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A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange  

18 members have voted

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  1. 1. Does "A Clockwork Orange" belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes. Well, don't think about it too long.
      11
    • No! NO! Stop it! Stop it, please! I beg you! This is sin!
      7
  2. 2. Which is the better film?

    • A Clockwork Orange
      3
    • Taxi Driver
      11

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  • Poll closed on 12/07/18 at 08:00 AM

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Amy & Paul undergo the Ludovico technique to watch Stanley Kubrick's dark dystopia A Clockwork Orange! They explain the history of the famous "Singin In The Rain" scene, compare the complicated adaptation to Anthony Burgess' original novel, and question why Kubrick should be considered a moral authority on anything. Plus: Paul weighs in on the online discussion about the AFI list and "incels."

CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains frank discussion of rape and rape scenes.

For Rocky week, tell us about how you first encountered the Rocky franchise! Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts.

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https://www.nytimes.com/1986/12/31/books/publishing-clockwork-orange-regains-chapter-21.html

On the 21st chapter, I was going to say, Paul had it backwards.  Burgess wanted the 21st chapter happy ending (it goes with his view of the importance of choice, though following a belief that as a child grows into adulthood, he will become a man (get it?  Chapter 21. Yeah, Burgess said that was an explicit choice too) and start choosing more... human/humane decisions.  And that can't be programmed by God or, increasingly, the state (related to the title A Clockwork Orange).  At least that was my recollection from my copy of the book.  And so, from Burgess' point of view, the 21st chapter was wanted, but he was convinced to drop it for the American audience.

According to the article, the American publisher suggested it and Burgess said his British publisher convinced him to add it on in Britain.  Either way, Kubrick made his movie from the American version, to my understanding, not being aware there was a 21st chapter (which is weird to think about, because I think he was living in England at the time and everyone else in the movie is British, aren't they?)

Anyhow, I'll have lots to say about this one later.

For now though, I'll also leave you with the following video I found.  Since it came up in the top 25 questions poll, what movie I'd like people to see, I chose what I feel is the underseen movie, A Funeral Parade of Roses, and my av is a screenshot from the movie, this seems like an appropriate time to bring this comparison up:


(NSFW warning: since the comparison scenes includes the sped up sex scene from ACO)
https://vimeo.com/132935332

 

I've heard that it is apocryphal that FPoR was a favorite of Kubrick and have never been able to find any first person evidence indicating he has ever seen it.  Though some of the scenes between the two seem stylistically very similar. (Though putting them side by side, it actually seems less obvious.  e.g. The sped up scene in FPoR isn't sped up as much as ACO, so seeing them side-by-side doesn't make it seem like it's going fast).  Though, it isn't like FPoR wasn't influenced by other movies (and other people working on ACO may have seen it and contributed ideas, who knows), though, boy the shopping scenes always stick out in my head as the most similar. 

 

The possibility of them both (ACO and FPoR) being influenced by similar movies though, does make me think, while we do start to see the formation of certain styles and techniques in ACO that we see again in later Kubrick movies (the close-up to zoom out that feels like we're going from a close-up portrait to a larger social scene containing a society in which the original individual is only a part of, or in the case of Barry Lyndon, going from a portrait to a landscape, though with also the same possible thematic implications), we see things in this movie that I don't think we see in his other films.  There's much more of a frenetic pace.  E.g. (I need to rewatch, but I'm trusting my memory here) When he bludgeons the cat women with the penis statue, I believe that's when there's a quick cut to and from her mouth to a piece art of a cartoon mouth screaming.   And you have what I refer to as the dancing Christ scene (still statues of multiple Christs that look like they're dancing due to the cuts between his hands and feet).  So, if he didn't take FPoR, or maybe another Japanese New Wave film, is it possible, given the time when he made this movie, that those differences in this film was him being influenced by the French New Wave?

 

But yeah, I'll probably have more to say on this one later.

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It's weird, I'd probably defend this movie for a lot of what is in it, as a story, art, comedy, multi-layered, ironic, etc. There is a lot there and I thought it led to a great discussion via Amy & Paul - this may be my fave Unspooled ep yet!  

But like Paul, I've also grown up and maybe away from the film and I don't find it particularly enjoyable anymore.  In the end, I think its points just maybe come off uninteresting to me, feel way too ironic, and perhaps too stylized. 

I do have a vague, unworked-out theory that perhaps, as Alex is the narrator, that EVERYTHING we see in this movie, is entirely his delusion. Thus, the world consists fully of his world view: misogynist art, phallic symbols, the victims who seemingly deserve it (as Amy noted), the recurring idea that he's better than everyone else.  Or, like, take those two girls in the record store -- did he really pick them up?  Or did he just convince himself he did?  If we Rashomon'ed this movie, how would we see it from other characters' views?

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I voted a tentative yes on the poll, though I could be convinced otherwise. My objections are not so much to the artistry or content of the movie (I think it remains a great, thought-provoking film, if not always the most enjoyable watch), but rather:

1. It's BARELY an "American" film. The only things that qualify it for the AFI list are that the financial backing was American (Warner Bros.) and that Stanley Kubrick was American-born. On the other hand, all of the filming took place in Britain, the entire cast was British, and the story all takes place in Britain. Kubrick lived a majority of his life and did most of his professional filmmaking in England. It seems pretty British to me.

2. There's a good argument that this isn't even a Top 5 Kubrick. Of course, I think Kubrick made more than five great films so that's not necessarily a knock on it, but if you're considering an all-time list maybe it doesn't need to be there.

But that said, A Clockwork Orange has also clearly had a huge impact on popular culture (look how many Simpsons references!), so based on that I say yes.

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I’m about to listen to the episode and just want to give everyone a heads-up that if anyone refers to this movie as “punk rock” my brain is going to explode.

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10 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

I’m about to listen to the episode and just want to give everyone a heads-up that if anyone refers to this movie as “punk rock” my brain is going to explode.

RIP

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11 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

RIP

Ugh...

tenor.gif?itemid=5478351

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Just now, Cameron H. said:

Ugh...

tenor.gif?itemid=5478351

It's not exactly the way you think though, it comes with a caveat (Paul says he grew out of thinking it that way).

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11 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

It's not exactly the way you think though, it comes with a caveat (Paul says he grew out of thinking it that way).

Doesn’t matter. Still wrong.

So...

3jjdk4p.gif?noredirect

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I like a lot of Amy's points she's made about past movies, but I disagree with a couple she made about this one.

I don't think it's necessarily Kubrick or the movie that feels bad for Alex. It's Alex who feels bad for Alex. We are very entrenched in his head, which is why his injuries are made to look painful while everyone else's is either non-existent or portrayed as comical. Alex sees himself as a victim, and he expects everyone else to feel sorry for him and even like him (hence him referring to himself affectionately as "your faithful narrator," etc.). This is part of what makes the movie so great: we're forced to take this journey through a really fucked-up mindset, something books sometimes do, but movies so rarely get right.

 

I also don't think his victims were portrayed as unlikable. The two women who didn't want to let Alex in were smart to do so. They know that the streets are running rampant with gangs and cons like this, and the second woman even directed Alex to a place he could get help before calling the police. The only one I throw shade on is the writer for being naive enough to let him in; his wife had much better instincts.

 

I do agree that Kubrick probably empathized with Alex more than a normal person would, but we also know that guy's brain worked like no one else's.

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1 hour ago, ProfessorRockstar said:

I like a lot of Amy's points she's made about past movies, but I disagree with a couple she made about this one.

I don't think it's necessarily Kubrick or the movie that feels bad for Alex. It's Alex who feels bad for Alex. We are very entrenched in his head, which is why his injuries are made to look painful while everyone else's is either non-existent or portrayed as comical. Alex sees himself as a victim, and he expects everyone else to feel sorry for him and even like him (hence him referring to himself affectionately as "your faithful narrator," etc.). This is part of what makes the movie so great: we're forced to take this journey through a really fucked-up mindset, something books sometimes do, but movies so rarely get right.

 

I also don't think his victims were portrayed as unlikable. The two women who didn't want to let Alex in were smart to do so. They know that the streets are running rampant with gangs and cons like this, and the second woman even directed Alex to a place he could get help before calling the police. The only one I throw shade on is the writer for being naive enough to let him in; his wife had much better instincts.

 

I do agree that Kubrick probably empathized with Alex more than a normal person would, but we also know that guy's brain worked like no one else's.

Agreed on all points. It seems pretty obvious to me that Alex is the quintessential example of the "unreliable narrator." AlmostAGhost theorized above that the whole movie might be simply a fever dream of Alex's and not really happening . . . I wouldn't go that far, but the presentation is definitely subjective and highly tilted towards Alex's POV.

That's why the other characters come off poorly, IMO -- Alex sees the older people as stuffed-shirt fuddy-duddies just there to be used for whatever he can get from them. He thinks the violence is fun and playful. Of course, as soon as violence is directed back towards him, it's seen very differently.

Does Kubrick empathize with Alex? Maybe. I'm not sure if it's that or that he is deliberately trying to place the audience in Alex's shoes as a challenge to our morality. It's also very possible that he just doesn't want to do the obvious thing and present Alex's actions as clearly evil from the beginning; that might not leave the movie anywhere to go after the opening scenes.

On the podcast they also discussed the film's relationship to Burgess' novel, and Amy claimed it was a "bad" adaptation because it didn't share the same moral viewpoint Burgess had. I'm not sure about that. I'm reminded of a more recent film, directed by someone often compared to Kubrick: The Social Network. That's another movie where there seems to be a differing point of view between writer and director: Aaron Sorkin's script tells you Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole, but David Fincher's direction kind of wants you to admire him. IMO, that makes for a richer film experience, to have these competing ideas about the same person coming at you throughout. A Clockwork Orange is an even more extreme version, but I think there's something similar going on here. You're getting BOTH messages: Alex is reprehensible, AND ALSO sympathetic. It's not either/or.

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I wanted to call A Clockwork Orange the KISS of movies, but I'm not sure if it even deserves to be called that. At best, it's Marilyn Manson. No one remembers him for being a great musician, just his "shock value." A Clockwork Orange is peanut-packed bro-core, drenched in sophomoric moral philosophy, that titters maliciously behind the guise of "Art."

No thanks. 

 

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Nah I dunno, I don't think anyone involved thought they were making 'art' here.  I think they knew it was comedy/irony/confrontational/basic, and were not trying to hide it under the guise of anything higher.  So yea in a way... it's punk rock.  (;))

It's also, like Taxi Driver, only bro-core if you think you have to relate to Alex.  You don't.  You shouldn't.  Good lord, you shouldn't.  Is that how people watch this?  I had the same defense of Taxi Driver.  Who is doing this?  Is it that difficult to realize a movie where you do NOT have to relate to the main character?  If you're watching this and cheering Alex on, wtf.

And I don't even particularly like Clockwork... but I do think it is more than just shock.

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44 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Nah I dunno, I don't think anyone involved thought they were making 'art' here.  I think they knew it was comedy/irony/confrontational/basic, and were not trying to hide it under the guise of anything higher.  So yea in a way... it's punk rock.  (;))

It's also, like Taxi Driver, only bro-core if you think you have to relate to Alex.  You don't.  You shouldn't.  Good lord, you shouldn't.  Is that how people watch this?  I had the same defense of Taxi Driver.  Who is doing this?  Is it that difficult to realize a movie where you do NOT have to relate to the main character?  If you're watching this and cheering Alex on, wtf.

And I don't even particularly like Clockwork... but I do think it is more than just shock.

I meant in the sense that they brought up in the show. It's all fun and games until someone pushes back against it. Then suddenly it's "Art" and "Oh, but Kurosawa liked it!" Too much shitty "Art" gets a pass just because people bullshit and bully the world into thinking that it's so.

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3 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

A Clockwork Orange is peanut-packed bro-core, drenched in sophomoric moral philosophy, that titters maliciously behind the guise of "Art."

The Fight Club of the 70s.  *ducks for cover*

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2 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I meant in the sense that they brought up in the show. It's all fun and games until someone pushes back against it. Then suddenly it's "Art" and "Oh, but Kurosawa liked it!" Too much shitty "Art" gets a pass just because people bullshit and bully the world into thinking that it's so.

That quote, at least as it was presented, did make him sound really defensive.  Though, I think he probably didn't like the banned Video Nasties (not that ACO was banned as a Video Nasty since it was withdrawn voluntarily) in the UK in principle and remember the talk of restricting video game violence growing up, I guess I could get into that headspace.  Granted, I was a teenager when I was growing up.  Kubrick was roughly 40 when he made ACO, so who knows.

 

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Anyway, I'm with Paul and AlmostAGhost on how this film hasn't aged well as I've grown up.   I posited in my Letterboxd review that A Clockwork Orange is Kubrick's version of a 60s/70s exploitation B movie, what with all the unnecessary sex (superfluous to the necessary amount of sex to tell the story) and the super weird over-the-top performances.  Maybe exploitation films are what Kubrick thought of when he read the story, since it's about glorification of sex and violence.  At any rate, I don't see the greatness in this.  I was sort of thinking that there would be at least a couple people in this forum arguing vehemently for it, but so far it doesn't seem to be so.

And also, I was taken aback when both Paul and Amy said they'd take A Clockwork Orange over Taxi Driver.  I'm surely not the biggest defender of Taxi Driver, but it will certainly end up higher on my list than Clockwork.

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Anyhow I'm halfway through my rewatch for the podcast and at some point in it, I started making notes of where there is blood (and a couple where there is not).

  • Blood on Vampire Alex's teeth in the beginning while he's daydreaming to music
  • Blood on Dim's hand when Alex pushes Dim into the waterway, and pretends he's going to help him up, he pulls out a knife and slices Dim's hand.  There's a streak of blood.  The movie draws out/slows down this scene.  I'm guessing that's a timing/editing issue for the music than necessarily dramatic emphasis.  At least purely dramatic emphasis.  This is one the few instances where you see blood come out of someone from a wound onscreen, and it's a streak.
  • No Blood on head wound to Alex.  When Alex breaks into cat lady's place, she strikes him on the head with a statue of Beethoven.  There is no blood.
  • No Blood on Alex when a milk bottle is broken on his face - scene after cat lady break in where he's betrayed by his droogs
  • Dried blood on gauze on Alex's broken nose in police station
  • No Blood comes out when the officer presses down on Alex's broken nose
  • Blood on Alex's face and interrogation room's wall when parole officer comes in, after the police "interrogate" him.  Note, the blood is present/static in the scene as it's revealed.
  • In jail, during Alex's fantasy about being a Roman, he slits a man's throat.  You briefly see blood.  Like Dim's wound, it is a thin line of blood.
  • During treatment, starting video of a gang beating up a man.  There is blood on his face as he comes onto screen.  Comparable to the amount to Alex in jail/"interrogation" scene

I'll also note that there are a lot of close ups on the author's face and the wife as she's being raped.  Right before Alex bludgeons the cat lady, there is a zoom in of her face screaming in terror (well zooming in and zooming out).

At first when I started taking these notes, I thought it was going to be, well, blood is judiciously used because a lot of yaddy, yaddy, yaddy, various craft and/or dramatic-stylistic reasons.  But looking closely, I think they just had technical challenges getting the blood to look right (it was 70s, bleeding red, not blood, type of blood, in case it's relevant), so they had to limit the usage not to draw attention to it.  The only scenes where blood is drawn from a wound are the two knife slit wounds, and there's a lot of delay in them, and you only get a thin line.  

Amy's take that the movie empathizes with Alex is one worth considering, but I think the blood, or the lack there-of, is not the evidence Amy is looking for.  Though I'm really wondering exactly how Amy meant the, "well, his victims deserved it."  In terms of, did she actually feel they were bad people or just that the movie unfairly treated them as bad people.  Because it sounded like the former when she said it.

 

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28 minutes ago, bleary said:

Anyway, I'm with Paul and AlmostAGhost on how this film hasn't aged well as I've grown up.   I posited in my Letterboxd review that A Clockwork Orange is Kubrick's version of a 60s/70s exploitation B movie, what with all the unnecessary sex (superfluous to the necessary amount of sex to tell the story) and the super weird over-the-top performances.  Maybe exploitation films are what Kubrick thought of when he read the story, since it's about glorification of sex and violence.  At any rate, I don't see the greatness in this.  I was sort of thinking that there would be at least a couple people in this forum arguing vehemently for it, but so far it doesn't seem to be so.

And also, I was taken aback when both Paul and Amy said they'd take A Clockwork Orange over Taxi Driver.  I'm surely not the biggest defender of Taxi Driver, but it will certainly end up higher on my list than Clockwork.

Tinto Brass was originally going to do Clockwork at one point, but then he went off and did The Howl (his only movie that I've seen) and Kubrick grabbed the rights to the book or something.  This was after Brass' phase of doing softcore porn and before his later phase of doing softcore porn.  What I'm saying is, yeah, this was a genre film.  Though that doesn't make it mutually exclusive from being an art film.

Kubrick's my favorite director, like Sycasey, I don't think this is a top 5 Kubrick.  Like everyone else, I liked it a lot more when I was young.  It's one of the few Kubrick's that actually got weaker for me over time.  That said as I was rewatching it, I still enjoy the hell out of it (well, not the main rape scene.  That is... uncomfortable).  That said, I enjoy The Warriors, but if you were to strip all the weird characters out of The Warriors, I'd enjoy that movie a lot less.  I would not place The Warriors on the AFI top 100 list.  At least, I don't think.  It seems like "in the bottom 50" anything goes with people.  I think I had a point there, but then lost it.  Oh well.

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I just wanted to reiterate that Amy and Paul missed the mark on their summary of this film. The entire film is from the perspective of an “unreliable narrator” that is in a delusion. He isn’t presented at all as sympathetic, he thinks of himself, the humble narrator, as sympathetic. Also. after his suicide attempt, he is back to his old self; therefore, he is “cured” of the treatment, not “cured” by the treatment.

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12 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Kubrick's my favorite director, like Sycasey, I don't think this is a top 5 Kubrick.  Like everyone else, I liked it a lot more when I was young.  It's one of the few Kubrick's that actually got weaker for me over time.  That said as I was rewatching it, I still enjoy the hell out of it (well, not the main rape scene.  That is... uncomfortable).  That said, I enjoy The Warriors, but if you were to strip all the weird characters out of The Warriors, I'd enjoy that movie a lot less.  I would not place The Warriors on the AFI top 100 list.  At least, I don't think.  It seems like "in the bottom 50" anything goes with people.  I think I had a point there, but then lost it.  Oh well.

I agree with a lot of this. I also feel like I was giving this film short shrift a little bit in my comment, since I focused on why I could see an argument for voting against it. So let me try to mount more of a defense or full-throated praise.

It seems to be generally true that people respond more to A Clockwork Orange when they're young and see it fade as they age. It's the same for me . . . but I'm not sure if that has to be a big strike against it. I will say that when I first saw this movie at 18, it wasn't just something I loved, it was something that opened my eyes to the possibilities of what cinema could do. This wasn't just a comedy or an action movie, it was a movie that used dark humor and violence to first shock your sensibilities and then after grabbing you by the scruff, forced you to examine the disturbing consequences of those actions and the response to it. It delivered a bracing inquisition in to fundamental moral questions: Alex is terrible, but what do you do with someone like that? If you take away his ability to do bad, was that a victory? Did it make society safer, or did it just ensure the violence came from somewhere else? Was it worth the removal of his humanity?

Maybe when you're young you need something like this to kind of get in your face and force you to start thinking philosophically about moral issues, even if it's a bit shaggy and unsubtle about doing so. There is value in that.

Though perhaps not as much as with something like 2001, I do still keep finding relevance in the movie and new things to explore. For example, upon this most recent viewing I was struck by its commentary on the criminal justice system. The government's treatment of Alex isn't just cold during the Ludovico treatment, their cruelty also continues afterward, when they just toss him back out into the world with no further support system. We see how that goes: Alex's old friends come around (as cops!) to torment him, his former victims try to exact revenge, his family are nervous around him, even perfect strangers (Joe the lodger) immediately treat him as a pariah. To me this was a great illustration of why recidivism rates are so high.

Also, the KISS of movies? I don't think so. I never heard a KISS song that even pretended to be about anything other than partying or chasing girls. I'd say the closer musical parallel is early gangsta rap -- music that does carry a social critique or message, but one that is sometimes drowned out by the violence and misogyny on the surface.

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13 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Amy's take that the movie empathizes with Alex is one worth considering, but I think the blood, or the lack there-of, is not the evidence Amy is looking for.  Though I'm really wondering exactly how Amy meant the, "well, his victims deserved it."  In terms of, did she actually feel they were bad people or just that the movie unfairly treated them as bad people.  Because it sounded like the former when she said it.

Probably she meant the latter, but yeah I had a similar reaction. It started to sound a little bit like she was blaming the Cat Lady (for example) for not opening the door for Alex. That was the right call!

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54 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Also, the KISS of movies? I don't think so. I never heard a KISS song that even pretended to be about anything other than partying or chasing girls. I'd say the closer musical parallel is early gangsta rap -- music that does carry a social critique or message, but one that is sometimes drowned out by the violence and misogyny on the surface.

My comparison wasn’t based on their content. My point was KISS and Marilyn Manson are trash bands that wouldn’t have found success or be remembered at all if it weren’t for their shock value. If you take out everything shocking in A Clockwork Orange, it’s kindergarten philosophy with Monty Python aesthetics.

(in my opinion)

 

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Just now, Cameron H. said:

My comparison wasn’t based on their content. My point was KISS and Marilyn Manson are trash bands that wouldn’t have found success or be remembered at all if it weren’t for their shock value. If you take out everything shocking in A Clockwork Orange, it’s kindergarten philosophy with Monty Python aesthetics.

 

I don't know how to respond to this, given that I've watched the movie many times and clearly have gotten more than that out of it. I'll just say that I disagree completely.

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