ponedjeljak, 23. srpnja 2012.

Stephen Sayadian - Dr. Caligari (1989), Café Flesh (1982), Nightdreams (1981)


Postapokaliptični dizajn kao ambijentalni kunilingus, pornografija kao retro-spoznajna tehnika, neurološki eksperimenti kao ontološka nimfomanija, psihološki futurizam kao arheologija dekorativne podsvijesti. EKG na koji možete plesati. Seks nije užitak, nego televizija.
Kad trash postaje subliman.

Dr. Caligari (Stephen Sayadian, 1989)


The cinematic equivalent of discovering first-rate cunnilingus at the world's worst hot dog stand, Dr. Caligari is yet another film perfectly captures what the atmospheric conditions must be like inside my desultory mind. Oozing iridescent sludge at every turn, Stephen Sayadian (a.k.a. Rinse Dream and Ladi von Jansky) has made a film so intoxicating, so deranged and illuminating, that I find it hard to believe it took me this long to see it. I mean, the eye-catching colours, the surreal art direction, the Mitchell Froom score, and the exaggerated dialogue all seemed to join forces for the sole purpose of making my damp places even damper. Seriously, the film is bursting with creativity. It was like watching a puddle of late night subway vomit come to life and suddenly engage you in a sword fight without swords. Taking place in a dark, steam-encrusted netherworld, the film follows the domestic disquietude of a couple in crisis. You see, Les Van Houten (a wonderfully nebbish Gene Zerna) is worried that his wife's rampant nymphomania is starting take its toll on her sexual psyche. Desperate, he employs the help of the world's most celebrated psychotherapist, the shapely Dr. Caligari, the kind of woman that can induce a second-rate orgasm by simply snapping her fingers (which, by the way, are covered in capricious veneer of yellow nail polish). She suggests a two week stay at her nightmarish sanitarium, the Caligari Insane Asylum (C.I.A.), and he reluctantly agrees.
He nixed her first idea, which included him sporting an erection and periodically feeding it to Mrs. Van Houten.

The real star of Dr. Caligari was definitely Stephen Sayadian, as his inventive, brain-melting dialogueco-written with the help of Alf-scribe Jerry Stahl, imaginative approach to production design, and Belinda Williams-Sayadian's unique costume design (every character wears either all pink or all yellow) were all an absolute treat to wallow in.

The cast should be commended as well for managing to recite each demented line with a sane brand of aplomb. The leggy Laura Albert (Angel III: The Final Chapter) sets the stage early on as Mrs. Van Houten. Her jerky head movements and overall lustful nature was a beautiful sight to behold, especially when she was masturbating to the fuzzy image of a confident doppelgänger flickering on an old television set. Actually, even more so when she was being bathed by a huge tongue that was protruding from a pulsating patch of unhealthy flesh. (This particular patch also leaked pink pus and an assortment of wrapped and unwrapped candy.)

Renowned Chevy Malibu driver and all-around cool person, Fox Harris, is tremendous as the sheep-trotter-loving doctor who is totally unwise to the sinister goings on at the asylum. His transformation from extreme fuddy-duddy to Mamie Van Doran-esque sexpot was brilliant. And the way he aggressively devoured Dr. Caligari's crotch area was replete with subtly and tenderness. In truth, it was like watching a malnourished raccoon struggle to get at the contents of a discarded bucket of discount chicken. But that's neither here nor over in that sparsely furnished corner. Which reminds me, would it kill you to buy a sectional?

The irascible Magie Song (The Fibonaccis) has a great scene where she's in straitjacket ranting about different types of beans. Her line about making potato salad for one of Heinrich Himmler's picnics made me laugh so hard, I spit out the contents of a drink I hadn't even started drinking yet.

Cult movie cult icon/sexy babe Jennifer Balgobin (Weird Science) and David Parry (Beverly Hills Cop III) have terrific chemistry together as the rivals of the titular doctor; John Durbin (Cyborg 2) is ultra-creepy as Gus Pratt, an electrocution-obsessed mental patient ("soft American girl patty... slice it thick, Ma"); a frightfully blonde Jennifer Miro (The Video Dead) says "Chinchilla" three times in quick succession; and the always alluring Debra Deliso (The Slumber Party Massacre) may have no dialogue as Grace Butler, but she holds an issue of The Watchtower in the presence of a garrulous cannibal like nobody's business.

And last but not least, there's Madeleine Reynal as the titillating Dr. Caligari. Deadpan to the point of pleasurable madness and exuding a raw, untapped sexual energy, Madeleine, in her only film role to date, repeatedly blew me away with her many blank looks of scorn and devilish approach to comedic timing.
It was like love at first sight the moment she appeared on-screen as the unscrupulous doctor with the keen fashion sense (the metallic breast covering was a nice touch). She's the kind of character that would feel right at home in Liquid Sky, and believe me, that's a good thing. -houseofselfindulgence

Not surprisingly, Robert Wiene’s cinematically revolutionary German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) aka Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari has spawned countless cinematic remakes and tributes including the horrendous British non-remake The Cabinet of Caligari (1962) penned by Psycho writer Robert Bloch, the self-reflexive midwestern-inspired postmodern work Caligari’s Curse (1983) directed by documentarian Tom Palazzolo, the modernist dystopian silent musical-horror-spoof The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez (1991) directed by American theater director Peter Sellars, and the quasi-plagiaristic 2005 American remake The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari directed by David Lee Fisher (who shot the entire film in front of a green screen, with scenes from the original 1920 film being superimposed in the background), but undoubtedly the greatest and most insanely idiosyncratic of these films is the quasi-sequel Dr. Caligari (1989) aka Dr. Caligari 3000 directed and co-written by Austrian-born auteur-pornographer Stephen Sayadian aka ‘Rinse Dreams’ (Nightdreams trilogy, Café Flesh) and co-penned by Jerry Stahl (Twin Peaks, Bad Boys II). Indeed, not only is Dr. Caligari a somewhat worthy, if not more wayward and only semi-serious sequel to Wiene’s silent masterpiece as well as director Sayadian’s first (and last) non-pornographic work, but also a sister film of sorts to the filmmaker’s first major work Nightdreams (1981), as it features the reappearance of the mentally perturbed and severely sexually repressed housewife character Mrs. Van Houten. Sort of like Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone (1982) albeit keenly kaleidoscopic and with a more Europid as opposed to Judaic sense of humor, as seemingly directed by the sinisterly sardonic bastard love child of David Lynch and Carmelo Bene, Dr. Caligari is a rude and raunchy nightmare of the psychosexual, psychodramatic sort that thankfully pays tribute to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari more in name and reference as opposed to simply mimicking the aesthetics of its German expressionist namesake. A rare and somewhat artistically successful example of a pornographer leaving the aesthetically unmerited ghetto that is the porn world to create a quasi-arthouse work, Dr. Caligari proves that it was no fluke that Sayadian’s apocalyptic porn flicks Nightdreams and Café Flesh (1982) managed to achieve cult status and be played at Midnight Movie screenings. Like both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nightdreams, Dr. Caligari is set in a surrealist loony bin where the distinction between the doctors and patients begins to blur, but unlike the two other films it features such succulently unsavory things as Cronenberg-esque birthday cakes with animated guts, chicks with mutant prick arms who see it fit to anally rape their hubby, banal doctors who turn into trannies with a taste for cunnilingus after being injected with granular brain fluids, and one of the most exquisitely dressed and sexually sinister villainesses of cinema history. Directed by an Austrian-born auteur who once stated regarding old school Teutonic cinema, “That period between 1919 -1938, it’s in my brain. It’s so much a part of who I am and what I do and how I look at things,” Dr. Caligari is a singular work that manages to reconcile German expressionism with a quasi-punky New Romanticist aesthetic straight out of Slava Tsukerman’s equally culturally pessimistic sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky (1982). The late great eponymous character of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari might be dead, but his shockingly sexy femme fatale great-granddaughter of the same name (Madeleine Reynal, whose only other film role was in the Mystery Science Theater 3000-approved sci-fi romance Space Mutiny (1988)) has the same demented DNA and when it comes to mental patients she likes to play quite perniciously in a fiercely fetishistic fashion that puts the deranged divas of Naziploitation and women-in-prison films to complete and utter shame.

 Debauched diva Dr. Caligari is the queen psychotherapist of a pandemonium of a mental institution named the Caligari Insane Asylum (C.I.A.) with the motto ‘Better Living Thru Chemistry’ and she is in for quite the treat when a seemingly impotent husband named Les Van Houten (Gene Zerna) decides to have his wanton wifey committed to the surreal sanitarium for two weeks due to her unnerving nymphomaniac-like proclivities. Dr. Caligari has grand plans for Mrs. Van Houten, but two robot-like busybody rivals docs, Ramona Lodger (Jennifer Balgobin of 1980s cult classics like Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984) and John Hughes’ Weird Science (1985)) and her hubby, Dr. Lodger (David Parry), prove to be a thorn in her side. Luckily for Dr. Caligari, the head doctor, Ramona’s somewhat stern but fair father Dr. Avol (Fox Harris, who is probably best known for playing J. Frank Parnell in Repo Man), is not wise to her wayward ways of mental medicine. Ultimately, Dr. Caligari—a mad megalomaniac madam who proudly brags, “I’m the most celebrated psychotherapist in the country. Dr. Wilhelm Reich, Dr. C.G. Jung, Doctor….Caligari”—decides to 'cure' her patients by balancing out the particular mental illness of one patient with the particular opposing mental illness of another via hypothalamus injections, with Mrs. Van Houten swapping her psychosis with the equally opposing psychosis of a shock-therapy-loving lunatic of a cannibal named Gus Pratt (John Durbin, who got his big break in film playing ‘Zombie Corpse #1’ in The Return of the Living Dead (1985)). Dr. Caligari also decides to mess with pussy psychotherapist Avol’s mind after he tries to confront her, thus turning him into a carpet-munching tranny and the literal lily-licking lapdog of the good doctor after injecting him with the exceedingly erotic and feminine Mrs. Van Houten’s nympho psyche. Since she has made the unwitting mistake of preserving her great-grandpa’s brain of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame, Dr. Caligari is in for quite a surprise when Mrs. Van Houten decides to inject herself with a bit of the Caligari genius. In the end, Van Houten manages to not only take on the psyche of Caligari, but also injects Dr. Caligari with her own horndog psychosis via a hypothalamus shot. In a psychodramatic twist, the lunatics take over the loony bin, though the difference between doctor and patient was always blurred from the very beginning. 

 As with most of auteur Stephen Sayadian’s porn films, Dr. Caligari is an innately grotesque absurdist work of the culturally pessimistic persuasion that is more anti-erotic than erotic, which the director himself seemed to recognize when he stated of his work in a recent interview with twitchfilm.com, “But I think the art world was always too turned off by the porn, and the porn world too turned off by the art. Which if you think about it, is the perfect formula for failure.” Additionally, Dr. Caligari is far too patently perverted, scatological, and tastelessly tongue-in-cheek to speak to the souls of certain humorless arthouse fans, thereupon making it a work with a rather marginal, if not loyal, audience. Shot in the studio of Sayadian’s friend Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist of The Doors, on a meager budget of $175,000 over a six week period utilizing a misleadingly static camera (as the director confessed, “I figured, instead of losing time with fancy camera moves, we could just put the actors on platforms and the sets on wheels. There are lots of shots that look like dollies or cranes but are just static.”), Dr. Caligari is a striking example of what a creative filmmaker can do with rather limited resources. Indeed, that being said, I do not think it is a stretch to say that Sayadian is one of the few filmmakers in cinema history whose experience working in porn with small budgets and limited studio sets gave him an advantage when it came to making a serious feature film for virtually pennies. Rather unfortunately, while Dr. Caligari received mostly rave reviews from mainstream press sources like Entertainment Weekly and NY Post, Sayadian would never make another non-pornographic work and was forced to create cheap shot-on-video works like Party Doll A Go-Go! (1991) and Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West Part 1: The Pillowbiters (1993) before giving up filmmaking entirely. 

 While I cannot say that I think all, or even half, of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fans will enjoy the film, Dr. Caligari is certainly a work that will leave no one feeling like they endured a complete Jean-Luc Godard retrospective nor Ron Jeremy marathon.  In other words, its relation to Wiene's silent film is not much more than a nice little novelty for obsessive cinephiles, as a work that stands quite well on its own and never bores with pedantic intellectualism nor contrived eroticism. Compulsively convoluted in the best sort of way and more aesthetically subversive and immaculate than anything directed by the pretentious humdrum hacks of so-called ‘Cinema of Transgression’ like Richard Kern and Nick Zedd, Dr. Caligari is like a vulgarian neo-vaudeville show set in anti-Reaganite hell that is occupied by David Cronenberg, Hans Bellmer's autistic son, a bunch of 'psycho-chic' chicks that look like Sean Young’s character from Blade Runner (1982), a couple swarthy closet queens that look like they could be related to Conrad Veidt, and Kenneth Anger’s irreligious heterosexual brother. An unhinged depiction of “unending torment” (or at least that is how lead Mrs. Van Houten describes her life) where an odious oriental bitch in a neon pink straitjacket describes how her supposedly German grandmother “made all the potato salad for Himmler’s picnics…Goebbels too” and where the authentic melancholy and despair of German expressionism is reduced to the level of a naughty neo-surrealist scat show, albeit with a sometimes foreboding atmosphere comparable to Lynch's Eraserhead (1977), Dr. Caligari personifies true cult cinema like no other yet it has yet to develop true cult status, which is a shame that the American filmgoing public must bear. As auteur Sayadian recently revealed in the same twitchfilm.com interview, “Since I stopped I don’t think anybody picked up the mantle. I mean, Lars von Trier, he’s superimposing heads [in his upcoming Nymphomaniac], why would you do that?…Just about a year ago I got the go-ahead for a new film. We just finished the script and are getting it ready to shoot. I think it’s something dying to be released. Not because I’m doing it, but because nobody else is…So I really can’t wait.”  With that acknowledged, one can only hope that Sayadian is still the sort of man that enjoys archaic kraut cinema and has a fetish for murderous man-sized baby dolls. - www.soiledsinema.com/

Still from Dr. Caligari (1989)
PLOT:  The granddaughter of Dr. Caligari (of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame) performs illicit neurological experiments on patients in her asylum, focusing especially on a nymphomaniac and a shock-therapy addicted cannibal.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  This is a good time to explain that the category “Borderline Weird” does not refer solely to a movie’s inherent strangeness, but to whether it’s both weird and effective enough to rank among the most recommended weird movies ever made.  No doubt about it, Dr. Caligari is about as weird as they come, and would make a list of “weirdest movies regardless of quality” on first pass.  The problem is that this movie is held back by amateurism in the production (especially the acting) and a lack of focus in the story.  I wouldn’t feel ashamed elevating it onto the official List of 366 films, but I wouldn’t want it to take the place of a more serious and professionally produced film, either, so Dr. Caligari will be locked up in the Borderline Weird asylum until I figure out what to do with this curious case.
COMMENTS: The origin and history of Dr. Caligari is almost as strange as the film itself.  Director Stephen Sayadian is better known as Rinse Dream, the creator of arty avant-garde hardcore porn films with ambitions of crossing over into the mainstream.  His Café Flesh (1982), the story of a post-apoclayptic future where most of the population consists of “sex negatives” forced to obtain erotic fulfillment vicariously by watching “sex positives” perform, was generally well-reviewed and very nearly the crossover hit Sayadian craved.  It and was released in theaters in an R-rated version for those with tender sensibilities.  Seven years later, the director again attempted to return to the mainstream with this, his only work aimed directly at an audience not wearing raincoats and sunglasses.  Intended as a midnight movie, Dr. Caligari had some limited success in LA theaters, and then gained a small but devoted following when released on video.
Dr. Caligari never got a proper DVD release, however, and fell out of the public eye; most people don’t even realize it’s available on DVD.  The film’s executive producer, Joseph F. Robertson, later formed Excalibur Video, the Internet’s largest pornographic video mail order site.  He apparently kept the exclusive distribution rights to the film and decided not to promote it, and legitimate new copies of the film can only be ordered from Excalibur with little fanfare.  A copy of the DVD comes packed in a generic case also used for porn films (thus the picture of Ginger Lynn in black lingerie that decorates the rear).  The DVD contains no special features, not even a chapter menu, and when playback starts you are treated to an amusing short wherein a nude woman tries unsuccessfully to dodge those colored vertical bars that used to be broadcast by TV stations as a test pattern during the wee hours before infomercials became all the rage.  The overall presentation, while lacking something in the respect department, does set the mood by giving you the feeling your watching something legitimately obscure and underground.
Sayadian’s pornography background is evident from the first scene, a “nympholeptic”‘s wordless dream of taking a bubble bath and being stalked and raped by a razor-wielding man with a kewpie doll head.  In fact, although the film is not especially arousing or dirty, the movie’s most memorable imagery all has a strong sexual edge, such as the woman with breasts designed by Salvador Dalí, a futile attempt to fellate a scarecrow whose pants are sadly stuffed only with hay, and the giant tongue that emerges from a pulsating wall of otherwise undifferentiated flesh.
Unfortunately, Sayadian’s pornography background is also evident from the acting, which is almost universally below professional standards.  John Durbin, who plays electroshock junkie and serial cannibal Gus Pratt, is actually pretty good, delivering manic, mile-a-minute monologues with a demented glee.  The rest of the cast, however, takes an overly artificial and mannered approach to their roles that is indeed weird, but not very effective.  Caligari’s psychiatric foils, a husband and wife team who finish each others sentences and exhale each other’s cigarette smoke, overact like unchecked, overconfident community theater refugees.  Topheavy Laura Albert was clearly chosen for her physique and willingness to disrobe rather than her acting abilities—her previous film roles included such juicy parts as “topless girl,” “nude dancer,” and “rocker chick #3.”  (In Albert’s defense, she later became a stuntwoman who worked steadily in Hollywood for ten years and is still going strong).  But the main thespic problem is Madeleine Reynal (Dr. Caligari), in her first and only role.  She dresses like Cleopatra and speaks a bit like Marlene Detriecht, but with no facial or verbal expressions except a perpetual sneer.  We do not hate her, or love to hate her; she’s pretty much dead on the screen.  She is a villainess who gets no joy out of her villainy.
The actors often mumble or slur their lines (or in Reynal’s case, the accent is simply too thick at times to make out what she is saying).  This is a shame, because the humorous dialogue often sparkles when it’s audible.  “Your wife has a disease of the libido,” Caligari informs a worried husband.  “Speak American!” he demands.  “Funny thing about desire… if it’s not crude, it’s not pure,” Caligari muses.  “I’m a juice dog… I’m a twicthing skee-ball… and you won’t let me shiver,” Pratt campily complains when the sadistic doctor teasingly withholds his electroshock therapy.  Co-writers Sayadian and Jerry Stahl display a gift for absurd dialogue, but unfortunately the actors’ inability to convey emotion or properly enunciate sabotages some of the potential and makes one lament the wasted opportunity.
If the script shows promise that is undermined by the acting, at least Sayadian has a genuine talent for creating distinctive, frequently mesmerizing visual atmospheres.  What impresses Dr. Caligari‘s fans are its ever-inventive off-center sets and Dayglo costumes, an ultrahip graphic pop universe that’s a constant delight to behold and a perpetual invitation to overlook the film’s flaws.  The director uses the low budget to his advantage, creating backgrounds that deliberately look cardboard and unreal rather than striving for a realism he couldn’t hope to attain.  Lurid lemons and hot pinks dominate the palette, set against inky black backgrounds (the movie was filmed entirely in a warehouse, which allowed complete control over every detail of the presentation).  True to the “Caligari” brand, Sayadian takes visual inspiration from German Expressionism, including lots of improbably slanted doorways and odd geometric backgrounds, but the style is as much a spoof as a tribute.  He undercuts the threatening nature of those unnatural spaces by painting them in bright pop colors, producing an ironically light motif.  Expressionism sought to project the character’s interior emotions—usually some species of torment—onto the exterior world to exaggerate their psychologies.  In Dr. Caligari, the only thing projected on the film canvas are the director’s own irreverent stylistic choices.  That’s not a criticism—not every movie about involuntary neurosurgery performed on cannibals by German dominatrixes seeking world domination has to be dark and brooding.  There’s certainly room in the film universe for a lighter, comic approach to such material.

Dr. Caligari (1989)

By Michael Sullivan:
Stephen Sayadian will probably go down in history as one of the few directors who almost legitimized porn. His film Cafe Flesh was a bizarre, arty film that was also a huge crossover hit that showed audiences that porn wasn't just for the raincoat crowd anymore. But Sayadian tossed any chance of legitimizing porn down the toilet by making standard (albeit weird) bishop-wacking fare.
By 1989, he wrote and directed this unbelievably weird non-porn Dr. Caligari remake. But this film is as much a remake of that silent classic as The Black Gestapo is a remake of Othello. The only similarity between the two films is that the stars of both films have characters named Caligari in them. The "plot" is loosely based around Dr. Caligari (Madeleine Reynal), who is using two of her recent patients as guinea pigs in a mind-switching experiment. Patient #1 is Mrs. Van Houten (Laura Albert), a psychotic nymphomaniac who says lines like, "My feelings are like filthy prayers. I want to scream in your face". Patient #2 is Gus Pratt (John Durbin), a freakish cannibal who likes to get electrocuted because he puts needles in his "pokey globes". Fox Harris is all for these experiments until the end, when he turns into a grotesque Marilyn Monroe impersonator with an unnatural obsession over Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith Show.
If all the above sounds strange, it gets even weirder. Everybody acts in an overly theatrical manner. The sets are pure German expressionism, but with an ugly neon-80's twist. Characters sometimes glide in and out of a room while wearing either pink or yellow clothes. There's a bleeding cake, a man in a kewpie doll mask wielding a straight razor, sunflowers suddenly growing for no reason, people eating sheeps' legs, a gigantic tongue, a penile-like arm, and much much more.
Much like 99 and 44/100% Dead, if you hate incoherent pretentious movies, then don't pick up this film, because it will be an utter nightmare for you. But if you're like me, and love to watch films that are like bad acid trips, I highly recommend you search this film out.
Until next time, I know you're watching me!
When I was invited to participate in Jeremy Richey's M.I.A. on DVD Blogathon taking place over at his marvelously eclectic blog Moon In The Gutter,  a film leapt to my mind that absolutely demands a DVD release:  Stephen Sayadian's 1989 trash-terpiece of candy-colored pop-surrealist nihilism, "Dr. Caligari."
I was first exposed to Sayadian's work when I was handed Nth-generation videocasettes of "Cafe Flesh" and "Dr. Caligari" and told "watch these--they're weird; I think you'll dig them." Dig them I did indeed, and I wound up crafting a short article on the fucked-up philosophy and eye-assaulting visuals of the films published in Issue 4 of Ultra Violent Magazine.  While "Cafe Flesh"  has received the DVD treatment (it's bare-bones but still to be lauded, considering the disposable nature our culture assigns to other XXX flicks), "Dr. Caligari" languishes in limbo, begging to be rediscovered.
To say Sayadian's "Dr. Caligari" is a reimagining of the German Expressionist milestone is accurate, even if that catchword makes my brain itch in a distinctly unpleasant fashion.  The 1989 movie dispenses with the dreamlike fairground and city of the original and expands the madhouse sequence to encompass the entirety of its eighty brainfuckling minutes.  The focus is on sex here, and anyone who's seen one of Sayadian's pseudonymous "Rinse Dream" porn flicks ("Cafe Flesh" or "Party Doll a Go-Go!" to name the most famous) knows that it's not hanging-from-the-chandeliers glee-sex or the kind of slick kink one might expect from a similarly-themed Eurotrash film.  No indeedy--this is sneering, body-horror sex that casts human erotic impulses as contemptible and weak.
Dark?  You betcha.  But this is black comedy we're dealing with here, and the manner in which Sayadian splatters the screen with madness elicits the same kind of laughter as that classic of altered-state art-sk00l viewing that is Richard Elfman's "Forbidden Zone."  Much like Elfman, Sayadian directs his actors to deliver their utterly ridiculous dialogue in a deliberately affected style of speech that just begs to be imitated.  Lines like "I've got an EKG you can dance to" and exchanges such as "Describe your life in three words;"  "Un. Ending. Torment;" are among the most obscenely quotable in weird cinema history.  I'd wager that no other film has successfully milked comedy out of a character inspired by heinous child-murderer and cannibal Albert Fish, and for that accomplishment alone, "Dr. Caligari" earns a prominent place in the trash cinema pantheon. - tenebrouskate.blogspot.com


The time...five years after a nuclear apocalypse.The survivors...post-nuke, thrill-freaks looking for a kick. They are able to exist, to sense, to feel everything... but pleasure.

In a world destroyed, survivors break down to those who can and those who can't. 99% are Sex Negatives; call them "erotic casualties." They want to make love but the mere touch of another person makes them violently ill. The rest, the lucky one percent, are Sex Positives, those whose libidos escaped unscathed. After the Nuclear Kiss, the Positives remain to love, to perform; and the others can only watch...can only come...to Cafe Flesh!

Boogie Nights would have you believe that porn peaked in the '70s. And there were some good sexually explicit films in that decade -- either unabashed porn (the Ingmar Bergman-influenced Devil in Miss Jones) or art films that showed everything (Nagisa Oshima's notorious In the Realm of the Senses). But porn didn't necessarily give up the ghost after Dec. 31, 1979. For one thing, there's still imaginative shot-on-video porn being produced today, by the likes of John Leslie, Paul Thomas (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Boogie Nights), and Candida Royale. But possibly the last ambitious porn film -- a porno that aspires to be more, and succeeds -- came out in 1982, right on the cusp of the home-video revolution that made Dirk Diggler so unhappy. It played midnight shows at legitimate theaters and would make an ideal double bill with 1983's Liquid Sky (a non-porn sci-fi black comedy).
Cafe Flesh, a post-nuclear New Wave porn feature, is short (80 minutes) but decidedly not sweet. The "Nuclear Kiss" has rendered 99% of the population unable to have sex - they've become Sex Negatives. The remaining one percent of Sex Positives are required by the government to perform public sex acts for the benefit (torment?) of the frustrated Sex Negatives. The movie is titled after a sex nightclub frequented by the Negatives and MC-ed by an obnoxious former stand-up comedian named Max Melodramatic (Andrew Nichols), clearly patterned on Joel Grey in Cabaret. "I get off on your need," he taunts the Negatives.
The plot centers on a Sex Negative couple, Nick (Paul McGibboney) and Lana (Pia Snow, later the scream queen Michelle Bauer), who are addicted to the nightly shows at Cafe Flesh. Nick keeps trying to make love to Lana, but he gets violently sick. Lana fakes being ill -- unbeknownst to Nick, she's actually a Sex Positive who has stuck with him out of love. But she becomes increasingly lustful as the movie goes on; she knows she could join the Positives in their sex games if she wanted to, and she's starting to want to. 

 If you've seen even a little porn, you know how rare it is for a sexually explicit film to bother with such things as a plot or even a premise, and when they do attempt a plot, it's usually fast-forward-worthy. Cafe Flesh holds your interest throughout. It begins in a daringly abrasive way (Max jeering at the Cafe Flesh audience -- and at us, too, as he grins right into the camera) and hooks us not with hardcore sex (though it has that, too) but with its ideas and conflicts. The script, by director Stephen Sayadian and writer Jerry Stahl (later the subject of the 1998 biopic Permanent Midnight), is tight, efficient, and often acridly witty. The acting is wooden (except for Andrew Nichols, doing a virtuoso asshole turn -- he deserved to break out into major movies but didn't), yet that fits the movie's nihilistic New Wave mood. 
 What really recommends Cafe Flesh is its look. The stage shows are conceived as avant-garde theater, with its participants dressed as animals, secretaries, giant pencils. (Some of today's more outré gonzo porn owes much to the kinky shenanigans in Cafe Flesh.) The cinematography, by Joseph Robertson, is stark and unsettling, shot mostly by available torch light. The sex itself (you were wondering when I was going to get to that?) is frigid and mechanized -- David Cronenberg might have looked at this movie before making Crash. It's so cold it's hot -- there's no fake context for the scenes, as there is in most porn. It's just there, and it has a queasy dead-zone fascination.
The movie's most challenging aspect is its disgust for its own audience. If you rent it to see copulation, you'll get that, but you'll also get dissed. The hapless, zombie-like spectators in the club are stand-ins for the spectators in the movie theater (or living room). In short, it's pomo porno. It gives you more and less than you expect. Cafe Flesh is good enough to make some of us regret the domination of porn by such cheerful hacks as Seymour Butts (and his bubbly, ready-for-whatever starlet Shane, the Sandra Bullock of porn). The medium needs more artists like Stephen Sayadian, who tried to crack the mainstream with 1989's Dr. Caligari. It didn't work out, and by the early '90s he had fallen back on routine sex videos like Party Doll a Go Go and Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West -- becoming, you could say, a real-life Jack Horner. -Rob Gonsalves

Cafe Flesh
I first saw “Cafe Flesh” in a ground floor apartment in the Nirvana apartment building on Orange and Franklin in Hollywood, right around the corner from the Chinese Theater. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also seeing the film just a few blocks from where it was shot.
The film is something of a legend as one of the few crossovers from adult entertainment to mainstream, after a style. There was also “Deep Throat,” which became something of a cultural touchstone and played for a decade at the Pussycat Theater on Hollywood. “Cafe Flesh” never crossed over to that sort of audience. No, this film found its audience at midnight screenings.
 A little bit of history, first. The was the second film made by the duo of director Rinse Dream and writer Herbert W. Day, the pseudonyms for Stephen Sayadian and Jerry Stahl. Sayadian had been a creative director at Hustler, producing a series of in-house ads that merged pornography with puckish satire; Stahl likewise had worked for Hustler, and went on to some notoriety for his book “Permanent Midnight,” in which he recounted a drug habit that was legendary even by Hollywood standards. Sayadian and Stahl moved out to Hollywood with Hustler, as the magazine’s publisher, Larry Flynt, had big plans to break into making films. And then Flynt was shot by a white supremacist in Lawrenceville. Georgia, who was offended by an interracial photoshoot in Hustler.
That left Sayadian and Stahl a bit adrift. To make ends meet, they opened up a design shop in the Cherokee Building on the southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee, which was also used as an office by the nearby Masque punk rock club (located in the basement of the very Pussycat where “Deep Throat” played). The building was also used as a rehearsal space for various Hollywood bands, including The Germs and Wall of Voodoo. (Much of this information comes from an extensive history of the film by Jacob Smith, found here, but locked behind a paywall.) Sayadian and Stahl continued to design for the ailing Hustler magazine, but also worked for mainstream film, and, in fact, designed the famous poster for “Dressed to Kill.” They also broke into hardcore pornography with a film called “Night Dreams,” which was their first to find a cult following on the midnight circuit. The film is very much like a screen version of the work the two had done for Hustler, consisting of a series of satiric tableaus, including one that recreated the “Dressed to Kill” poster. The film also features an astonishing soundtrack, including Wall of Voodoo’s version of “Ring of Fire.” The film was shot in the Cherokee building, and can be seen as a sort of test run for “Cafe Flesh.”
Telling of a future in which 90 percent of humanity has been rendered sterile by radiation, while the remaining 10 percent are forced to perform live sex acts in clubs, 1982’s “Cafe Flesh” is one of the most distinctive films in the history of porn. Sayadian and Stahl managed to create  the film in a tiny space in the Cherokee, using stolen electricity and paying for the rest of the film with bags of coins; the film was financed by the profits from nickel booths in adult stores. Firstly, the pair cleverly segregated the types of performance — porn actors weren’t required to do anything but have sex onscreen, and the rest of the cast wasn’t required to disrobe, but for two female leads. This allowed the pair to cast out-of-work actors in speaking roles, including a tour de force performance by Andy Nichols as the club’s hostile emcee, who presents each act with a series of celebrity impressions; they’re closer to caricature than impersonation.
This is not to say most of the acting is better than you might find in other porn films. Sayadian had decidedly avant garde tastes, which mostly shows itself in his new wave set designs, but carries through to how he directs his performers. They manage at once to be flat and melodramatic, often posing as they speak. It might be mistaken for bad acting, except it is so clearly deliberate. It’s also often hilarious — the bar features a bartender who, unprompted, will launch into long, deadpan, working-class riffs. A young Richard Belzer appears in a scene, smoking, twitching, and rattling off a hipster monologue that sounds cribbed from old juvenile delinquency films.
“Cafe Flesh” isn’t populated by characters, but by types, as though after the atomic holocaust, all of society has been burned away, leaving us nothing but half-remembered movie tropes to build our lives around. The men all seem to come from either vampire movies or Bowery Boys shorts, and the women all seem to come from Ingmar Bergman. The dialogue is peppered with lines from older films, or just titles. “You’re a kitten with a whip,” a character declares at one point, and it’s typical dialogue for the film. Nowadays, it has become common for films to quote earlier movies, a sort of cinematic intertextuality where new films are made out of pieces of older films. In 1982, it was decidedly uncommon, and made this film feel like it was as much a contemporary art project as a porn flick.
In fact, it didn’t do very well as pornography. It would show up now and then in adult theaters, which tended to cycle through dozens of films per week, but it wasn’t something that was constantly programmed — in my original three years in Hollywood, I never saw it listed at any adult houses, although I saw “Night Dreams” at the Pussycat on Sunset. As porn, it’s deliberately unsatisfying, with the act of coitus pared down to piston-like thrusting, sometimes with piston-syle sounds behind it. There are almost no representations of pleasure, and characters are often in grotesque costumes — one scene has a man in a rat mask and tail mounting a 50s housewife while three men in baby costumes look on from cribs, which they bang on in a mutual tantrum. There is a great deal of sensual overload in scenes like this, but it’s not sexual.
Nonetheless, you’ll still see films that borrow extensively from “Cafe Flesh,” mostly upscale adult films by arty directors, such as Antonio Passolini, who made two sequels. They tend to replicate the style of the film, with its deliberate artificiality and its distinctive use of industrial sounds, but replace the mechanical lovemaking with something simulating excitement. But while these films catch the original’s sense of style, they miss its sense of satire, which is probably for the better. “Cafe Flesh” doesn’t just offer a smirking, occasional vicious lampooning of old Hollywood films and apocalyptic scenarios, it extends its satire to adult films, the adult film audience (who seems to be the primary target of abuse by the club’s emcee), and even to the sex act itself.
This is not the sort of thing that is likely to keep winning back audiences, and, in fact, Rinse Dream’s later adult films became increasingly inscrutable and impersonal. But we don’t need more than one “Cafe Flesh,” as it got it right. For one moment, it seemed like the artistic avant garde that was both heralded and linked to punk and new wave had creeped into everything, including porn. I’m honestly surprised this film still doesn’t play the midnight movie circuit, but, then, the avant garde tends to go underground for a while, building its legend, before it reemerges to an audience prepared to appreciate it. We may not be in a time that is ready for “Cafe Flesh” just yet. When the moment is right, it will pull itself out of its hiding spot, perhaps deep in the ground below the Cherokee, and make an appearance just long enough to give its audience the middle finger they need and deserve. -

The Life and Times of Stephen Sayadian
Luther Phillips


It’s 1982 and the adult videotape market is just beginning to surge. Stephen Sayadian is in the process of making his second feature film, with the usual complications of the b-movie director: the entire film had to be shot over the course of eleven days in a small studio in the heart of downtown L.A.; electricity was being illegally patched in to power the equipment; and extras were recruited from a nearby blood bank and methadone clinic. The film was Café Flesh, a post-apocalyptic cult pornographic science fiction dystopian satire designed and directed by Sayadian (under the pseudonym “Rinse Dream”) and co-written by Sayadian and Jerry Stahl (credited as “Herbert W. Day”), most famous for his work on ALF, Thirtysomething, and Moonlighting, and later as the subject of the 1998 biopic Permanent Midnight.
Performance is one of Sayadian’s central themes, and his films feature styles of acting that are typically associated with the avant-garde. At that time, many downtown L.A. filmmakers were incorporating aspects of pornography into avant-garde film, and so it was a logical move for Sayadian to do the same thing in the opposite direction, bringing not only the acting techniques, but the surreal set and costume design associated with the avant-garde to his morbid pornographic vision. For example, a housewife getting it on with a milkman in a rat costume while gaudily made up men in high chairs look on and bang at their feeding trays with over-sized bones, or the executive with a giant pencil for a head doing it doggy style with his secretary. How did this happen?

Sayadian got his start during the mid 70s as Hustler’s creative director in charge of humor and advertising. This position entailed making the advertisements for Flynt’s novelty sex products. “When you looked at the advertising, you wouldn’t know if it was a parody or it was real,” Sayadian said in regard to those ads during a personal interview with Jacob Smith in August 2005, but it wouldn’t be till the early 1980s, when Sayadian teamed up with Stahl, and cinematographer Frank Delia, that he came into his own with his first adult feature: Night Dreams.
The narrative of Night Dreams is structured around sessions in a surreal sex therapy clinic.The first image we see is an extreme close-up of Mrs. Van Houton (Dorothy Le May), kneeling in a stark white clinical observation room, electrodes connected to her forehead. She looks directly at the camera and says,”I know you’re watching me. I feel your eyes like fingers touching me in certain places.” The camera cuts to a shot of a male and female doctor (Andy Nichols and Jennifer West) observing Mrs. Van Houton on the other side of one-way glass. For the rest of the film Mrs. Van Houton delivers direct-address stream-of consciousness monologues to the camera that segway into stylized sex sequences, while on the other side ot the glass the exasperated doctors try to make sense of her behavior.
In one segment we see Mrs. Van Houton in a kitchen, preparing a pot of Cream of Wheat. “Mmm. I love Cream of Wheat,” she says. “It’s so hot and creamy. It feels so good when it goes down my throat.” “It really fills a girl up. Nutritious and delicious,” exclaims an African American man wearing a cardboard Cream of Wheat box. As the soundtrack plays the Ink Spots’ light jazz version of “Old Man River” Mrs.Van Houton performs oral sex on the Cream of Wheat box, intercut with images of Wonder Bread. The scene ends when Sayadian appears dancing and playing the saxophone dressed as a slice of white bread.
Cafe Flesh has the same abstract element, but combined with a compelling storyline, in which Sex Positives hide from the authorities. “I’m a virgin,” a woman shouts as she’s being pulled away by undercover agents. It all takes place in the notorious sex club, Cafe Flesh, with its leering Negatives so reminiscent of the audience-members in Metropolis viewing the female robot as she comes to life for the first time, or the remarkable performance of Max Melodramatic (Andrew Nichols), the MC at the club where these shenanigans take place and clearly modeled after the character of Joel Gray from Cabaret.
In the world of Cafe Flesh, a “Nuclear Kiss” has rendered 99% of the population unable to have sex. The remaining one percent are required by the government to perform public sex acts in front of the frustrated Sex Negatives in a variety of dives like Cafe Flesh. This film predates Mad Max and Bladerunner, but exists in the same gritty alternative universe, intersplicing clips of sickly club-goers and the main characters in the back oozing boredom with every breath they take. “Big deal. Rico fucks. We watch. What else is new?”
“Good evening mutants and mutettes, and welcome to Cafe Flesh..” That’s Max Melodramatic, a cigarette-wielding hand concealing his disdain. Max is the voice of the film, playing it quiet and disgusted one minute, or flipping off the audience in a bonnet and dress while hanging from a swing. He’s the pusherman who gives you what you want while he spits in your face.
But the plot centers on a Sex Negative couple, Nick (Paul McGibboney) and Lana (Pia Snow, later the scream queen Michelle Bauer), who are addicted to the nightly shows at Cafe Flesh. Nick keeps trying to make love to Lana, but he gets violently sick. Lana fakes being ill — unbeknownst to Nick, she’s actually a Sex Positive who has stuck with him out of love, but her hidden lust is starting to get in the way. The slow-mo shot when she finally can’t take it any more and makes straight for the stage is like something straight out of an italian horror film, like The Beyond or Suspiria. “Ooh. Wyoming huh? Where a man can still be a man if he doesn’t mind sleeping in lead pajamas.”


Sayadian vanished from the scene for a while. Then, in 1989, he released Dr. Caligari, an attempt to move away from pornography and into pure cult, but also in many ways a return to Night Visions. Like Night Visions, it takes place in an insane asylum, but revolves around the mad scientist who runs C.I.A (Caligari Insane Asylum), as much as the patients. Dr. Caligari’s treatment is to transfer glandular brain fluids from one patient to another. This film is like the offspring of Cronenberg and Troma.
Two of her main patients, Mr. Pratt, a cannibalistic serial killer, and Mrs. Van Houten, a nymphomanical housewife, are the primary subjects of her mindswapping. Mrs. van Houten becomes the cannibal and Mr. Pratt the nymphomaniac; although, they seem to still retain some elements of themselves as well. Apparently Caligari’s unconventional idea is to cure people by introducing equally opposite traits to balance out disturbed minds, but this is never implicitly stated in the film. Several other doctors, a married couple Mr & Mrs. Lodger, become concerned with Caligari’s experiments and approach Mrs. Lodgers father Dr. Avol who confronts Caligari only to fall victim to her mindswapping and receives an injection of Mrs. Van Houtens fluid turning him into a transvestite nymphomaniac. Sex is a very prominent theme throughout the movie, especially for Mrs. Van Houten who appears topless and performs masturbation at several points, but there are no hard core graphic scenes as in his previous releases.
By the end of the film Mrs. Van Houten has injected Dr. Caligari with her own nymphomanical fluid and herself with Caligari’s ancestor’s (the original Dr. Caligari from the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) thus the patient becomes the doctor, the doctor becomes the patient and the inmates are left running the asylum.
Since Dr. Caligari, Sayadian has slipped back into the world of mainstream porn, but he still retains his distinctive style. For example, at one point in Party Doll A Go Go Part 2, Jezabel (Jeanna Fine) says, “I know you’re watching me,” just as Randy Spears is about to orally ravage her labia and surrounding girl area.


Dorothy LeMay stars as a housewife having her dreams and fantasies watched by a pair of scientists. The performances are good, with LeMay giving her earnest best in a film that really relies as much on its dream-like production as its sex. It's a great looking film, full of dark, eerie, nighmarish set pieces. The fantasies include a cowgirl 3 way near a campfire , a groupf of Arab Shieks that use LeMay for a human water pipe, and most startling, a visit to hell and an encounter with the devil himself. LeMay is an erotic sexual performer that seems completely at home on camera. Her 3-way with Monique and Danielle is a highlight, and while LeMay seems to put more into her lovemaking than any other of the performers-her efforts are protean-the others keep up admirably. The film succeeds in becoming a kind of adult art film whose surreal visual style and weird humor-there is a scene where LeMay seduces a man in a huge Cream of Wheat box-work well. There is also a good use of music here, including Wall of Voodoo's version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" .
Although little known today, this was one of the most revolutionary porn films of the 1980s, and remains a high point in a format that contains very few.
The Package
     Upon NIGHT DREAMS’ first appearance in 1981 it was widely recognized as a watershed in XXX filmmaking, heralding a porno renaissance that never quite occurred. Still, writer/producer Stephen Sayadian, a.k.a. Rinse Dream, did his best to elevate the industry with the popular (and highly overrated in my view) 1982 feature CAFÉ FLESH. Sayadian also turned out a NIGHT DREAMS 2 and 3 in 1989 and ‘91, respectively, but neither of those shot-on-video snooze-fests came close to replicating the brilliance of the first NIGHT DREAMS. Other Sayadian features include PARTY DOLL A-GO-GO 1 & 2 (both 1991), UNTAMED COWGIRLS OF THE WILD WEST 1 & 2 (both 1993) and the non-porno DR. CALIGARI (1989).
     NIGHT DREAMS’ talented director Francis Delia broke out of the porn ghetto with the so-so 1988 thriller FREEWAY, and now works largely in television, while co-writer Jerry Stahl went on to become a successful TV scribe, novelist and offscreen druggie.
The Story
     A couple of bored workers in a futuristic sex clinic are monitoring the thoughts and fantasies of a severely repressed woman. They attempt to electronically stimulate her libido, resulting in a succession of eerie and bizarre erotic reveries.
     In the first of the heroine’s fantasies she’s ogled by giant clown heads, one of which penetrates her with its penis-like nose. Following this is a more elaborate sexcapade involving lesbian cowgirls in a surreal western setting, and then the woman is ravished by Arabs in a harem. She also tries to seduce a robotic man, but upon unzipping his fly pulls out a dead human fetus.
     A succeeding fantasy has the woman raped in a bathroom. Next she sucks off a guy encased in a giant cream of wheat box while another guy outfitted as a slice of bread plays a saxophone. She later wakes up in bed beside a large gasping fish, and eventually winds up in Hell.
     The sex clinic workers become worried that they might have over-stimulated their subject as she retreats ever further from reality. They keep up the stimulation, however, as the woman undergoes a final orgasmic fantasy.
The Direction
     For all its qualities, it’s important to remember that this film is very much a product of the porn industry, meaning the acting and narrative--which is really just an excuse for a lot of extended fuck scenes--leave much to be desired. But the filmmakers worked overtime, creating a subconscious fantasia worthy of David Lynch.
     The highly artful, expressive lighting and evocative sound design are of a quality that’s all-but unheard of in adult moviemaking, and conjure a genuinely eerie and nightmarish atmosphere. Much of the imagery is arrestingly bizarre, from the giant clown masks that assault the heroine early on to that horny guy in the cream of wheat box. There’s also a haunting rendition of “Ring of Fire” by Wall of Voodoo that perfectly underscores the cowgirl sequence. While NIGHT DREAMS only partially makes the grade as a real movie, by porno standards it’s a veritable masterpiece. - www.fright.com

One of my first experiences with public fornication was when I observed a member of the Belgian industrial group à;GRUMH... orally massage the band's drummer, who was, at the time, conveniently performing an unclothed handstand. This unexpected bit of acrobatic mouth-to-crotch resuscitation had a profound affect on my underdeveloped mind. In that, it corrupted my view of oral sex from that day forward. Now every time I see a film or back alley demonstration that involves head being given, I let out a fake yawn. Well, my friends, perverted and non-perverted, my days of insincere yawning are over, for I have just witnessed the tongue-based resplendence that is the cowgirl cunnilingus scene in Nightdreams, Francis Delia (a.k.a. F.X. Pope) and Stephen Sayadian's disturbing and surreal look into the sexual psyche of an overly lascivious housewife. Set to the electronic twang of Wall of Voodoo's version of the Johnny Cash classic, "Ring of Fire," the beautifully rustic sequence crackles with an unseen artistry. Every nook and cranny is explored with an aggravated brand of devotion, as the trio of campfire cowgirls feast on each others naughty fissures like they were ice cream covered sandwiches laced with liquefied self-assurance.

Now I don't know what exactly it was about this particular scene that changed my oral outlook. But whatever it was, feline-quality, clitoral grooming is now just swell with me.

The other scenes in Nightdreams ranged from unsettling to off-the-wall. Each exploring the depraved fantasies of Mrs. Van Houten (Dorothy LeMay) and featuring a twisted and playful approach to on-screen lovemaking. Though, I have to say, some of the fantasies were downright terrifying in nature. The scene where Miss LeMay's prickly beaver is repeatedly stabbed by the one-eyed meat cleaver owned by a demonic jack-in-the-box, for example, caused my junk to get up, give my houseplants a dirty look, and leave the room.

However, it's not all limp and unmanageable: the scene where Dorothy is admiring her lingerie in the bathroom was on the cusp of being erotic. Unfortunately, a fedora-wearing miscreant bursts into the room and insists on doing her doggie-style over the toilet.

Strangely, the most conventionally arousing scene that didn't involve the inspection of lingerie was the one where a box of Cream of Wheat receives gratifying fellatio from a hungry LeMay, while a saxophone-playing slice of bread frantically toots his horn by the stove. "It really fills a girl up. Nutritious and delicious. Eat it before it gets cold."

You probably noticed that I mentioned Dorothy LeMay a bunch of times in the words typed above. Well, that's because she's in every scene. Which is quite impressive when you think about it. I mean, one moment she's being double-teamed by a couple of hookah-smoking sheiks, and the next she's being poked by a two-pronged phallus in the depths of Hell (Michelle Bauer from Café Flesh watches while chained to the wall). I tell ya, that sounds like a lot of work. Seriously, Dorothy is excellent as the film's unhinged test subject (she's being studied by two research scientists). Her ability to be jizzed on without flinching is one thing, reciting brainsick dialogue with poise and grace is quite another.

The fact that Nightdreams sports money shots in Heaven and Hell only solidifies my opinion that Stephen Sayadian (credited here as Rinse Dream) is a demented genius. For someone to have been able to make iconoclastic films in the artistically bankrupt world of xxx features is a testament to his talent and conviction. Rinse Dream Forever! - houseofselfindulgence.blogspot.com

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