to spend three days in Ljubljana hanging with Laibach; and for $10,000, you can purchase an honorary membership in the group. Better yet, buy all of these things and give them to me.
 

 
If you have any interest in Laibach at all, take a look at the packages on offer. I can guarantee that you won’t find a more enlightening FAQ on any crowdfunding page:

Why does God not exist?

- Because God is God and he does not need to exist to prove this!

More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Oliver Hall
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05.01.2015
08:50 am
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Become a citizen of Laibach’s global state
09.23.2014
10:21 am
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Wasn’t the nation-state supposed to have withered and died by now? Weren’t we supposed to be a merry crew of free and autonomous subjects, all pursuing our personal dreams with similar but slightly different songs in our hearts, rather than a graying herd of bigoted, suburban, debt-burdened, government-ID-clutching suckers?

Friends, it’s 2014: time to turn in your driver’s licenses and demand something better. For citizens of the universe who are committed to interplanetary cooperation, there’s always the Hawkwind passport, but for earthbound internationalists, there’s never been a better time to join the NSK State. As the world’s first global polity, the NSK State is a “state in time” that “denies the principles of (limited) territory as well as the principle of national borders.” And anyone can apply for an NSK State passporteven you!
 

IRWIN billboard, London, 2012
 
The NSK State emerged from the Neue Slowenische Kunst (“New Slovenian Art”) collective, which had been formed in 1984 by the band Laibach, the visual artists’ group IRWIN, the performance group Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater (now Noordung), and the design group New Collectivism. In 1992, the same year that Yugoslavia dissolved and Slovenia was admitted to the United Nations, these groups founded their own transnational state, “a utopian formation which has no physical territory and which is not to be identified with any existing national state.” (According to this fascinating article about the sudden demand for NSK passports that arose in Nigeria in 2006, the NSK State “was conceived as almost the opposite of the new Republic of Slovenia.”)
 

The NSK State passport
 
As of this writing, bearers of this handsome document are actually entitled to like zero of the rights and privileges that accrue to citizens of regular, border-determined countries, so if you have any of those, you might want to hold onto them. Among other important disclaimers to keep in mind: “Ownership of this passport shall not constitute membership in the NSK organisation” and “the NSK State passport is not a legally valid document.” The good news is, the passport’s a steal at €24; the bad news is that unless one of the state’s temporary embassies or consulates is coming to a physical location near you, you’ll have to send cash in a registered letter or pay for a bank transfer to Slovenia to get one.

Laibach released Spectre, its first album of the decade, earlier this year.

For more information about the NSK State, see its official website and YouTube channel.
 

Laibach’s video for “Drzava” (“The State”)

Posted by Oliver Hall
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09.23.2014
10:21 am
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See Laibach’s almost terrifying final performance with Tomaž Hostnik, 1982
07.23.2014
11:00 am
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Tomaž Hostnik, who was one of Laibach’s first lead singers, gave his final performance with them on December 11, 1982 in Zagreb. Ten days later, he committed what Laibach describes as a “ritual suicide,” hanging himself from a kozolec—an ancient iconic Slovene hayrack, as was depicted on the cover of Laibach’s Rekapitulacija 1980-1984 box set, the group’s first album to obtain release worldwide.

Though laibach.org tells us that “Laibach disapproved of his act of suicide and posthumously expelled Hostnik from the group, returning him to his private identity,” the bloody-but-unbowed image above and Hostnik’s theoretical contributions remain of foundational importance to Laibach and the NSK State, Laibach’s country without territory.

Amok Books’ beautiful, long out-of-print catalog, Neue Slowenische Kunst, reprints several of Hostnik’s writings. In “The Origin of the Source of the New People’s Creativity,” he diagnoses the terminal illness of “so-called contemporary popular production” in a few oracular, Laibachian paragraphs: “the ceremonial and ritual elements are eliminated and automatically transformed into an affiliation to industrial and political life, which is again merely a state of continuous dependence.” Asked by a Slovenian organization called the Music Lovers Club to comment on the New Romantic fad, Hostnik penned “On the Delicateness of New-Romanticism (An instigation to reflection),” which, as promised, offers old answers to old questions. His 1982 poem, “Apologia Laibach,” is counted among the group’s manifestos:

Since when, sons of truth, are you the brothers of night?
What colors your hands with the redness of blood?

The explosion in the night is the flower of woe,
nothing can be justified by it.
The altar cannot be destroyed,
the altar of lies, that multiplies shapes.

The spotless picture, the painless lights,
the only harbors of the terrible night.

We are the children of the spirit and the brothers of strength,
whose promises are not fulfilled.
We are the black ghosts of this world,
we sing the mad image of woe.

The explanation is the whip and you bleed:

Break the mirror of the world for the hundredth time, —
all your efforts are in vain. We have overcome the night:
our debt has been paid
and the light is ours.

This footage of Hostnik’s last performance, first released on Vinyl-on-Demand’s Gesamtkunstwerk box set in 2011, is now available for all the world to see on Laibach’s YouTube. Has an unmanned drum set ever looked so sinister?
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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07.23.2014
11:00 am
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Laibach cover ‘Warm Leatherette’
08.29.2012
09:28 pm
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image
 
Laibach’s upcoming album,  An Introduction to… Laibach: Reproduction Prohibitied, is an all cover versions collection. Numbers include covers of The Beatles’ “Across The Universe” and “Get Back,” Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man and “The Final Countdown” by Europe.

The first video from the album, for the ironic Slovenian totalitarian avant-gardists’ cover of The Normal’s influential 1978 synthpop classic “Warm Leatherette” was directed by artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. The video features appropriately Ballardian found footage of crash test dummies being put through their trials.

An Introduction to… Laibach will be released by Mute on September 3.  Laibach is currently making a series of appearances in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.29.2012
09:28 pm
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