Urban Cowboy (1980)

PG | 131 mins | Drama, Romance | 5 June 1980

Director:

James Bridges

Cinematographer:

Ray Villalobos

Editor:

David Rawlins

Production Designer:

Stephen Grimes

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written in 2012 by independent scholar, Julia Zelman, Master's student at Paris III-La Nouvelle Sorbonne.

End credits include the following written statement: “Paramount Pictures Corporation expresses appreciation to the employees and management of Charter International Oil Company for their advice and assistance in the filming of this motion picture. And special thanks to Gilley’s for its warm Texas hospitality and for the use of its wide open indoor spaces.”
       According to production notes from AMPAS library files, Urban Cowboy originated from a 1978 Esquire article by Aaron Latham titled “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: America's Search for True Grit.” The article celebrated Gilley's, a nightclub in Pasadena, TX, which claimed to be “the biggest honky-tonk in America,” and was “the size of two football fields,” with the capacity to accommodate roughly 8,000 patrons. Latham portrayed the establishment as the haunt of the contemporary Texas cowboy, who most likely worked at a chemical plant instead of a ranch. Latham stated that “the cowboy, the most enduring symbol of our country,” needed to be reinvented, generation after generation, by people of the American West. An 8 Nov 1978 DV news item announced that music industry manager, Irving Azoff, had purchased rights to Latham’s story and would coproduce a feature film adaptation with Robert Evans. Azoff reportedly paid $250,000 to Esquire and Gilley’s owner and musician, Mickey Gilley, for the rights, as stated in the book Risky Business: Rock in Film by R. Serge Denisoff and William D. Romanowski (New ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written in 2012 by independent scholar, Julia Zelman, Master's student at Paris III-La Nouvelle Sorbonne.

End credits include the following written statement: “Paramount Pictures Corporation expresses appreciation to the employees and management of Charter International Oil Company for their advice and assistance in the filming of this motion picture. And special thanks to Gilley’s for its warm Texas hospitality and for the use of its wide open indoor spaces.”
       According to production notes from AMPAS library files, Urban Cowboy originated from a 1978 Esquire article by Aaron Latham titled “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: America's Search for True Grit.” The article celebrated Gilley's, a nightclub in Pasadena, TX, which claimed to be “the biggest honky-tonk in America,” and was “the size of two football fields,” with the capacity to accommodate roughly 8,000 patrons. Latham portrayed the establishment as the haunt of the contemporary Texas cowboy, who most likely worked at a chemical plant instead of a ranch. Latham stated that “the cowboy, the most enduring symbol of our country,” needed to be reinvented, generation after generation, by people of the American West. An 8 Nov 1978 DV news item announced that music industry manager, Irving Azoff, had purchased rights to Latham’s story and would coproduce a feature film adaptation with Robert Evans. Azoff reportedly paid $250,000 to Esquire and Gilley’s owner and musician, Mickey Gilley, for the rights, as stated in the book Risky Business: Rock in Film by R. Serge Denisoff and William D. Romanowski (New Brunswick, 1991).
       Though writer-director Floyd Mutrux had been discussed as a collaborator in an earlier item, DV stated on 8 Nov 1978 that Mutrux was not mentioned in the most recent reports. According to a 7 Nov 1978 DV “Just for Variety” column, writer-director James Bridges was attached to direct and co-write the screenplay with Latham. Bridges stated that the adaptation would be a love story. Azoff already foresaw the release of a soundtrack album and mentioned the potential involvement of artists such as Linda Ronstadt and Willie Nelson. A casting call featured in DV on 26 Dec 1978 invited “real Texans, raunchy guys who look like they'd belong in a barroom fight” to audition. Though a 26 Apr 1979 HR news brief reported that country music star Waylon Jennings (misspelling his name as “Wayland Jennings”) would act in the film, he ultimately did not participate.
       Originally slated to shoot in Jun 1979, the production was delayed three weeks when John Travolta's dog bit his lip, as stated in a 25 Jun 1979 People news brief. According to production notes, Travolta had been practicing daily on a mechanical bull set up in his Santa Barbara, CA, home specifically for his role in the film. Shooting began on location 2 Jul 1979 outside of Houston, TX. Shortly after, a 10 Jul 1979 LAHExam news item reported rumors that Travolta's erratic behavior on set might halt the production, according to some Paramount executives. Travolta was allegedly concerned about his career after the box-office failure of his latest film, Moment by Moment (1978, see entry). Evans denied the rumors, admitting only that the film was over budget because of the late start in shooting. According to a 14 Nov 1979 DV “Just for Variety” column, the film cost $13 million, $2 million more than initially budgeted.
       In mid-Jul 1979, as reported in a 15 Aug 1979 Var brief, illness among the cast and crew brought on by rainy weather further delayed shooting, even causing a shut-down of the entire production for one day. After shooting in a suburb near Deer Park, TX, and the Charter Oil Company refinery, filming moved to Gilley’s in late Jul. Scenes were shot in the daytime when the honky-tonk would normally be closed, and “hundreds of extras” were culled from Gilley’s regular clientele. Some local refinery employees even altered their work schedules or took vacation days in order to participate as background actors. Another weather-related setback came in early Sep 1979 when, according to a 5 Sep 1979 DV news item, torrential rains flooded projection and editing rooms in Houston. The 14 Nov 1979 DV column reported further complications on set after the production had moved to the east side of Los Angeles, CA. There, gang members, rumored to be agitated because female friends were “hanging around watching John Travolta,” shot a gun near the set. A Nov 1979 HR brief reported that the teenagers responsible for the incident “fired some shots into the air” and were later “rounded up” but no arrests had been made. Subsequently, DV reported that the film crew moved the remainder of the shoot to sound stages at a studio.
       The film premiered in Houston with a gala that benefitted local charity, Houston Child Guidance Center, as stated in a 7 Jun 1980 LAT article. Tickets to both the screening at the Gaylynn Theater and after-party at Gilley’s sold for $125, although Gilley’s made 750 party-only passes available for free to regular customers, so real-life Gilley’s patrons could mix with guests including John Travolta, various Paramount executives, and “the cream of Houston society.”
       Critical reception for the film was mixed. A 2 Jun 1980 DV review found it ultimately “tedious,” while a 2 Jun 1980 HR review commended the cast but criticized the film's failure to explore social issues it raised. Both Var and HR , along with Vincent Canby of NYT , agreed that Urban Cowboy captured the unique atmosphere of Gilley's honky-tonk. The film took in over $45 million in box-office receipts between Jun and Oct 1980, according to a 6 Oct 1980 HR brief.
       Ray Villalobos received his first director of photography credit for a feature film on Urban Cowboy , according to production notes.
       An 18 Feb 1981 Var news item announced that the film’s soundtrack, with songs performed by Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, and the Charlie Daniels Band among others, fulfilled Azoff's commercial hopes and was the top-seller for Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Corp., earning $23 million in 1980 and engendering a follow-up album, according to a 22 Nov 1980 Billboard news item. A 12 Nov 1980 Var news item reported that Paramount and Warner filed suit against Big 3 Music, seeking to halt distribution of Big 3’s “’Urban Cowboy Music’ folio,” as Paramount and Warner held “exclusive right[s]…to the title and trademark ‘Urban Cowboy.’” According to a 24 Apr 1981 DV news item and an undated DV brief, music coordinator Becky Shargo and writer Aaron Latham filed against Azoff in separate suits, both for breach of contract, claiming they should have received royalties from the album.
       A 1 Apr 1989 Houston Chronicle article reported that Gilley’s had shut down on 30 Mar 1989, after a longstanding conflict between co-founders Mickey Gilley and Sherwood Cryer over the establishment’s name. Allegedly, problems started between Gilley and Cryer in 1983 when Gilley took issue with Cryer’s management and the rundown state of the honky-tonk. In 1988, Gilley sued Cryer over “club profits” and won $17 million, after which Cryer filed for bankruptcy.
       A Broadway spin-off of the film appeared in 2003 with a book by Latham and Philip Oesterman. A 28 Mar 2003 Var review panned the production, calling it “so much lard” despite lively music and dancing, and predicted its early demise. The Internet Broadway Database reported the show only ran for sixty performances.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Billboard
12 Apr 1980.
---
Billboard
22 Nov 1980.
---
Daily Variety
7 Nov 1978.
---
Daily Variety
8 Nov 1978.
---
Daily Variety
26 Dec 1978.
---
Daily Variety
5 Sep 1979.
---
Daily Variety
14 Nov 1979.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jun 1980.
---
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1981.
---
Daily Variety
28 Mar 2003
p. 2, 35.
Daily Variety
22 Jun 2006.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Nov 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 1980
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 1980.
---
Houston Chronicle
1 Apr 1989
p. 29.
LAHExam
10 Jul 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Jun 1980
p. 5, 8.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jun 1980
p. 1.
New York Times
11 Jun 1980
p. 21.
People
25 Jun 1979.
---
Variety
15 Feb 1979.
---
Variety
14 Nov 1979.
---
Variety
4 Jun 1980
p. 20, 22.
Variety
4 Jun 1980.
---
Variety
12 Nov 1980.
---
Variety
18 Feb 1981.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Also Starring
Also Starring
Introducing
as
Musical appearances:
Addl cast:
Wedding party:
[and]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A James Bridges Film
A Robert Evans/Irving Azoff Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Still photog
Still photog
Key grip
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Const painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Women's ward
Men's ward
Ward asst
MUSIC
Score adpt
Mus coord
Mus ed
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd eff
Sd mixer
Sd crew
Sd crew
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff
Spec eff
Title des
Titles & opticals
DANCE
Choreog
Dance instructor
MAKEUP
John Travolta's make-up
Make-up
John Travolta's hairdresser
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod consultant
Prod consultant
Scr supv
Dialect coach
Personal asst to James Bridges
Exec asst to Robert Evans
Asst to Robert Evans
Asst to Robert Evans
Frontline management
Exec asst to Irving Azoff
Asst to C. O. Erickson
Asst to C. O. Erickson
Personal asst to John Travolta
Exec asst to John Travolta
Exec asst to John Travolta
Asst to Bob LeMond & Lois Zetter
Asst to Bob LeMond & Lois Zetter
Casting, Los Angeles
Casting, Houston
Loc auditor
Loc asst
Loc asst
Spec pub
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
First aid
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the magazine article "The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy" by Aaron Latham in Esquire (1978).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Texas," by Charlie Daniels Band, performed by Charlie Daniels Band, courtesy of CBS Records
"Honky Tonk Wine," by Mack Vickery, performed by Mickey Gilley
"Here Comes the Hurt Again," by Jerry Foster & Bill Rice, performed by Mickey Gilley
+
SONGS
"Texas," by Charlie Daniels Band, performed by Charlie Daniels Band, courtesy of CBS Records
"Honky Tonk Wine," by Mack Vickery, performed by Mickey Gilley
"Here Comes the Hurt Again," by Jerry Foster & Bill Rice, performed by Mickey Gilley
"Rode Hard & Put Up Wet," by Marshall Chapman, performed by Johnny Lee
"Cherokee Fiddle," by Michael Murphy, performed by Johnny Lee
"Lookin for Love," by Wanda Mallette, Patti Ryan & Bob Morrison, performed by Johnny Lee
"Don't It Make You Wanna Dance," by Rusty Wier, performed by Bonnie Raitt
"Lyin' Eyes," by Don Henley & Glen Frey, performed by The "Eagles," courtesy of Asylum Records
"Nine Tonight," by Bob Seger, performed by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
"Could I Have This Dance," by Wayland Holyfield & Bob House, performed by Anne Murray
"The Eyes of Texas," by J. L. Sinclair
"Orange Blossom Special," by Ervin Rouse, performed by "Gilley's 'Urban Cowboy' Band"
"Jukebox Argument," by Gary Nicholson, performed by Mickey Gilley
"All Night Long," written & performed by Joe Walsh
"The Moon Just Turned Blue," written & performed by J. D. Souther, courtesy of CBS Records
"Hearts Against the Wind," by J. D. Souther, performed by J. D. Souther & Linda Ronstadt
"Rockin' My Life Away," by Mack Vickery, performed by Mickey Gilley
"Stand By Me," by Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller & Ben E. King, performed by Mickey Gilley
"Look What You've Done To Me," written & performed by Boz Scaggs
"Falling in Love for the Night," by Charlie Daniels, performed by The Charlie Daniels Band
"Times Like These," written & performed by Dan Fogelberg
"Here You Come Again," by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, performed by "Gilley's 'Urban Cowboy' Band"
"Cotton-Eyed Joe," performed by "Bayou City Beats," arranged by Robert Herridge
"Hello Texas," by Brian Collins & Robby Campbell, performed by Jimmy Buffett
"Love the World Away," by Bob Morrison & Johnny Wilson, performed by Kenny Rogers
"Darlin," by Oscar Stuart Blandamer, performed by Bonnie Raitt
"Mamma's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," by Ed & Patsy Bruce, performed by Mickey Gilley & Johnny Lee
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia," by Charlie Daniels, Tom Crain, Taz DiGregorio, Fred Edwards, Charlie Hayward & Jim Marshall, performed by Charlie Daniels Band, courtesy of CBS Records
"Urban Cowboy Breakdown," includes "Down Yonder" by L. Wolfe Gilbert, arranged & performed by Charlie Daniels Band
"Orange Blossom Special," performed by Charlie Daniels Band.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
5 June 1980
Premiere Information:
Houston opening: 5 June 1980 at the Gaylynn Theatre
Los Angeles and New York openings: 11 June 1980
Production Date:
2 July--6 November 1979
Copyright Claimant:
Cowboy Associates
Copyright Date:
26 September 1980
Copyright Number:
PA85538
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Widescreen/ratio
2.35:1
Lenses
Panavision®
Prints
Color by Movielab®
Duration(in mins):
131
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Bud, a young Texan, leaves his family’s rural home to find a job in the Houston oil refinery where his Uncle Bob works. Celebrating his arrival, Bob takes Bud to a honky-tonk owned by Mickey Gilley. Though shy at first, Bud ends up going home with two women from the bar. With help from his uncle, Bud soon gets a job as a “gofer” at the oil plant, on condition that he shave his beard. That night, Bud arrives clean-shaven at Gilley's and attracts the attention of Sissy, who invites him to dance. The two spend the rest of the evening together, talking and dancing. Some time later, Bud and Sissy, now dating, discover a punching bag Gilley has installed in the honky-tonk. As the men of the bar flock to test their strength, Sissy demands to try and cuts her knuckles on the bag. Afterwards, at a diner, Bud tends to Sissy’s cut hand and tells her there are certain things women shouldn’t do. The two women from Gilley’s that Bud slept with show up at the diner, and Sissy becomes angry when Bud returns their glances. She pinches his arm in irritation, and, in response, he slaps her. Upset, Sissy attempts to hitchhike home, but the couple soon make up. Heading home together, Bud asks Sissy to marry him. On their wedding day, the newlyweds pose for pictures at Gilley’s. Bud later surprises Sissy with a double-wide mobile home and installs a vanity plate with her name in the back window of his truck. One day, at a prison rodeo show, Bud points out a convict to Sissy whose skill at riding the bull impresses ... +


Bud, a young Texan, leaves his family’s rural home to find a job in the Houston oil refinery where his Uncle Bob works. Celebrating his arrival, Bob takes Bud to a honky-tonk owned by Mickey Gilley. Though shy at first, Bud ends up going home with two women from the bar. With help from his uncle, Bud soon gets a job as a “gofer” at the oil plant, on condition that he shave his beard. That night, Bud arrives clean-shaven at Gilley's and attracts the attention of Sissy, who invites him to dance. The two spend the rest of the evening together, talking and dancing. Some time later, Bud and Sissy, now dating, discover a punching bag Gilley has installed in the honky-tonk. As the men of the bar flock to test their strength, Sissy demands to try and cuts her knuckles on the bag. Afterwards, at a diner, Bud tends to Sissy’s cut hand and tells her there are certain things women shouldn’t do. The two women from Gilley’s that Bud slept with show up at the diner, and Sissy becomes angry when Bud returns their glances. She pinches his arm in irritation, and, in response, he slaps her. Upset, Sissy attempts to hitchhike home, but the couple soon make up. Heading home together, Bud asks Sissy to marry him. On their wedding day, the newlyweds pose for pictures at Gilley’s. Bud later surprises Sissy with a double-wide mobile home and installs a vanity plate with her name in the back window of his truck. One day, at a prison rodeo show, Bud points out a convict to Sissy whose skill at riding the bull impresses him. Soon after, Gilley adds a mechanical bull to the attractions at his honky-tonk. Bud tries the bull first, and his visible knack enchants Sissy. When she expresses an interest in riding the bull herself, Bud rejects the idea. The following night, Bud returns to Gilley’s to ride the bull; meanwhile, Sissy grows frustrated at his refusal to let her try. One day, Wes, the convict who impressed Bud at the rodeo, appears at Gilley's. Not recognizing him, Bud dislikes Wes after watching him expertly ride the bull with the settings turned up. After Sissy congratulates Wes, Bud drags her to the dance floor. Later, at a diner, Sissy confides to friends that she plans to secretly practice on the bull during the afternoon. Bud returns to the table, drunk, and notices Wes tip his hat at Sissy from across the room. Bud complains about his food when it arrives and throws it, hitting Wes in the back. Angered, the convict fights Bud in the parking lot. The next morning, Bud snaps at Sissy when she offers him coffee, demanding a beer instead. Later, Sissy shows up at her father’s auto repair shop where she works and asks to leave early. That afternoon, Sissy goes to Gilley’s and finds that Wes has been hired to mind the bull. Sissy eagerly takes direction from Wes as she mounts the bull for the first time. Meanwhile, Bud misses his footing on a scaffold at work and nearly falls to his death. When Sissy comes home late, Bud tells her he almost died and snaps at her for not having prepared dinner. They make up, however, and head to Gilley’s to relax. At the honky-tonk, Sissy rides the mechanical bull, surprising Bud with her new skill. Reacting angrily, Bud turns up the power on the bull, rides it, and challenges Sissy to get back on. Sissy does so and performs well. Unwilling to admit defeat, Bud turns the power up even more but falls off after a short ride. As Bud staggers to his feet, Wes switches the bull back on, causing it to smash into Bud and break his arm. Limping home, Bud accuses Sissy of lying about her whereabouts that afternoon and forbids her riding the bull. She counters that he's just jealous. Enraged, Bud hits her and throws her out of the house. The following day, Bud loses his job due to his broken arm and returns home to drink beer. Looking through old pictures, he finds a brochure from the prison rodeo and recognizes Wes as one of the convicts. That night, Bud finds Sissy at Gilley’s and tells her about Wes; however, Sissy already knows, informing Bud that Wes is now on parole. Piqued, Bud dances with a young woman named Pam. In turn, Wes invites Sissy to the dance floor. Goaded by each other's efforts, Bud and Sissy dance ever more seductively with their partners. Bud eventually leaves with Pam, causing Sissy to throw a bottle at them. On their way out, Bud informs Pam that Sissy is his wife. Later, at her beautiful downtown apartment, Pam seduces Bud. At the same time, Sissy drinks tequila with Wes in his mobile home but refuses to spend the night. The next day, Sissy wakes up on the couch as Bud arrives home. The two share a silent look before Sissy moves out and heads to Wes's mobile home. Bud removes Sissy’s vanity plate from his truck. Later, Bud takes Pam to Uncle Bob's house for pie. There, Bob confesses that he was once a great bull-rider but had to stop after a terrible accident. Bob and his wife, Aunt Corene, take the younger couple to Gilley's where Corene participates in a Dolly Parton lookalike contest. At the bar, Gilley announces a forthcoming dance, mechanical bull and punching bag contest. Bud’s mood sours when Sissy gets on the bull, dancing atop it suggestively to bawdy cheers. After Bob informs Bud that he knows of a mechanical bull he can practice on, Bud decides to train for the contest. One day, when Bud is out, Sissy secretly visits the mobile home and cleans it thoroughly, leaving a letter in which she apologizes and asks him to call. When Pam shows up at the mobile home, Sissy leaves. Later, Pam hides Sissy's letter from Bud and takes credit for the cleaning. He is delighted with his new girlfriend's apparent domesticity. One day, Bud notices Sissy on the side of the road and waves. Angered by his lack of response to her heartfelt overture, she gives him the finger. Returning to Wes's mobile home, Sissy finds he has hidden Marshalene, a Gilley’s employee, in the closet. Sissy and Wes argue, and he physically abuses her. Exasperated with Bud's long hours at work and bull-riding, Pam purposely neglects to wake Bud up in time to watch the bull at Gilley’s before he goes to the plant. At work, Bud confides his dissatisfaction with the relationship with Pam to Bob, who advises him to swallow his pride and return to Sissy. Shortly after, lightning strikes the plant and Bob dies before his nephew's eyes. At Bob's funeral, Sissy arrives late, upset that Bud didn’t tell her about his uncle’s death. Sissy announces that Wes is planning to win the bull-riding contest that night so that they can start a new life in Mexico with the prize money. When Sissy asks if Bud will be there, he tells her no. Outside her house after the funeral, Aunt Corene gives Bud her husband’s old cowboy belt buckle, urging him to carry on Bob’s legacy by riding in the contest. That night, Bud appears at Gilley’s, wearing the belt buckle, and competes in the bull-riding contest. After Wes performs superbly in the first round, earning eighty-one points from the judges, Bud follows him up with another good turn, qualifying for the final round with seventy-nine points. Bud and Sissy glance at each other through the crowd. After the final round, despite Wes's lead, Bud emerges the winner. Wes pushes Sissy back to his mobile home and tells her to pack. When she says she will not go with him, he hits her. Wes secretly loads a gun while Sissy obediently packs. They drive through the Gilley’s parking lot, and, stopping outside the building, Wes orders Sissy to keep the motor running. As Gilley congratulates the winners onstage, Wes pushes into the office with his gun, ties up the staff and stuffs the prize money into his jacket. Meanwhile, Bud expresses disappointment that Sissy isn’t there to see him win, and Pam realizes that he is still in love with his estranged wife. Pam confesses to hiding Sissy's conciliatory visit and encourages Bud to return to her. Running to find Sissy, Bud catches up with her in the parking lot as she waits in Wes's getaway car. Bud apologizes and confesses his love. Bursting into tears, she falls into his arms. When she pulls back, Bud notices a large bruise on her face and swears to kill Wes. Rushing into the club, Bud stops Wes before he can escape and beats him. The stolen money falls out of Wes' jacket and the club patrons seize the bloodied convict. Though a friend offers Bud a drink, he refuses. His arm around Sissy, he takes her to the pickup truck where he re-installs her vanity plate in the rear window. The reunited couple kisses. +

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