The Fisher King (1991)

R | 137 mins | Comedy-drama, Fantasy | 20 September 1991

Director:

Terry Gilliam

Producers:

Debra Hill, Lynda Obst

Cinematographer:

Roger Pratt

Editor:

Lesley Walker

Production Designer:

Mel Bourne

Production Company:

Tri-Star Pictures
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HISTORY

       In a 23 Sep 1990 HR article, first-time feature film writer Richard LaGravenese stated that the The Fisher King story was conceived in 1985, when he observed two men walking together. While one was young and handsome, his partner appeared “mentally retarded,” but the men seemed to share a profound bond. LaGravenese intended to write the script about a “nihilistic kind of character and the other sort of an idiot savant who has a thing with numbers and the other one uses him (in) a casino.” However, a film version of the same story, Rain Man (1988, see entry), written by Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow, preceded the completion of LaGravenese’s script. LaGravenese remained eager to continue writing about the two male characters, “Parry” and “Jack,” and wanted to make a statement about society’s “peak of narcissism, especially in New York.” As he persevered, LaGravenese came across the 1989 book He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson, which used the “Fisher King” myth to understand male psychology. LaGravesese reportedly worked on two “completely different scripts” with the same characters over several years, sometimes putting them aside for six months or throwing them away to begin again. However, the two main characters remained consistent throughout.
       On 10 Apr 1990, DV announced that producers Debra Hill and Linda Obst, who had recently dissolved their partnership, would reunite to produce The Fisher King. According to a 4 Sep 1991 HR article, ICM talent agent Steve Rabineau brought the script to Hill and Obst nearly three years earlier, when Hill/Obst ... More Less

       In a 23 Sep 1990 HR article, first-time feature film writer Richard LaGravenese stated that the The Fisher King story was conceived in 1985, when he observed two men walking together. While one was young and handsome, his partner appeared “mentally retarded,” but the men seemed to share a profound bond. LaGravenese intended to write the script about a “nihilistic kind of character and the other sort of an idiot savant who has a thing with numbers and the other one uses him (in) a casino.” However, a film version of the same story, Rain Man (1988, see entry), written by Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow, preceded the completion of LaGravenese’s script. LaGravenese remained eager to continue writing about the two male characters, “Parry” and “Jack,” and wanted to make a statement about society’s “peak of narcissism, especially in New York.” As he persevered, LaGravenese came across the 1989 book He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson, which used the “Fisher King” myth to understand male psychology. LaGravesese reportedly worked on two “completely different scripts” with the same characters over several years, sometimes putting them aside for six months or throwing them away to begin again. However, the two main characters remained consistent throughout.
       On 10 Apr 1990, DV announced that producers Debra Hill and Linda Obst, who had recently dissolved their partnership, would reunite to produce The Fisher King. According to a 4 Sep 1991 HR article, ICM talent agent Steve Rabineau brought the script to Hill and Obst nearly three years earlier, when Hill/Obst Productions had an exclusive deal with Walt Disney Studios. The partners convinced Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg to acquire the property, and developed a draft during the years 1988-1989. However, Disney ultimately shelved the project because it was considered “too dark,” as stated in a 29 Sep 1991 LAT article.
       Meanwhile, Tri-Star Pictures executive Steve Randall was tracking the development of The Fisher King at Disney and “pre-empted it off the market” by purchasing the rights before other studios had a chance to make their own bids. Although Hill and Obst had already disbanded, with Obst at Columbia and Hill remaining at Disney, the partners worked together on the project over the next year. The Fisher King marked the first time a Tri-Star picture was produced through the Columbia-Culver City, CA, Studios.
       According to HR, director Terry Gilliam was first suggested by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) agent Mike Marcus. A 24 Jun 1990 LAT article stated that Gilliam was initially rejected by the studios because his work to date had been associated with grandiose, over-budget productions, such as his latest release, the British film The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (1988). At one point, The Fisher King was “promised” to director James Cameron, and Katzenberg gave the script to Steven Spielberg and James L. Brooks in the hope that they would take on the project. In addition, Billy Crystal was considered as a co-star to Robin Williams. However, Hill and Obst believed that Gilliam’s penchant for fantasy would elevate the material, balancing its comedic qualities with its dramatic allegory.
       The 24 Jun 1990 LAT pointed to coincidental similarities between LaGravenese’s script and common themes in Gilliam’s work, including fanatical protagonists who want to convince others of their sensibilities, unrequited romances, the “Red Knight” fiendish creature that terrorizes its beholders, and the concept of hero-like figures that seclude themselves from society, then accept responsibility for their actions “by committing selfless acts.” LaGravenese was reportedly allowed unusual access to the filmmakers during production, as Gilliam aimed to be “terribly responsible and loyal to the script.” Gilliam also asked LaGravenese to restore all of the story elements that were removed at Disney, including “odd, weird stuff” that offset the film’s sentimentality.
       As stated in the 10 Apr 1990 DV, principal photography for the approximately $20 million picture was scheduled to begin 31 May 1990 in New York City, with plans to move to Los Angeles, CA, mid-Jun 1990 to complete the eleven-week shoot. However, HR production charts on 14 Aug 1990 reported that filming began ten days ahead of schedule, on 21 May 1990. LAT noted that the first three weeks in New York City were disrupted by bad weather, environmental intrusions such as police sirens, and the complaints of an Upper West Side resident, who provoked the incursion of fire engines after telephoning 911 to report a fire. In addition, Gilliam’s request for the Sanitation Department to leave existing refuse at a location on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive was ignored, and the filmmakers were forced to bring in a truckload of “trash and cars and refrigerators” at great expense, according to studio production notes in AMPAS library files.
       Describing Gilliam’s directorial methods, Debra Hill told LAT that he insisted on shooting exteriors first. However, Robin Williams’ prior commitment to Awakenings (1990, see entry) required the producers to schedule interior filming before moving to locations, and Gilliam was initially denied his request to start principal photography in New York City. Plans changed in Gilliam’s favor when the production of Awakenings went over schedule, prompting a delay of Williams’ start date for The Fisher King. Therefore, interior filming on The Fisher King at the Columbia-Culver City back lot was pushed to late Jun 1990, after the New York City sequences were completed.
       According to production notes, New York City locations included the Armory at 94th Street and Madison Avenue, which was used to depict the 5th Avenue townhouse owned by “Landon Carmichael,” where Jack seeks the Holy Grail. The building was outfitted with gargoyles and stained glass windows, as well as an entryway and “double staircase” that were constructed in CA and shipped to New York City on a flatbed truck, as stated in LAT. Traffic on 5th Avenue, the intended location of the Carmichael fortress, moved in the opposite direction of traffic on Madison Avenue, so Gilliam reversed the flow of vehicles in the Madison Avenue lanes to accurately depict 5th Avenue. Production designer Mel Bourne performed the uncredited role of Landon Carmichael.
       The scene in which commuters dance the waltz around the lobby of Grand Central Station was not in the original script, but rather envisioned by Gilliam while scouting the location. Gilliam reported in production notes that it was the only sequence he could “claim total credit for.” The filmmakers were permitted to use the Grand Central lobby from 11 p.m. to 6:10 a.m. for two days, and were required to finish before the arrival of the 6:10 a.m. commuter train. Gilliam claimed that some of the shots were made as the train pulled into the station. The scene included over 1,000 background actors.
       The “Red Knight” armor costume was fabricated with foam latex by Keith Greco and Vincent Jeffereds at R & R Design in Los Angeles. Production notes stated that stunt coordinator Chris Howell performed the role with a fire-shooting, sixteen-pound flame-thrower attached to his helmet. Creative special effects consultant Robert E. McCarthy constructed the flame-thrower using compressed air and gas. The Knight scenes were shot with two Percheron gelding circus horses named “Lightning” and “Goliath,” that were trained and owned by Southern Californian James Zoppe. Animal colorist Douglas J. White painted the white horses with “non-toxic, vegetable-based, hypo-allergenic paints applied to a natural henna base,” according to production notes.
       On 20 Aug 1990, HR announced the end of principal photography. Six months later, the 8 Mar 1991 HR stated that Tri-Star decided to delay the scheduled 10 May 1991 opening to 27 Sep 1991. As noted in a 4 Sep 1991 HR article, the picture was first screened with “exclusive runs” starting 20 Sep 1991 in Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, MA, Washington, D.C., Chicago, IL, and Toronto, Canada. Industry insiders speculated the change in release date reflected the studio’s desire to position the film for Academy Award contention. An 11 Mar 1991 Var news item added that Gilliam was pleased with the new opening date, as he was still editing in London, England, at that time. Although Var stated that the film’s final budget was between $30--$40 million, the 29 Sep 1991 LAT reported that Gilliam completed the picture on budget, at $25 million.
       According to a 26 Sep 1991 HR article, the film grossed $500,000 in the first week of its exclusive engagement, on ten screens.
       The Fisher King was nominated for four Academy Awards in the following categories: Actor in a Leading Role (Robin Williams), Art Direction, Music (Original Score), and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). It won an Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes Ruehl).

      End credits include “Special thanks to”: “The Arthur Company, Caballero Home Video, Major Soccer League, Members Only, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Miele Appliances, Inc., New York Post, Radio & Records, KFI Radio, KQLZ Pirate Radio.” Other acknowledgements state: “Billboard Magazine appears courtesy of BPI Communications, Inc.,” and, “Tape material from ‘Jeopardy!’ courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 Apr 1990
p. 1, 18.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Sep 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Mar 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 1991
p. 9, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Sep 1991.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1990
Calendar, p. 5, 26, 28.
Los Angeles Times
20 Sep 1991
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
29 Sep 1991
pp. 25-26.
New York Times
20 Sep 1991
p. 10.
Variety
11 Mar 1991.
---
Variety
16 Sep 1991
pp. 89-90.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Hill/Obst Production
A Terry Gilliam Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Asst unit prod mgr, New York unit
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir, New York unit
PRODUCERS
Prod
Prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam, New York unit
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam, New York unit
Video assist op
Video assist op, New York unit
Chief lighting tech
Chief lighting tech, New York unit
Lighting tech
Lighting tech
Rigging gaffer
Rigging gaffer, New York unit
Elec best boy
Best boy
Key grip
Key grip, New York unit
2d grip, New York unit
Dolly grip
Grip, New York unit
Grip, New York unit
Still photog
Still photog
Musco light tech
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dept asst
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Asst film ed, U.S.A.
Asst film ed, U.S.A.
2d asst film ed
Apprentice film ed, U.S.A.
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec, New York unit
Set dec, New York unit
Set des
Set des
Model consultants
Leadman
Leadman
Prop master
Prop master, New York unit
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master, New York unit
Const coord
Const coord, New York unit
Const foreman
Labor foreman
Paint foreman
Paint foreman
Propmaker foreman
Chargeman scenic artist, New York unit
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Asst to cost supv
Cost, New York unit
Red knight cost des by
Red knight cost des by
Ward asst
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus consultant
Addl orch
Synth programming
Mus scoring mixer
Mus scoring mixer
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Asst sd ed
Dial ed
Asst dial ed
Foley ed
Asst foley ed
Sd mixer
Sd mixer, New York unit
Boom op
Boom op, New York unit
Cableman, New York unit
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Creative spec eff consultant
Spec eff supv
Spec eff supv, New York unit
Spec eff
Title des
Opticals & visual eff by
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Key make-up artist
Make-up artist, New York unit
Key hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting asst
Extras casting, New York unit
Scr supv
Post prod supv
Loc mgr
Loc mgr, New York unit
Addl loc mgr, New York unit
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr, New York unit
Asst loc mgr, New York unit
Spec projects
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation capt, New York unit
Prod coord
Prod office coord, New York unit
Prod secy
Prod secy, New York unit
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Asst prod accountant, New York unit
Asst prod accountant, New York unit
Asst to Robin Williams
Asst to Debra Hill
Asst to Lynda Obst
Asst to Terry Gilliam
Asst to Anthony Mark
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
Prod asst, New York unit
DGA trainee
DGA trainee, New York unit
DJ consultant
News report supv
Horses owned & trained by
Animal colorist
Artwork donated by
Artwork donated by
Post prod facilities
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
SONGS
"How About You," written by Ralph Freed & Burton Lane, produced by Ray Cooper and George Fenton, whistled & sung by Harry Nilsson
"Chill Out Jack," written by Cave Samrai, Richard Williams, Peter Harvey & Jonny Templeton, performed by Trip, courtesy of MCA Records
"Hit The Road Jack," written by Percy Mayfield, performed by Ray Charles, courtesy of Ray Charles Enterprises, Inc.
+
SONGS
"How About You," written by Ralph Freed & Burton Lane, produced by Ray Cooper and George Fenton, whistled & sung by Harry Nilsson
"Chill Out Jack," written by Cave Samrai, Richard Williams, Peter Harvey & Jonny Templeton, performed by Trip, courtesy of MCA Records
"Hit The Road Jack," written by Percy Mayfield, performed by Ray Charles, courtesy of Ray Charles Enterprises, Inc.
"I Wish I Knew," written by Harry Warren & Mack Gordon, performed by John Coltrane, courtesy of MCA Records
"I'm Sorry," written by Ronnie Self & Dub Allbritten, performed by Brenda Lee, courtesy of MCA Records
"Lydia The Tattooed Lady," written by E. Y. Harburg & Harold Arlen
"The Power," written by Benito Benitez, John Garrett III, Toni C., Robert Frazier & Mark James, performed by Chill Rob G, remixed by Kevin Lane, courtesy of Wild Pitch Records, Ltd.
"Rose's Turn," written by Stephen Sondheim & Jule Styne
"Some People," written by Stephen Sondheim & Jule Styne
"You're Having My Baby," written by Paul Anka.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 September 1991
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 20 September 1991
New York opening: week of 20 September 1991
Production Date:
21 May -- late-August 1990 in New York City and Los Angeles, California
Copyright Claimant:
ORIX Film Enterprises Number 4
Copyright Date:
24 October 1991
Copyright Number:
PA539285
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® cameara by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
137
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30769
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, a brash radio talk show host named Jack Lucas insults his early-morning callers, including Edwin Malnick, who reports meeting a girl at a bar for young urban professionals called “Babbitt’s.” Jack sarcastically declares that “yuppies” are evil and should be eradicated. Sometime later, Jack Lucas turns on a row of television sets in his extravagant townhouse to learn that his caller, Edwin, had returned to Babbitt’s with a shotgun and killed seven people before committing suicide. News reporters connect the massacre to Jack’s radio comments. Three years later, Jack is an alcoholic clerk at a video store called “Video Spot!.” Anne, the store’s owner, supports Jack and remains his loyal girl friend, despite his temper and narcissism. One night, Jack stumbles drunkenly through the city intoxicated. A little boy takes him for a homeless person and gives him a wooden Pinocchio toy as a charitable gift. Jack ties the doll to his ankle, along with cement bricks, and stands at the edge of the Hudson River to commit suicide. Just then, two men beat Jack to avenge the influx of homeless people in the neighborhood. However, a stranger named Parry, clad in medieval-looking garb and speaking a loose version of Old English, shoots a suction cup-tipped arrow into one the boys’ crotches. They are then confronted by a group of Parry’s homeless friends, who sing the tune from Babes on Broadway “How About You.” When Parry restrains one of the men with duct tape, the other escapes. Parry realizes ... +


In New York City, a brash radio talk show host named Jack Lucas insults his early-morning callers, including Edwin Malnick, who reports meeting a girl at a bar for young urban professionals called “Babbitt’s.” Jack sarcastically declares that “yuppies” are evil and should be eradicated. Sometime later, Jack Lucas turns on a row of television sets in his extravagant townhouse to learn that his caller, Edwin, had returned to Babbitt’s with a shotgun and killed seven people before committing suicide. News reporters connect the massacre to Jack’s radio comments. Three years later, Jack is an alcoholic clerk at a video store called “Video Spot!.” Anne, the store’s owner, supports Jack and remains his loyal girl friend, despite his temper and narcissism. One night, Jack stumbles drunkenly through the city intoxicated. A little boy takes him for a homeless person and gives him a wooden Pinocchio toy as a charitable gift. Jack ties the doll to his ankle, along with cement bricks, and stands at the edge of the Hudson River to commit suicide. Just then, two men beat Jack to avenge the influx of homeless people in the neighborhood. However, a stranger named Parry, clad in medieval-looking garb and speaking a loose version of Old English, shoots a suction cup-tipped arrow into one the boys’ crotches. They are then confronted by a group of Parry’s homeless friends, who sing the tune from Babes on Broadway “How About You.” When Parry restrains one of the men with duct tape, the other escapes. Parry realizes Jack is on a suicide mission and takes him to an enclave of homeless people, where Jack loses consciousness. The next day, he comes to in Parry’s boiler room dwelling. There, Parry speaks to imaginary “little people” who tell him Jack is “the one.” Parry explains he is a knight on a quest is to retrieve God’s pilfered Holy Grail. Parry learned of his calling one year earlier, when the “little people” first appeared to him during a bowel movement. When Parry asked for proof of his mission, the “little people” directed him to page thirty-three of the February 1988 edition of Progressive Architecture. Parry shows Jack the article, which features the New York City castle home of millionaire Landon Carmichael. He points to a photograph of the tycoon and identifies a silver, chalice-shaped trophy on his bookshelf as the Holy Grail. Although Parry has located the Grail, his quest has been thwarted by a demonic “Red Knight.” He believes Jack was sent by God to help carry out the quest. Presuming Parry is insane, Jack leaves, but gives him the Pinocchio toy as a parting gift. On his way out, Jack learns from the building’s superintendent that Parry and his wife, former tenants, were at the Babbitt’s massacre, and Parry’s wife was murdered. Back at Video Spot!, Anne demands an explanation for Jack’s disappearance and suspects he is having an affair. She is desperate for Jack to reciprocate her affection, and although he remains distant, they make love. Sometime later, Jack returns to Parry’s boiler room, finds him missing, and is startled by the superintendent, who reveals Parry’s confiscated belongings, including a Columbia University diploma that identifies Parry as Henry Sagan, a college professor. Jack finds a manuscript by Parry titled The Fisher King: A Mythic Journey for Modern Man. The following day, Jack finds Parry performing his daily routine, trailing an awkward office clerk named Lydia with whom he is besotted. Jack gives Parry $70, but Parry shuns the cash and reiterates his wish for Jack to reclaim the Holy Grail. When Jack reminds his friend of his true identity, Parry envisions the terrifying Red Knight. However, he believes the demon is afraid of Jack, and chases the knight through Central Park. Following behind, Jack finds his friend suddenly relieved of anxiety and they come to the aid of an effeminate homeless cabaret singer, who is half buried in dirt. Sometime later, Parry pursues Lydia at Grand Central Station and imagines the crowd of commuters pairing up to dance a waltz. Returning to Central Park, Parry lies naked in a field and tells Jack the story of The Fisher King: A prince pursues the Holy Grail to prove his manhood and has a vision of the chalice surrounded by fire. Although he hears a voice warning that the Grail manifests healing, not power, the boy is blinded by desire for supremacy and burns his hand as he grasps the disappearing chalice. Despite losing the Grail, the prince becomes king, and the burn wound worsens over the years. He loses faith in love, and begins to die. One day, the king is visited by a fool and begs the commoner to quench his thirst. When the fool presents a cup of water, the king is cured and realizes the liquid is contained in the Holy Grail. Astonished that a simpleton discovered the coveted artifact, the king asks how it was retrieved. The fool replies that he had no awareness of the cup being the Grail. He only knew the king was thirsty. Finishing the story, Parry begins to recall his past life, and is terrified by another vision of the Red Knight. Once again, Jack unwittingly abates the demon and encourages Parry to ask Lydia for a date. When Parry wavers, Jack tracks down Lydia’s phone number and calls to announce her prize membership at Video Spot!. Lydia fails to respond, so Jack recruits the homeless cabaret singer to serenade her at work. When she finally shows up at the store, Jack disguises Parry as a clerk, and Lydia later returns to have her nails painted by Anne. With Anne’s prompting, Lydia agrees to dine with Parry and the two couples go to a Chinese restaurant, with Parry dressed in Jack’s oversized suit. As Parry walks Lydia home and declares his love, he remembers the Babbitt’s shooting and is chased to the edge of the Hudson River by the Red Knight. There, the delinquents who attacked Jack take revenge on Parry with baseball bats. Back at Anne’s apartment, Jack is unaware of the assault and feels vindicated for uniting Parry and Lydia. After arranging to return to work, Jack tells Anne he is unable to return her love and wants a separation. Just then, the telephone rings with news that Parry is near death in the hospital. The beating induced catatonia, and the doctor is not confident Perry will recover. Sometime later, Jack regains his celebrity. When offered a television series role that parodies homelessness, Jack returns to Parry’s boiler room, recovers the Pinocchio toy, and visits his friend at a sanitarium. Despite his better judgment, Jack decides to fulfill his friend’s quest. Dressed in Parry’s clothes, Jack breaks into the Carmichael castle and steals the trophy. As he flees, he discovers the millionaire unconscious from an overdose of pills with alcohol. In his escape, Jack sets off the castle’s alarm alerting the police to Carmichael’s predicament. Back at the sanitarium, Jack gives the Grail to his comatose companion. As Jack rests his head, Parry awakens, recalls a dream in which he was married, and wonders if he can now safely grieve for his wife. The next morning, Lydia visits Parry, only to discover an empty bed with the Pinocchio toy. Fearing the worst, she is relieved to hear Parry leading fellow patients in a chorus of “How About You.” Sometime later, Jack returns to Video Spot! with a red rose for Anne and finally declares his love. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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