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|Index||147 reviews in total|
I believe that this was the most severely underrated film of 2002, and it
was also my personal favorite for a great year in film. Now, I sincerely
doubt that many moviegoers would consider this one of the year's best, or
even a great film, so this comes with a tentative recommendation. I
recommend this movie to just anybody, but I feel that fans of the prior
of Scorsese and Schrader will consider this a worthwhile endeavor. With
work Schrader continues his legacy of disturbed, distorted, doomed men
selfishness and shallow nature ultimately lead them to great suffering as
they destroy those who come close to them. Greg Kinnear's Bob Crane joins
the likes of DeNiro's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, Gene Hackman's Harry
in The Conversation, and Nick Nolte's Wade Whitehouse in another Schrader
masterpiece, Affliction. These are sad, empty men, for whom we can only
half-sympathize; we feel for them because we suffer, but we condemn them
because they force themselves and others to suffer.
The film follows the sexual exploits of Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane, the real-life star of Hogan's Heroes, who during and after the show became a full-blown sex addict, ruining two marriages and possibly sabotaging his career in the process. Willem Dafoe is John Carpenter (no, I know what you're thinking, and he's not), Crane's partner in crime who lacks Crane's charisma with women but is fed some scraps by Crane in return for his extensive knowledge of and access to video equipment. Crane's fetish is using the home video cameras to record his sexual trysts, which he reviews over and over again, looking for something that we can't see, and that he probably can't see either.
Kinnear and Dafoe's performances alone are worth the price of admission. This is the best, boldest, and most nuanced work that Kinnear has ever done. His performance is all subtlety and detail; he introduces Crane as a regular, aw shucks family man, but as the movie progresses we gradually see the facade fall as his quiet desperation and insatiable sexual appetite begin to consume him. Not content to go over the top and yell at the top of his lungs to be effective, Kinnear instead puts on a fake smile and charms with a velvety voice while openly degrading and hitting on women. The effect is one of the most genuinely creepy performances ever committed to film. Dafoe is the perfect companion to Kinnear's subtle predator; Carpenter is a pathetic loser, easily angered and easily hurt. He gets angry, yells, and does all of the things that you've seen Dafoe do in his other portrayals of guys you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, or a lighted one, for that matter. It's effective elsewhere, and it's effective here. Together, these men form a pair so utterly joyless and shallow that just seeing them on-screen together made my stomach churn. Their dialogue is only incidental, usually reminiscing on previous sexual escapades or planning new ones, but it's the little tics, gestures, Kinnear's untouchable confidence foiled by Dafoe's insecurity, Kinnear's hidden hunger foiled by Dafoe's overt desperation, that give these scenes their resounding power.
Not to shortchange Schrader's direction, though, which as usual is right on target for the material. He begins in a brightly colored, idealized suburban landscape, filled with all of the usual imagery you'd expect in this sort of light-hearted period and location. Then, slowly, he slides into darker territory, carrying us into the decadent seventies, breaking shots into shorter lengths, shaking the camera, depicting with his cinematography and editing the fall of his protagonist. Admittedly, the techniques Schrader employs here to depict Crane's breakdown have been used many times before, but I still found them extremely effective here.
For the last thirty minutes of the film, I felt genuinely ill; not because I thought the projector was out of focus, as many have complained, but because Schrader and Kinnear were taking me to a dark place and immersing me in it. As I said before, this type of film is not for everybody, but for those interested in the dark side of man, this film is not to be missed. I think that at the very least, the merit of these depressing morality tales is that they provide an exact blueprint of the way not to live our lives. I suppose that showing Crane checking himself into therapy and dealing with his problems and utimately healing himself would be valuable as well, but it wouldn't make for a good film, or a true one. Some people argue against the very existence of this type of movie. My response to them is that in real life for every strong-willed person who solves their problems and triumphs over adversity, there is another loser who ultimately fails to deal with life and implodes upon their own insecurity and weakness. Until this changes, someone needs to continue making these films.
A cautionary tale of the dangers of sexual addiction, `Auto Focus' shows
what can happen when a person attempts to lead a double life in this case,
a straight-laced family man by day and a pornography-obsessed playboy by
night. In `Auto Focus,' the family man/pornographer turns out to be none
other than the well-known actor Bob Crane, the star of TV's `Hogan's
Heroes,' who was found murdered in a Scottsdale, Arizona hotel room in 1978
under mysterious and sensational circumstances that included the uncovering
of tapes Crane had made of his own sexual experiences. The general public
was shocked to discover that a man they had invited into their living rooms
every week for six years had been living such an unsavory parallel existence
though those who knew him well were apparently far less shocked by the
revelation. Drawing on Robert Graysmith's book `The Murder of Bob Crane'
for its inspiration and viewpoint, the film, written by Michael Gerbosi and
directed by Paul Schrader, chronicles the rise and fall of this handsome
actor, from his days as a successful LA disc jockey and his meteoric rise to
fame as star of a hit comedy series, to his growing obsession with
promiscuity and pornography, which led to the disintegration of both his
personal and professional life - and, ultimately, to his death, most likely
at the hands of his buddy-in-sleaze, videographer John Carpenter (though he
was never convicted of the murder).
`Auto Focus' certainly does not shy away from revealing many of the salacious details of this true-life story. Schrader deals head-on with the disturbing nature of a mind so all consumed with the subject of sex that all other aspects of life become obliterated and distorted. What's fascinating about Crane at least in the way he is depicted in this film is that he seems to have had some sort of self-destructive death wish, for not only does he risk his career by sleeping with countless women, but he insists on leaving behind the evidence by videotaping many of his encounters, and then flaunting his `accomplishments' to others in the Hollywood community. In a way, such a cavalier attitude only underlines the sickness at the core of Crane's soul which in a perverse, paradoxical way, actually makes Crane a more sympathetic figure than he otherwise might be. An enormous amount of credit for this also goes to Greg Kinnear who does a superb job of not only replicating Crane's style of acting but of showing us the tortured man Crane became in his later years. He was truly a man driven to madness by the demons within him, and we can all identify in some sense with that condition (our demons may not be sexual in nature, but they probably eat away at us just as ravenously as they did Crane). Kinnear gets outstanding support from Willem Dafoe as Carpenter, the Svengali-like figure who lures Crane into his world of photographed sex, and Ron Leibman, as Crane's well-meaning, caring agent who can do little but stand by helplessly as his client throws his career and his life away to feed this devouring passion.
The filmmakers have done an amazing job capturing the sights and sounds of the era in which the film is set. Especially impressive are the scenes recreating `Hogan's Heroes,' with Kurt Fuller, in particular, a standout as Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink). It's also fascinating to see the evolution of videotape technology as portrayed in the film. How many of us knew that such equipment existed for home consumption as early as the mid-60's?
There's a real sadness to the final stretches of the film, made all the more poignant by having the dirge-like musical score run uninterrupted under the action. The effect is that we really get a sense of the total desolation of Crane's life at that point as he has lost his family, his career, and his self-respect to the master he chose early on to serve. The loss of his life seems almost de rigueur given all that has gone before. `Auto Focus' is not always an easy film to watch, but for its unflinching look at an often-unappetizing subject, it deserves to be seen.
Actor Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), star of Hogan's Heroes, forms a
friendship with a video enthusiast (Willem Dafoe) and together they
become obsessed with sex, swinging, and photographing or filming the
This is a brilliantly disturbing movie. Kinnear carefully plays Crane as a blank-faced cypher who cannot see himself, and is comfortable with the surface of things. Thus photography is the perfect obsession for him; he can look without participating, even when he's looking at his own participation. Auto Focus is a clever title, referring to both the photography and the only person upon whom Crane can focus. He is lost in a world of obsessively meaningless behavior.
A look at IMDb's message board for the film shows that one of Crane's two sons is fighting the misinformation presented by director Paul Schrader and Crane's other son. It does seem that the movie distorts some biographical facts, but what biopic doesn't? This story of obsession and doom is worth much more than its attention to one man's biography.
As anyone who is reading this knows, this was the story of TV's Bob
Crane, star of "Hogan's Heroes," a popular show in the 1960s. The story
of Crane, the one that makes him a subject of a major motion picture of
his life, are two things: 1 - the good-guy TV hero was, behind the
scenes, a huge sex addict; 2 - he was murdered, with no one ever
convicted of the crime. To this day, it is still unsolved.
The movie hints very strongly that the killer was Bob Carpenter, played here by Willem Dafoe. Carpenter was a close friend of Crane's. Greg Kinnear does a credible job of portraying the television star.
However, the part about Crane's murder is only dealt with in the final minutes of the film! That was very disappointing and I was hoping to find out something or at least be given more information. They just kind tacked this on the end of the film.
Most of the film was about Crane's and Carpenter's escapades with women.....lots of women, beautiful and big-chested women, which you see in abundance in this film. Dafoe is the sleazy friend who introduces Crane to the beginning of the VCR age. That led to a whole bunch of sex-on-film and really whetted Crane's big sexual appetite.
Anyway, for people who watched "Hogan's Heroes," and there were plenty, this is a bio of him and perhaps, for those who know nothing about his death, who killed him.
Wow, is Greg Kinnear nothing short of amazing in this film or what! An incredible performance as Bob Crane, seriously virtuoso. When, towards the end, he visits his agent and is all messed up, and starts saying "sex is normal. I'm normal" - Kinnear reaches a pinnacle in his young film acting career. I have always felt that actors ascend to the next level of craft and stardom when they breakthrough with a biographical role; see - Denzel Washington in Malcom X, Ben Kingsley in Ghandi, Robert Downey Jr in Chaplin, Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. And now Greg Kinnear has made that leap with Auto Focus, a well-crafted and seductive film by Paul Schrader, Hollywood's last bastion of non-sugar coated filmmakers. Basically the story of Hollywood's most intriguing unsolved murder, Auto Focus also pulls back the curtain on "good guy" Bob Crane's lecherous and painfully discombobulated private and secret life. What is also amazing about this film is how is records the birth of video and the VCR. Bob Crane turns out to be one of the pioneer "users" of this technology. When we see or hear video, video cameras, or VCRs, we probably automatically think of home movies, recording episodes of Star Trek, or the Star Wars prequels' lack of cinematic quality. When Bob Crane heard about video cameras and VCRs, he automatically thought of sex. Though the film makes no mention of it, it is quite prophetic in showing us how the technology of video created hard-core pornography and turned it into a billion dollar industry. If you think about it, nothing has profited more from video than porno, and nothing ever relied so dearly on video like porno. Bob Crane instinctively felt this, though he never was a pornographer, so to speak; he knew that sex and video can go hand in hand. Unfortunately, this was also his downfall. Like most Paul Schrader writ or directed films, by the end you get that queasy feeling, the feeling you get at the end of Goodfellas, the feeling of sadness that this great ride is over and the feeling of emptiness and loss that all that greatness came crashing down. Bob Crane's descent into moral madness can be sickening, especially when juxtaposed with Hogan's Heroes. I almost felt the desire to shower, to cleanse myself after viewing this film. I love movies that produce reactions from me, movies that linger for days. This is one of them.
Let's face it: Bob Crane was a lightweight actor, whose one-note
portrayal of Col. Hogan in the unlikeliest sitcom hit of the 60s made
him a household name. Personally, I never understood the appeal of
either "Hogan's Heroes" or its star.
Greg Kinnear taps into Bob Crane, though, from the first frame.
The viewer learns that the pre-Hogan Crane was an affable, lovable kind of guy whose LA radio show had a big following. His agent sees him as a combination of Jack Lemmon and Jack Benny, a potential star of fluffy sex comedies with a benign sort of sex appeal and a knack for snappy one-liners All of that was a vast overestimation of Crane's talents.
Crane reveled in the fame that "Hogan" brought him, but he seems never to have taken a long view of his career. When the show ended he was left rudderless and idle, having slowly cut the ties that bound him to ordinary life -- his work, a stable home life, and his religious faith.
While he coasted, Crane took advantage of the easy, cynical charm he conveyed on screen to lure women. By the dozen. I think he probably enjoyed being the least likely man in Hollywood to skulk strip clubs looking for prey, and to devote thousands of yards of videotape to his exploits with them. But his naivete is telling: Crane allows himself to be led into a netherworld by John Carpenter, (Willem Dafoe), who teaches him that putting sex on film is more fun than having it. And there is a brief scene where Crane meets a dominatrix and reveals himself as not quite savvy enough to play this game to win.
Addictions tend to claim those who are on the way up or the way down. Even before Peg Entwistle famously jumped off the Hollywoodland sign in 1922, there have been scores of aspirants to fame or has-beens whose compulsions have killed them, leaving their work on screen the least compelling,least-remembered part of their lives.
Bob Crane was a well known TV face whose lopsided grin and
cheeky-chappie personality took him to fame and (modest) fortune with
the 1965-71 TV series Hogan's Heroes (a family safe rip-off the film
Stalag 17); but like many that have passed before him, his human
weaknesses - in his case towards free love, porn and sleaze - provided
his ultimate downfall.
This is 1,000 word review that could go, exclusively, many ways: The most obvious would be simply to review the film as an entertainment piece, which while fair and valid, wouldn't tell the whole story. The second would be as an exploration of the moral questions raised, taking on the very nature of "addiction and obsession." A third would be to review the nature of show biz itself and how - like Crane - you can easily go from "flavour of the month" to being "last year's model."
In many ways the above debates are more interesting than the film itself: which while being both credible and interesting, never bursts in to full flame. Indeed it spends long periods not really going anywhere or doing anything other than following Crane and his self-styled "best friend" John Carpenter (not the famous director!) - played by the oddball part specialist William Dafoe - from one sexual encounter to the next.
(The filming of these sexual encounters, while true and unquestioned, adds nothing to my understanding of Crane himself. The act would have happened, filmed or unfilmed. Indeed I never did learn whether he had any REAL interest in photography - which he claims in the film proper - beyond using it as a device for gaining extra sex gratification. Equally how expensive is the early video equipment and his all-embracing sex hobby? Are these the only reason he is broke after six years playing the lead in a hit TV show? )
Some of this party-to-party time would have been better spent explaining the early life of Crane, allowing us to understand "where he comes from" better. Is he a classic case of someone who married too young and ended up spliced to his "mother?" And like real mother's they are always finding embarrassing items hidden around the house!
(However even this argument becomes devalued when you consider his second marriage - to a contrasting blonde libertarian sex pot - also ended in acrimony and divorce!)
Given that this is a film of "best guesses", mine would be that Crane never really had a proper teenage life (he came from a strict Catholic household) and wanted to live his out decades after the fact. This film wants to portray him as someone who was lead astray by others, simply because that is easier to explain than someone who changes course dramatically of their own freewill.
Crane was approaching middle age when he first met the techno-wizard (and fellow sexual traveller) John Carpenter, his sexuality and taste simply couldn't have been influenced by any outside parties so late in life. Outsiders could only have been facilitators to living it out. Nevertheless his wider actions show a curious lack of maturity, who else would skip off work on a prime-time TV show in order to play drums behind some cheap stripper?
Director Paul Schrader (of Taxi Driver fame) has obviously being watching a lot of TV movies recently and scratching his balding pate over how to cover familiar material (family man presented with temptation, rise and fall, wages of sin, etc.) without cliché. Not to mention filming what is unfilmable: The inside of another man's head!
He has come up with only partial answers and a few professional fudges: Starting with a very standard approach (complete with horrible "cold fact" giving voice-over about Hogan's Heroes) before slowly sliding in to the modern "creeping hand-held camera with filters" approach and technique.
(Something that works quite well with some productions, presumably because we are used to documentary and news being presented in this manner. Maybe we, subconsciously, mistake poor production quality with reality? Here it adds little.)
Greg Kinear does an excellent job portraying not only Crane the ham actor, but also Crane the daydream believer and sex junkie. While going a little glassy-eyed and unfocused is in the scope of most actors, Kinear never goes over-the-top while slowly losing the plot. He also remains strangely sympathetic while exploiting his own fame and position for sexual purposes: A male perspective, but all I have.
The film starts with Crane - the LA DJ - spouting the happy-go-lucky banalities that radio professionals go in for, before being further introduced as a bouncy "success story" who is "going places in radio-land." However he want to act and employs a ("touch wood") agent to find him the right part. The upshot is an unlikely comedy about an unlikely German concentration camp.
He is a non smoking, non drinking, church going Christian, who rushes straight home - post radio show - to his long time straight-laced wife and picture-perfect children. In other words, a great place to start a sexual and moral slide from!
Crane, like many empty men that stumble in to things that make their heart go boom-bang-a-bang for the first time, hasn't the wit and wherewith all to see the limits and short comings of their new found hobby. He didn't realize that not everybody took his easygoing view of casual sex and by not being selective he alienated people.
No one should die because they enjoy casual consenting sex or cheat on their wives, but Crane died never having learnt there was (and is) a life beyond cheap thrills and that your casual actions can hurt the ones you love the most. A simple message, but Auto Focus takes 105 minutes to get it across.
Auto Focus is a great film. The only shortcoming is does not give you enough background on Bob Crane's life before his starring role on "Hogan's Heroes". But Greg Kinnear plays him well, and Willem Dafoe as the sleazy opportunist John Carpenter is fantastic as he goes from creepy to desperate and scary. I wouldn't say that this film's for everyone, but it's well done, and there isn't another one like it that I've seen.
After a while, I really did get more of what director Paul Schrader was
aiming for with Auto Focus, the tale of males caught in some sort of
odd damnation of both free will and morality. It's more like a drug
movie, only here the drug being the opposite sex, and almost a
singularly male ego-trip, instead of common narcotics. But it's also a
very fine character study where the idea of character is taken into
consideration, of how much one can seem a certain way, but then be
stuck in with flaws and insecurities and, ultimately, temptation. The
last of which is what Schrader puts into focus early on, but then after
a while when temptation is gone, the film becomes a direct plunge into
complete debauchery. And appropriately, like with all addicts, for a
while nothing seems wrong at all about all of this.
Greg Kinnear is definitely in one of his best parts here, as he plays someone who is an actor who keeps his actor-like charms off the set as well. In Hollywood, away from the confines of Connecticut, his Bob Crane lands the lead on Hogan's heroes, but can't resist the first temptations of the night-life. This comes, in an introductory way and then throughout as a tag-along/counterpart, with John Carpenter (not the director, played with the best match by Willem Dafoe of being a creep and alluring at times), who shows him the ropes and hooks him up with video equipment. But as Crane goes deeper into his sexual drives, divorces, marries again and divorces again, his acting career and his livelihood seem to slip away. The themes of being perversely the 'All-American Male' are accentuated by Kinnear's Crane in voice-over as he talks about the unbridled joys of sex, and in an interview with a Christian publication he says 'I don't...make waves'. By the last third of his story, however, into the rot of the 70s, he's lost touch with the reality of his pleasures- or rather necessities.
Auto Focus isn't at times an easy movie to sit through; it's even cringe-worthy in a couple of scenes (notably for me was when he guest stars on a celebrity cooking show, only to keep on his sexually-driven side with audience members). Then there are other scenes (i.e. 'you have fingers up you-know-where', and the genital enhancement) where male masculinity is questioned, and in very peculiar ways between Crane and Carpenter; Crane is homophobic, but then what exactly is Carpenter's function? More than anything, less than being a friend, he becomes a kind of unintentional pusher, where the draw of going out on the town becomes a crux for both of the men. What's just as fascinating then is how Schrader aligns this with his style- the first half is mostly very slick and professional-looking, almost like an HBO bio-pic or something. But then as the characters lose a grip on everything except themselves, there's a hand-held, distorted view to everything. There's lots of nudity and on-screen sex (some blurred out, likely by MPAA request), yet Schrader gets something more shocking, in the mind at least, as Carpenter almost becomes the antagonist in a way as the story winds down (the last phone call marks this most).
Auto Focus has the ideal of the usual biographical drama of a somebody in Hollywood who soon loses himself to becoming a nobody, but there's plenty under the surface that makes it more intriguing. Crane's two sides to his persona- the celebrity one, and the personal 'lifestyle' one- become one and the same after a while, Kinnear being able to make such a near-irredeemable person somewhat sympathetic (or at the least very watchable). And Carpenter's more truthful, emotional, and scary turn is made palatable by Dafoe's equally nuanced performance. It's not great, but it's a near-classic of the tale-of-such-and-such-star when so many don't take in what's deeper into account. A-
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bob Crane is always going on about what a likable guy he is. Well, he
may be polite and he may have a bland charm, but can a man who cheats
on two wives and ruins two marriages really be classed as likable?
And Bob Crane also goes on about how normal he is. Well, yes, sex is normal and knocking about is hardly immoral, but this is a married man with children who is sleeping around. And not only that but he's a man who doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it. Apparently everyone else has the problem. But he's also a man who tapes his sex sessions and who watches them with his best buddy. Likable and normal he most certainly isn't.
What comes through strongest in Auto Focus is the strange homoerotic relationship between Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) and John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe). It's kind of a perverse love story. In the first scene they have together John almost serenades Bob. It's love at first sight. Then pretty soon afterwards they're scoring chicks together and filming their exploits.
In fact, the two characters kind of complete one another. At the beginning Bob is curious but kind of naive he has 'photography' magazines and is almost embarrassed when he goes to his first strip joint while John is horny and self-assured, but, being a mere mortal, can hardly be guaranteed to score every time. So when the bumbling Bob and the confident John hook up, they make a pretty good partnership.
And at the beginning things go well. With Bob's celebrity and John's electronic gizmos, they're bagging chicks and having fun. And at the start things are relatively tame after years of dull marital sex, Bob is excited merely at the prospect of doing it with the lights on. But as things progress, the relationship between the two men gets more and more perverse. The first hint that this is more than mere macho tag-team screwing is the way they talk as they watch their tapes. John says to Bob, "Where have you been all my life?" While Bob says to John, "It's either him or me" (in reference to one of John's other customers, a customer that Bob doesn't like). This isn't a mere friendship.
Then there's the way that Bob gets outraged when he sees, via tape, that during an orgy John has had his hand on his arse. When you're filming sex tapes with your best buddy and watching them together, it seems rather churlish to complain about getting your bum groped.
But although they have a bit of a lover's tiff over this, they soon hook back up. And then, in an extraordinary scene, they watch another one of their tapes. At the time, Bob is saying how much he misses his wife and child. But immediately afterwards he and his best buddy begin masturbating as they watch one of their recordings. And then as they're abusing themselves, they begin to debate who the woman is and where it was filmed. To them, this is completely normal. It's ordinary. No wonder neither is capable of a healthy relationship they've chosen the surface (photography and sex tapes) over anything with real meaning.
But that's one of the conundrums that Auto Focus presents. Where you're famous and when women are lining up to have sex with you (fame is the best lubricant), how can you be expected to exercise self-control? Surely that's every man's dream. Well, it probably is the dream of most men, and it can hardly be a surprise that Crane cheated on his wives, but what makes him so extraordinary is how completely lacking he is in self-awareness. He talks to priests, Christian magazines and his agent, seemingly sincere in the lies he spews ("I'm a one woman man." "Bob Crane is a good guy." "I'm normal."). He really does think that his wives are being unreasonable in expecting him to be faithful. He really does think that keeping an album of the women he's slept with, and showing it to other people, is okay. He really does think that there's nothing strange in watching sex tapes with his best buddy. His life is evidence of what happens when a shallow man with little intelligence is given fame.
But although the character is shallow, Greg Kinnear's performance is complex. He really doesn't a put a foot wrong. He's got the easy charm and wide-eyed confusion down pat. He plays Bob as a man who is always sincere, who is always polite and charming, but who is constantly hurting those around him. And his performance is also incredibly seedy. I particularly like the way that he leers at his son's girlfriend. The man has no self-control; no idea of social mores. And there's a great piece of acting when he gets a barman to put Hogan's Heroes on so that he can pick up a couple of women. He feigns surprise so well when one of the women asks him whether he's the man off the show that I wouldn't be surprised if Crane fooled himself into thinking that he didn't in any way manipulate these women when he was picking them up.
I also like scene when he receives a call from Disney. They want him for a film, a film called Superdad. The way that he juggles sleaze and respectability is impeccable right before the call he talks to John about making a sex movie, and then he shows John his penis. Yep, that's Superdad.
But ultimately it's quite a sad film. Crane's death, being beaten while asleep, is both brutal and pathetic. Yes Crane wasn't a good man, nor was he a normal one, but he wasn't a bad man either. He certainly wasn't vindictive. He was just a sad, seedy little man who died a sad, seedy little death.
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