Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

R | 104 mins | Comedy | 29 March 1985

Director:

Susan Seidelman

Writer:

Leora Barish

Cinematographer:

Edward Lachman

Production Designer:

Santo Loquasto
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HISTORY

The film is inconsistent in its naming of the “Wayne Nolan” character. In the televised news segment watched by “Susan” in the second half of the film, the character is called “Richard Nolan” instead of Wayne.
       The end credits conclude with a "thanks” section given to: Excerpt from ‘Rebecca’ courtesy ABC Video Enterprises, Inc.; Julia Child; Iris Chacon and Chacon, Inc.; Rebo Video; Nubest & Co.; Scott B and Beth B; Danceteria; Linda Lichter; Lynn Geller; Julie Kirkham; The New York City Mayor’s Office for Film; Theatre and Broadcasting; The New York State Office of Motion Picture and Television Development; The New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission.”      
       The screenplay for Desperately Seeking Susan represented screenwriter Leora Barish’s first attempt at writing a script solo. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the film was inspired by Jacques Rivette’s 1974 French film Celine et Julie vont en bateau, and the character of “Roberta Glass” was based on a combination of producer Sarah Pillsbury, who was a friend of Barish, and Barish herself, who enjoyed reading the personal ads. Although other producers were interested in the script, it was ultimately optioned by Sarah Pillsbury and her producing partner, Midge Sanford, who chose Desperately Seeking Susan to be the first project of their newly formed Sanford/Pillsbury Productions. About a year later, Pillsbury and Sanford brought Susan Seidelman on board to direct, having been impressed by the success of her first film, Smithereens (1982, see entry), which was made for a budget of only $80,000.
       According to an article in the 30 Nov 1984 edition of Back Stage, ... More Less

The film is inconsistent in its naming of the “Wayne Nolan” character. In the televised news segment watched by “Susan” in the second half of the film, the character is called “Richard Nolan” instead of Wayne.
       The end credits conclude with a "thanks” section given to: Excerpt from ‘Rebecca’ courtesy ABC Video Enterprises, Inc.; Julia Child; Iris Chacon and Chacon, Inc.; Rebo Video; Nubest & Co.; Scott B and Beth B; Danceteria; Linda Lichter; Lynn Geller; Julie Kirkham; The New York City Mayor’s Office for Film; Theatre and Broadcasting; The New York State Office of Motion Picture and Television Development; The New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission.”      
       The screenplay for Desperately Seeking Susan represented screenwriter Leora Barish’s first attempt at writing a script solo. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the film was inspired by Jacques Rivette’s 1974 French film Celine et Julie vont en bateau, and the character of “Roberta Glass” was based on a combination of producer Sarah Pillsbury, who was a friend of Barish, and Barish herself, who enjoyed reading the personal ads. Although other producers were interested in the script, it was ultimately optioned by Sarah Pillsbury and her producing partner, Midge Sanford, who chose Desperately Seeking Susan to be the first project of their newly formed Sanford/Pillsbury Productions. About a year later, Pillsbury and Sanford brought Susan Seidelman on board to direct, having been impressed by the success of her first film, Smithereens (1982, see entry), which was made for a budget of only $80,000.
       According to an article in the 30 Nov 1984 edition of Back Stage, Warner Bros. initially signed on to provide studio support for the film, but, after funding the development of the script, backed out and put the film in turnaround. Orion Pictures then stepped in, investing more time and money into the screenplay so that it “incorporat[ed] more romance, more jeopardy and more visual elements,” as stated in a 2 Apr 1985 LAT article. Rewrites and changes to the script were still being made when production began, according to Back Stage.
       Desperately Seeking Susan represented Seidelman’s first experience working with a professional union crew and studio backing. Beginning 10 Sep 1984, the film was shot over a period of nine weeks in the New York City area, and was Orion’s “eighth production of 1984,” as stated in a 4 Sep 1984 HR news item. A 30 Sep 1984 LAT brief reported that the budget was $4.5 million.
       According to Back Stage, Rosanna Arquette was cast to play Roberta Glass, even though the character was initially conceived as being in her thirties and played by a famous actress; as stated in the 2 Apr 1985 LAT. Early considerations for the role included Cher, Goldie Hawn , and Diane Keaton. Arquette, however, was deemed a “rising star” by Pillsbury and chosen due to her “incredible range,” “sex appeal” and “great comic timing.” Madonna, an up-and-coming singer whose self-titled debut album was released in Jul 1983, was cast as the eccentric "Susan" in her first major feature film role. It was during the making of Desperately Seeking Susan that Madonna’s second album, Like a Virgin, went triple platinum, skyrocketing her to music superstardom. As a result, Desperately Seeking Susan came to be known as “The Madonna Movie,” and on the first day of filming, Arquette was approached for an autograph by a police officer who mistook her for Madonna, according to a NYT article from 14 Apr 1985. This reversal of power between the star and the supporting actress created tension on the set, and Arquette admitted in an interview “that she wouldn’t have made the film if she had foreseen Madonna’s meteoric rise and [resulting] truncated shooting schedule,” implemented so that Orion could take advantage of Madonna’s newfound fame.
       It was important to Seidelman to incorporate the “colorful and diverse terrain of the New York area” into the film, according to the production notes. The director created two disparate worlds for Roberta and Susan, with Roberta’s suburban New Jersey surroundings cast in “soft pastel tones,” and Susan’s gritty Manhattan environment “in saturated primary colors” to convey mystery and magic. As noted in the 30 Nov 1984 Back Stage, production designer Santo Loquasto worked to give the portion of the film in which Roberta enters Susan’s world a fantasy-like quality, as Seidelman wanted Roberta’s arrival in New York City to represent “the beginning of the trip down the rabbit hole,” referring to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (London, 1865). Exterior shots of Manhattan showed alleyways and backstreets in SoHo and the East Village, with locations on St. Marks Place, Avenue C, and Great Jones Alley. The nightclub scenes where “Gary Glass” and Susan meet for the first time were shot at the New York nightclub Danceteria, and the set for The Magic Club was built in the Audubon Ballroom, located on 166th and Broadway. The Glass home was the result of a careful blending of two distinct locations: a house in Tenafly, New Jersey, and a condo in Bayside, Queens. According to DVD commentary by the filmmakers, multiple endings to Desperately Seeking Susan were shot.
       A Screen International item from 16 Mar 1985 reported that Desperately Seeking Susan initially received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); however, after a successful appeal by Orion, the Classification and Rating Appeals Board changed the rating to PG-13.
       Orion released Desperately Seeking Susan on 29 March 1985. According to a 17 Apr 1985 article in Var , the film “opened at 263 screens nationally and received 11 favorable reviews from New York Critics.” Orion initially invested $1.9 million in marketing the film. On 5 Apr 1985, the distributor extended the release to roughly three hundred screens around the country, and on Friday, 12 Apr 1985, “to some 700 screens backed with an additional $2.5 million in advertising coin.” In addition to the more standard means of marketing the film, Orion took advantage of Madonna’s appeal to teenage audiences by “prepar[ing] an ‘Into The Groove’ videoclip with scenes from the [film] [that received] generous play on MTV”; “Into The Groove” played in the background at the nightclub scene wherein Gary and Susan meet for the first time.
       The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. A review by Kirk Ellis in the 25 Mar 1985 edition of the HR praised the cast, particularly Arquette who, according to Ellis, “lends the movie its gentle, almost winsome center.” As for Madonna, Ellis remarked that she essentially played herself, however in this context that approach worked well, and said that Seidelman allowed all of the supporting actors to “shine.” Ellis did remark that the first half of the film was slow, writing that “it’s not until Arquette is suddenly stricken with amnesia that the picture finds its true identity,” but that “an attractive, energetic young cast and some witty off-center visual humor make the resultant laughs more than worth the wait.” In his 29 Mar 1985 review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert also praised Arquette and Madonna’s performances, but felt the plot was “the weakest part of the movie,” stating, “it’s so unpredictable that, in a way, it’s predictable.”
       Rosanna Arquette won “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.
       Desperately Seeking Susan performed well at the box office, grossing $20 million in the first three days of its release, according to the 14 Apr 1985 NYT. Due to Madonna’s sudden success as a pop singer during the course of the production, Orion had initially felt the film’s target audience would be teenagers, the main consumers of Madonna’s music. However, according to a Var article from 17 Apr 1985, the distributor was surprised to find that the film proved a hit among the “more sophisticated audience of young adults targeted from the beginning by the filmmakers.” According to the 17 Apr 1985 Var article, it was particularly successful in urban areas, including New York City; Boston, MA; Detroit, MI; Washington, D.C.; Miami, FL; and San Francisco, CA.
       In 1987, a lawsuit was filed by writer Kate Wilhelm against Leora Barish, Orion Pictures, HBO, Crown Publishers, Inc. (the company that published the film’s novelization), and novelization author Susan Dworkin, claiming that key plot points of Desperately Seeking Susan had been taken from Wilhelm’s 1982 novel, Oh Susannah! According to a “Morning Report” segment in the 29 Sep 1987 LAT, Barish’s attorney said Barish had finished her screenplay in 1980, one year before Wilhelm finished her novel. The outcome of the lawsuit could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       A 10 Jul 2007 Var article announced that a musical play based on Desperately Seeking Susan, with music from “the back catalog of Deborah Harry and Blondie,” was set to begin previews at the Novello Theater in London, England, on 12 Oct 2007. The production received lackluster reviews, and was criticized by a 26 Nov--2 Dec 2007 Var review as not doing justice to the film. After enduring more than £3.5 million in losses, the show was shut down prematurely, with its final performance set to take place 15 Dec 2007, as stated in a 30 Nov 2007 London Evening Standard article.



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Anjuli M. Singh, an independent scholar.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
[London] Evening Standard
30 Nov 2007.
---
Back Stage
30 Nov 1984
p. 1, 16-17, 24.
Daily Variety
26 Oct 1984.
---
Daily Variety
17 Apr 1985
p. 10, 22.
Daily Variety
10 Jul 2007.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1985
p. 4, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1987.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Sep 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Mar 1985
p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
2 Apr 1985
p. 1, 5.
Los Angeles Times
29 Sep 1987.
---
New York Times
22 Mar 1985
p. 5.
New York Times
14 Apr 1985
pp. 17-18.
Screen International
16 Mar 1985.
---
Variety
27 Mar 1985
p. 16.
Variety
26 Nov--2 Dec 2007.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And
as
Party guests:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Sanford/Pillsbury Production
A Susan Seidelman Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst unit prod mgr
D.G.A trainee
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Grip
Addl photog
Processing by
Processing by, DuArt Laboratories
Processing by, DuArt Laboratories
Moviecam® cam supplied by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
Sketch artist
FILM EDITORS
Asst picture ed
Asst picture ed
Editing room asst
Editing room asst
Editing room asst
SET DECORATORS
Master scenic artist
Prop master
Lead set dresser
Shop craftsman
Head const grip
Const grip
Const grip
Asst propman
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost asst to Mr. Loquasto
Ward supv
Ward supv
MUSIC
Mus supv
Mus rec eng
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Re-rec
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
ADR ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Title des
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Prod office coord
Scr supv
Prod auditor
Addl casting
Asst to Mr. Peyser
Asst to prods
Prod office asst
Asst auditor
Casting asst
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Post-prod accountant
Prod's representative
Magic consultant
Film research
Film research
Transportation capt
Loc catering
Animals owned and trained by
New York, New York
Commercial clips provided by
Cars provided by
Post-prod facilities
Attorney
Casting staff
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
SOURCES
SONGS
"Into the Groove," performed by Madonna, written by Madonna and Steve Bray, courtesy of Sire Records and Warner Bros. Records
"Urgent," performed by Junior Walker, written by Michael Leslie Jones, courtesy of Motown Records
"The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," written by Rudy Clark, performed by Betty Everett, courtesy of Vee-Jay Records
+
SONGS
"Into the Groove," performed by Madonna, written by Madonna and Steve Bray, courtesy of Sire Records and Warner Bros. Records
"Urgent," performed by Junior Walker, written by Michael Leslie Jones, courtesy of Motown Records
"The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," written by Rudy Clark, performed by Betty Everett, courtesy of Vee-Jay Records
"Lust for Life," performed by Iggy Pop, written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, courtesy of RCA Records, Inc.
"Sucker M.C.'s," performed by Run-D.M.C., written by Darryl Matthews McDaniels, Joseph Simmons and Lawrence Smith, courtesy of Profile Records
"Mashed Potato Time," performed by Dee Dee Sharp, written by Robert Bateman, Georgia Dobbins, William E. Garrett, Frederick C. Gorman, Brian Holland and Kal Mann, courtesy of K-Tel International
"One Thing Leads to Another," performed by The Fixx, written by Alfred John Agius, Cyril John Curnin, Peter John Greenall, James Fletcher West-Oram and Adam Terence Woods, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
"You Belong to Me," performed by Carly Simon, written by Michael McDonald and Carly Simon, courtesy of Elektra/Asylum Records, by arrangement with Warner Special Products
"Respect," performed by Aretha Franklin, written by Otis Redding, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products
"Someday, Someway," performed by Marshall Crenshaw, written by Marshall Crenshaw, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, Inc., by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 March 1985
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 29 March 1985
Production Date:
10 September--early November 1984 in New York City
Copyright Claimant:
Orion Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
7 August 1985
Copyright Number:
PA265465
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Prints by Deluxe
Duration(in mins):
104
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27617
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Roberta Glass, a disillusioned New Jersey housewife, is stuck in a passionless marriage with Gary, the owner of a spa and hot tub company. For emotional escape, Roberta follows the relationships of strangers via personal advertisements in the newspaper. One day she sees an advertisement from a man named Jim “desperately seeking” a woman named Susan. Roberta has been following Jim and Susan’s relationship through their cryptic ads for a while and finally decides to show up at the specified time and place of their meeting to catch a glimpse of the couple. While in Atlantic City with Bruce Meeker, a local gangster, Susan sees Jim’s message and decides to return to New York City. Before she leaves, she takes two ornate Egyptian earrings from Meeker’s jacket pocket. In the hallway, Susan passes another gangster, Wayne Nolan, who makes note of her appearance, including her unique jacket with a gold pyramid on the back. Arriving in New York, Susan stores her suitcase in a locker at the Port Authority. As she makes her way to Battery Park, Susan spots a newspaper headline announcing that Meeker was murdered shortly after she left the hotel. Roberta goes to the park as well, and watches from afar as Susan and Jim reunite. Following the two at a distance, Roberta overhears Jim telling Susan that he has to go to Buffalo with his band. When Susan mentions Meeker’s murder, Jim gives her the number of his film projectionist friend, Dez, in case she runs into any trouble. After Jim leaves, Roberta follows Susan through the streets of the city. When Susan sees a pair of boots she likes in a boutique window, Roberta ... +


Roberta Glass, a disillusioned New Jersey housewife, is stuck in a passionless marriage with Gary, the owner of a spa and hot tub company. For emotional escape, Roberta follows the relationships of strangers via personal advertisements in the newspaper. One day she sees an advertisement from a man named Jim “desperately seeking” a woman named Susan. Roberta has been following Jim and Susan’s relationship through their cryptic ads for a while and finally decides to show up at the specified time and place of their meeting to catch a glimpse of the couple. While in Atlantic City with Bruce Meeker, a local gangster, Susan sees Jim’s message and decides to return to New York City. Before she leaves, she takes two ornate Egyptian earrings from Meeker’s jacket pocket. In the hallway, Susan passes another gangster, Wayne Nolan, who makes note of her appearance, including her unique jacket with a gold pyramid on the back. Arriving in New York, Susan stores her suitcase in a locker at the Port Authority. As she makes her way to Battery Park, Susan spots a newspaper headline announcing that Meeker was murdered shortly after she left the hotel. Roberta goes to the park as well, and watches from afar as Susan and Jim reunite. Following the two at a distance, Roberta overhears Jim telling Susan that he has to go to Buffalo with his band. When Susan mentions Meeker’s murder, Jim gives her the number of his film projectionist friend, Dez, in case she runs into any trouble. After Jim leaves, Roberta follows Susan through the streets of the city. When Susan sees a pair of boots she likes in a boutique window, Roberta follows her inside. Susan exchanges her jacket for the boots, and after she leaves, Roberta buys the pyramid jacket for herself. That evening, Roberta discovers a Port Authority locker key, a newspaper clipping with Dez’s phone number, and a Polaroid of Susan in the pocket of her new jacket. By this time, Susan has returned to the store in search of the locker key and leaves her name and phone number in case the new owner of the jacket returns. Roberta decides to put a her own “desperately seeking Susan” advertisement in the personals, asking Susan to meet her at Battery Park regarding the key. Susan and Jim both see the ad, and Jim calls Dez, asking him to go to the meeting point to make sure Susan is safe. Having never met Susan, Dez asks for a description, and Jim mentions the jacket with the pyramid on the back. When Roberta, wearing Susan’s jacket, arrives at Battery Park, Nolan tries to engage her in conversation. Meanwhile, Susan takes a cab to the rendezvous but is arrested when she tries to shortchange the cab driver on the fare. Before getting into the police car, Susan spots Nolan and Roberta. Nolan asks Roberta about her boyfriend in Atlantic City and the earrings. Not knowing what he is talking about, Roberta tries to run away but hits her head on a lamppost, falls unconscious, and loses her purse as it rolls into the water. Roberta awakens to find Dez next to her, but she cannot remember any details about herself or her life. Assuming Roberta is Susan based on her jacket, Dez suggests she look in her pockets for any material that could confirm her identity. When she pulls out the newspaper clipping, Dez confirms the phone number written on it is his. He also identifies the locker key as coming from the Port Authority, so he takes Roberta there, hoping the contents of the locker will jog her memory. At the locker, Roberta rifles through the suitcase and finds one Egyptian earring along with an assortment of other material, none of which helps her remember who she is. Dez offers to let Roberta stay in his apartment for the night since she has nowhere to go. Meanwhile, Gary, his sister, Leslie, and Leslie’s new boyfriend, Larry, worry about Roberta. Gary has reported Roberta’s disappearance to the police and was told that she is probably having an affair. The next morning, Roberta and Dez go to a café for breakfast and Nolan follows. Roberta gets mistaken for Susan and both she and Dez are denied service and thrown out. Roberta then takes a cab to The Magic Club, having found a postcard for it in Susan's suitcase. There, she inadvertently walks into a job interview and is hired as the magician’s assistant. Gary goes to the store where Roberta bought her jacket, and the boutique owner gives Gary Susan’s contact information, suggesting maybe they can help each other. Gary calls Susan, and they arrange to meet. That night, Roberta goes onstage at The Magic Club and fumbles through her routine. In the audience, Nolan notices that Roberta is wearing one of the Egyptian earrings. Elsewhere, Gary and Susan meet at a nightclub, and Susan tells him she thinks Nolan and Roberta are working together to frame Susan for the murder of Meeker. Gary doesn’t believe it, and Susan suggests they go back to his place. Outside the Magic Club, Nolan follows Roberta and eventually catches her, but they get into a scuffle and Roberta hits her head once again. The police show up, and, assuming Roberta is a prostitute, take her to the station. Having regained her memory, she identifies herself as Roberta Glass. Back in New Jersey, Susan shares a marijuana cigarette with Gary while lounging around the Glass’s home. When Roberta calls from jail and hears Susan and Gary laughing, she hangs up and calls Dez instead. Gary and Leslie get word that Roberta has been arrested, but when they arrive at the police station, she has already been bailed out. When a police officer suggests that Roberta’s pimp probably paid her bond, Gary refuses to believe that his wife has turned to prostitution. Meanwhile, Roberta and Dez find Dez’s apartment ransacked. Dez blames Roberta for all the bad luck he has been having. She gets angry and packs up her suitcase to leave. When the contents of the suitcase spill out onto the floor, Roberta begins to cry and Dez, who still thinks Roberta is “Susan,” kisses her. They make love. Meanwhile, back at Gary’s house, Susan sees a television news story about the theft of two ancient Egyptian earrings, for which Meeker and Nolan are prime suspects. Susan recognizes the earrings as those she took from Meeker. When Gary and Leslie return home from the police station, Susan tells them she knows what is going on. She goes to the Classifieds office and inserts an advertisement into the personals with a message for Roberta. Back at Dez’s apartment, Roberta tells him her true identity, but Dez does not believe her, still thinking her to be Susan. Jim arrives, and Dez tells him about the relationship that has developed between him and Roberta; however, Jim does not believe him, saying Susan is not the type to settle down. Later, Roberta sees Susan’s advertisement, directing her to meet that night at The Magic Club. Jim and Dez also see the message and decide to go to the rendezvous location to confront “Susan.” Gary, Leslie, Larry, Dez, Jim, Susan, and Nolan all show up that night at The Magic Club. Before the show begins, Jim sees Susan and points her out to Dez, who says that she is not “his Susan.” Gary, Leslie, Larry, and Dez all recognize Roberta as she appears onstage. At the end of the show, Nolan jumps up from the audience, grabs Roberta’s wig and earring, and runs backstage. Dez and Gary both rush over to make sure Roberta is all right. As she tries to explain what has happened, Gary does not seem to believe or even listen to her, so Roberta announces that she will not be going home with him. Meanwhile, Nolan comes across Jim and Susan kissing backstage and puts a gun to Susan’s head, taking her hostage to help him escape. He notices that Susan is wearing the other earring. After Nolan and Susan crawl through a window into the women’s dressing room, Roberta hits Nolan over the head with a bottle, knocking him unconscious. There, Susan and Roberta officially meet for the first time. Later, Roberta finds Dez in the projection booth at the movie theater where he works. She tells him her real name once again, and as they begin to kiss, Roberta knocks the projector, causing it to malfunction and burn the film. The audience is outraged, all except Jim and Susan who smile and continue eating their popcorn. Soon after, Roberta and Susan are celebrated as heroes in the newspaper and credited with recovering the stolen earrings. +

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

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