Friday, April 30, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Experimental/Avant Garde Shorts Programs

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

The San Francisco International Film Festival has two programs of experimental (or as Brakhage referred to it as "personal cinema") and avant garde (ultra-quirky!) shorts programs: "Something Like a Dream" (the experiments) and "Pirate Utopias" (the avant garde).  They contain a total of 17 pieces.  I'll start with the quirky ones.

One and One Is Life (dir. Martha Colburn, USA 2009, 5 min)  Another collage animation from Martha Colburn, who is just not to my... taste or aesthetic. Mind you, this semi-kaleidoscopic fantasia/tribute to Wonder Woman came close to gripping me, but in the end, I find her stuttering camera work distracting.

Release (Bill Morrison, USA 2009, 13 min) Oh. My. Gawd!!  To say that I am a "Bill Morrison Fan" is now an understatement. I am on record as loving Decasia,  Light Is Calling and How To Pray.  Although this piece actually had audience members hissing, I found it to be "ART"!  Morrison repeats a piece of newsreel, ever expanding the amount of frames, over a fifteen minute period.  It became apparent to me that we were outside of a prison, awaiting someone's release. The film then became an allegory, and obviously to some audience too physically real, as to what waiting for a release must be like.  The frame paces the scene, over and over, illuminating details that were unseen, as each pass is made.  Underneath the visuals, is yet another brilliantly devised soundtrack, this time featuring music by Vijay Iver.  I loved it and hiss back at those detractors!

Fiddlestixx (dirs. David and Nathan Zellner, USA 2009, 3 min) Simply put in the program guide: "The first episode in the chronicles of a super-sensitive, megalomaniacal, perhaps magic monkey: Fiddlestixx!"  This is one whacked out video! When asked during the Q&A what was their 'inspiration', one of the Zellners replied, "We were able to rent a monkey for the day, and decided to put him in front of a green screen!" Sort of fun and worth exploring the rest of the series at their website!

Embrace of the Irrational (dir. Jonn Herschend, USA 2009, 18 min)
Locally commissioned by San Francisco gallery Southern Exposure, this video deconstructs educational and documentary form. It exposes the behind the scenes drama of an educational video and then goes one more step to behind the scenes of the making-of, in itself. All of it is a dramatic ruse, which is its punchline, of course!  It could have gone one much longer and entered the fabulous world of Luis Buñuel!!

Spin (dir. Max Hattler, England 2009, 4 min) A CGI'ed animation of toy soldiers are given a Busby Berkeley treatment. Yet, in the end, Hattler doesn't hesitate to shock the audience of what the reality of the situation is. Visually complex and fascinating, as well as emotionally profound by the end.

M (dir. Felix Dufour-Laperriere, Canada 2009, 8 min) A still frame can not do this postindustrial animation justice! It is moody, creepy and beautiful. I was not ceased to be amazed at how the director was able to create images that were completely alien, yet mechanically recognizable. I was swept away in a strange rush...

Zef Side (Sean Metelerkamp, South Africa 2009, 3 min) Well. I suppose that this IS an international film festival, so a South African rap video is not totally out of place. However, I am not a fan of either the music, nor of the imagery that Metelerkamp created.  I sort of did not understand why it was here, actually.

Blink (no site link available) (dir. Silas Howard, USA 2009, 12 min) I saw this at last year's Frameline Festival, or at least a rougher cut of it, as there were a couple minor moments that I don't exactly remember. And I believe that Howard cleaned up the business with the sea cucumbers.  Yes, sea cucumbers.  Transexuals and sea cucumbers.  You tell me. It remains to be bleak and depressing, even with the appearance of Ben Foster as a skinhead. Yes, a skinhead.

When programmer Sean Uyehara introduced this selection of shorts, he proffered a warning that there was going to be explicit sex in the final piece, which was directed by Guy Maddin.  Well, I was sort of intrigued and excited to see just what Maddin would come up with! The Little White Cloud that Cried! (dir. Guy Maddin, Canada 2009, 13 min)  Guy Maddin continues to frustrate me!!  Just as I come back to love him after seeing his short online, NIGHT MAYOR, I then turn around in a couple of weeks and see this. Apparently, it was commissioned by the Berlinale for a Jack Smith film festival, I found it to be not so much a tribute to Smith or Kenneth Anger (though it is definitely derivative of them), but a nearly exploitative homage to the baser motifs those two directors worked in. In the end, I just felt it was transsexual pornography. Not pleased, at all.  I'll have to watch SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD again to get the taste of this out of my mouth.

Before continuing on into the pieces included in the experimental program, I should mention that I am not quite as open minded regarding 'personal cinema' as I am with the avant garde. I try to understand why and where the images are coming from, within the artist. That said...

Ghost Algebra (dir. Janie Geiser, USA 2009, 8 min) Is an animated collage of a "battlefield of fragile creatures and nervous dreams".  I didn't quite get that. I did get the dreamlike suggestion with Geiser's editing of images. However, I do not portend to understand what the imagery could have meant to her.  Since it was so personal, it did feel a tad long and redundant. However, she does have a unique vision that with some editing would be more readily appreciated, I believe.

De Luce 1: Vegetare (dir. Janis Crystal Lipzin, USA 2009, 5 min) During the follow-up Q&A, Lipzin explained her process and what she was creating. It was highly aesthetic and technical and actually, was more information than I personally needed to enjoy it. I was simply taken out of myself for a bit in this exploration of color and vegetation. Yes, that sounds sort of quirky, at best, but it was a lovely few minutes...

The Soul of Things (dir. Dominic Angerame, USA 2010, 15 min) Simply put in the program guide: "Using lush black-and-white reversal film, Angerame portrays a city—our city—deconstructed, reconstructed, torn down and built up once again."  And, yes, Angerame is able to instill a ghost or "soul" in the footage of buildings that he has processed and edited together.  Though it took some extra time to get there, once his cinematic thesis was broached, I found it remarkable. (There are no stills available.)

Somewhere Only We Know (dir. Jesse McLean, USA 2009, 5 min) In a montage of "found footage", mostly comprised of competitive reality show contestants awaiting judgment, McLean produces a near dizzying melange of anxiety in portraits. Once I got past the recognition factor (yes, I watch way too much trash TV!), I began to become involved in the unspoken fears and dilemmas of the nameless characters on screen.

Arnos Tonlabor (dir. Christophe Janetzko, Germany 2009, 8 min) Again, the program guide probably explains this as well as anything: "This piece of musique concrète constructs a fascinating, abstract portrait of film sound-recordist Arno Wilms as he works in his studio."  Frankly, I was not so fascinated.

People’s Republic of Zoo (no site available) (dir. Sun Xun, China 2009, 8 min)  Though the program notes vaguely jog my memory of this piece, I can not say that any of the visuals stuck with me, much less intrigued or engaged me.  Ah well... "Sun Xun and his [Pi] Animation Studio’s beautifully hand-drawn and painted animal figures are woven into a series of parables that, inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, draw on history, politics and the natural science."

Bolinas (dir. Marcia Scott, USA 2008, 13 min) Marcia Scott's silent montage of color and light swept me away in a cinematic equivalent of sitting before a Mark Rothko painting. Her use of shadow, light and color was extraordinary and I couldn't help but to run up to her after the screening to tell her so!  I could have stared at this in meditation for quite some time...

Shu (Blue Hour Lullaby) (dir. Phillip Lachenmann, Germany 2008, 13 min)  Simply, an extended shot of a landscape during twilight and into the night as stars take over the sky above California's Security Housing Unit. There is something poetic about the dichotomy of the peaceful sky versus the scenes that are probably taking place within the prison below it. (No stills available.)

Maxxxxx says re RELEASE and BOLINAS: "Whoooooo! Such a pretty bird!"

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Gainsbourg and Coco and Stravinsky, Oh My!

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

I guess I am just not a musical romanticist or something, but, oh, those salacious composers...

Firstly, Elisabeth Lecqueret, who seems to be the "French selections consultant" of some sort for the San Francisco Film Society, comes as close to the good old days of Rrrrroxanne(!), in her ability to toss away a program introduction. Apparently, Serge Gainsbourg needs NO introduction? Well, no introduction to anyone over 50 years old, perhaps. But for those of us walking into GAINSBOURG (JE T'AIME . . . MOI NON PLUS) (dir. Joann Sfar, France, 2009, 135 minutes) blind, Joann Sfar's film did little, if anything, to enlighten us unfamiliar with his 'legacy'. Apparently, Serge Gainsbourg was a pop-idol of the sort that had numerous affairs with some of France's top actresses of the 1960's and 70's, i.e. Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, etc. These names I recognize, however, they were never exactly introduced as such, so one had to be familiar with the history to know WHO these women were. The end result for myself, was watching a chain-smoking Lothario, dabble a bit in the recording industry while sleeping with some gorgeous women. Mixed into this, Joann Sfar has included his "id" in the form of an overly costumed creature, who leads Serge down his path of self destruction. It was as if a bit of DONNY DARKO was thrown into a pop-idol bio-pic and it just confused things more and slowed it down. All that said, Eric Elmosnino gives a credible and age defying performance as Serge.

Then, on the opposite end of the 'familiarity scale' is COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (dir. Jan Kounen, France, 2009, 115 minutes), which begins with a riotous premiere of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" for the Paris Ballet, as choreographed by Nijinsky, and witnessed by Coco Chanel. She immediately offers herself as a patron and moves the struggling Stravinsky family (wife and kids, included) into her home, where Igor and Coco promptly have an affair. Yep. That's about it. We do get a lot of Stravinsky banging away his frustrations into a piano, and some of Coco taking hers out on her milliners, but other than that, and some gorgeous clothes, the film could have been an hour shorter and nothing would have been missed.

Maxxxxx says re GAINSBOURG... and COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY: "Is it bedtime?"

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Monday, April 26, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - The Animated Shorts Programs

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

The San Francisco International Film Festival presented two programs focused specifically on animated shorts: "Flights of Fancy", which was directed towards young audiences (and was the more successful of the two programs) and "The High Line", which was more mature and experimental. Both programs contained a total of 18 pieces. Let's start with the FUN stuff!

Leonardo (dir. Jim Capobianco, USA 2009, 10 min) This comic and inventive short referenced da Vinci as if he had drawn it himself. It was an entertaining way to whet the appetites of the kids as to who LdV was! And it had the adults laughing too.

Joseph’s Snails (dir. Sophie Roze, France 2009, 12 min) A stop motion meditation on navel-gazing! Literally! And explored the choices in being introverted (again, literally!), shy or communicating with those around you. Using snails and spirals as a motif was a minor move of brilliance! It was ably narrated by Jim Gunn for the 'little ones' in the audience. (Hi Jim!)

Veeti and the Beanstalk (dir. Susanna Kotilainen, Finland 2009, 13 min) Stop motion and CGI/cut-outs illustrate a family's grieving after the father’s death, as "...Veeti has to save his mother and their house from an ever-growing flood of tears. A magical mixed-media fable about love, family and remembrance."

Pigeon: Impossible (dir. Lucas Martell, USA 2009, 7 min) The man knows his birds!! A bagel-crazed pigeon steals and holds hostage the high-tech briefcase of a secret agent. Nuclear detonation nearly ensues. (Maxxxxx is NOT allowed to see this! EVER!) Wonderfully animated in what is a recognizably PIXAR/Dreamworks/etc. style.

Crazy Hair Day (dir. Virginia Wilkos, USA 2009, 12 min) Produced by Weston Woods (the logo should take you back to those 16mm elementary school days!), this is sort of a typical "it's ok to be you and me" drawn animation about a boy who, due to a calendar mix-up makes, walks into school rady for Crazy Hair Day, only to find out who his real friends are.

Q&A (dirs. Mike Rauch, Tim Rauch, USA 2009, 4 min) This is an exceptional animation of a conversation between a mother and her son, who has Asperberger's Syndrome. The complete honesty and frankness in their conversation was touching and a lesson for parents and their children. The actual animation itself, is servicable, but the audio source material is breathtaking!

Cherry on the Cake (dir. Hyebin Lee, England 2009, 8 min) Though I did not pick up on the dilemma of how "it’s tough being the middle child", I did enjoy the flight of fantasy that the film took its protagonist. However, since I didn't 'get it', I would say it felt long.

The Mouse That Soared (dir. Kyle T. Bell, USA 2009, 6 min) There is some great slapstick in this hysterical little farce of a flying mouse and how he got to be that way! CGI'ed rodents and birds are ALWAYS good for a laugh!!

This final film from the 'Flights of Fancy' program, Mr. Mack’s Kitchen (dir. Mike Attie, USA 2009, 6 min), is a live action, documentary featuring "chef-turned-teacher Mr. Mack, [whose] Oakland elementary school students learn how to slice and dice, sauté and stir fry and respect and serve." Being a Food Network junkie, I loved this and the climax of who they are serving, was touching and inspirational.

As stated above, the "adult and experimental" animations were a mixed bag:

Voice on the Line (dir. Kelly Sears, USA, 8 min) The concept of the conspiratorial pleasures behind a telephone operators voices is a tempting nugget! I think Sears could have developed it either more fully, or perhaps the artistic conception of clippings from old phone services is what limited the piece from expanding. A bit frustrating as there was unexplored potential of the script, which may have been sacrificed for the visual.

Alma (dir. Rodrigo Blass, USA, 6 min) A wonderfully creepy narrative, featuring 'Alma', a young girl who is tempted into a toy store, filled with... well... I wouldn't want to give it away!! A Fabulous 6 minutes that begs to be drawn out into a feature length film!

Logorama (dirs. H5 (aka François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy et Ludovic Houplain), France, 16 min)
This year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film does not fail to deliver in its creation of a capitalized, industrialized world gone MAD!! The pacing is breathless and the satire is slammed out in machine-gun velocity! It is, in its attention to detail and pace, brilliant!

Tussilago (dir. Jonas Odell, Sweden, 14 min) An interview with a girlfriend to a terrorist/criminal is animated via rotoscope and CGI clippings, as he did with LIES (SFIFF 52). I think he has explored the limits of his technique here, and needs to move on to other source material to expand it.

Electric Literature (dir. Martha Colburn, USA, 2 min) Oh dear. A collage animation in which a poem is expanded into the visual realm. Not necessarily my cup of tea to begin with, but in context of the rest of the program, it stood out as being unusually verbose in its aesthetic.

Incident at Tower 37 (dir. Chris Perry, USA, 11 min) A surprising CGI'ed lesson in environmentalism. Its little characters were oddly sympathetic and well composed. I actually felt something for ALL of them!

Vive la Rose (dir. Bruce Alcock, Canada, 6 min) A beautifully crafted stop motion, realization of a song. Alcock's use of mise-en-scene was wonderfully subtle and the screenplay that visually unfolds underneath the lyrics of the song, was lush and deep. A truly striking piece!

Wednesday Morning TWO AM (dir. Lewis Klahr, USA, 7 min) Frankly, I can't say I remember much of this, I am sorry to say, other than the repetition of the song twice seemed to annoy me. Ah well, them's the apples! From the program notes: "One of Lewis Klahr’s series of couplets for which a classic song receives two distinct interpretations via his Lichtenstein-echoing animation."

Afterimage (dir. Kerry Laitala, USA, 13 min) Pure design and play with "synaesthetic stereoscopic chromadepth 3-D" (glasses were provided!). It's an interesting technique and I wish she would find some material in which to truly expand it with. As it is now, it is just part of a series of experiments - NOT that, that is a bad thing! Kerry Laitala was present for the Q&A (as was 'ALMA's Rodrigo Blass), who was dangerously twirling a stereoscopic toy of sometime, to the point of distraction...

Maxxxxx says re Animation: "Sweet, sweet eye juice!!"

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Sci-Fi and Slashers

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

The San Francisco International Film Festival continues to present a late-night sidebar on Fridays and Saturdays. (Though this year, there is some expansion into the midweek!) So far, the screenings have been a mixed bag.

CARGO (dirs. Ivan Engler, Ralph Etter, Switzerland, 2009, 107 minutes) takes place in the 23rd century, where the earth is inhabitable and satellites house future colonies in search of a new planet. That is the setting, which lends itself to an original screenplay and story that I can not recall actually seeing before. However, what begins as an homage of sorts to any number of films, ends up being derivative. The look is fabulous! Though it owes it to BLADERUNNER and ALIEN. The first plot device of waking up from 'hibernation' and realizing "we aren't alone on this ship!" is very ALIEN. It then proceeds into the MATRIX as their end target might not be what they thought to begin with. There are too many subplots linking these and other references together to maintain an emotional involvement with their dilemmas. Oh, not to mention a sort of "out of the blue" romance that blossoms in the midst of all the stress. Though it was not difficult to watch, it was fairly unsatisfactory by the end.

The second of The Late Show Series was THE VIOLENT KIND (dirs. The Butcher Brothers (aka Michael Altieri and Phil Flores), USA, 2009, 95 minutes), which proved to be more successful, though moderately so. The Butcher Brothers are from the San Francisco Bay Area, so the screening was filled with cast, crew and fans and received quite warmly. I loved their earlier film, THE HAMILTONS, which screened at the Another Hole In The Head in 2006, so I was really looking forward to this! The directors do have an eye for an attractive cast, which is always appreciative and a great big step in getting an audience involved, regardless of how ignorant the characters may begin to behave. In this supernatural grindhouse flick, the protagonists' denial of what is really happening gets to be a bit frustrating. However, visually the film never really pauses. Though the subplots of romances and rivals gets in the way of the "Us vs. The Demons", the directors are able to keep the pacing at a point that these episodes pass, almost as relief from the gruesome blood letting that frames it. The cast is exceptional on all counts, though Christina Prousalis as the "younger sister", is saddled with the most ignorant and needy of the characters. However, you just gotta have someone screams "I won't let you go!"

Maxxxxx saysre CARGO: "Is it bedtime?"
re THE VIOLENT KIND: "Such a cranky bird!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Hertzefeldt Heaven!

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival presented the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award to Academy Award–nominated short filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt. After a brief introduction and presentation by Rachel Rosen, Mr. Herzfeldt accepted the award in a remarkably shy manner. He spoke of the frustrations of growing up to be an artist in Fremont, California, how he is a self-taught animator and then announced, "I brought some movies."

The screening included: THE MEANING OF LIFE, his Oscar nominated REJECTED and EVERYTHING WILL BE OK, his classic BILLY'S BALLOON and two of his latest works, INTERMISSION IN THE THIRD DIMENSION and the second part of his "...OK" trilogy, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. After the shorts screened (to a rapturously adoring audience, I might add!), he was joined by Mike Jones of IndieWIRE for a little interview.

Mr. Herzfeldt remained softly spoken, though there were several highlights that he seemed to focus on. Primarily, he was inspired to go into film by Stanley Kubrick's work, but live action was too expensive. So, based upon a sketching journal and squibbles from post-its, he conceived his first four student films, in four years. He doesn't seem to work from a script, per se, but from his subconscious wanderings, all of which are fairly somber and strange. In the midst of the conversation, he presented a long lost film, found by his "family in Europe, in a chest with a body holding a can of film". The short was WISDOM TEETH, which is done in a pig German and supertitled and a ghastly hoot! Afterwards, he said, "I'm glad they gave me the award before they saw it!"

There was a period of audience Q&A, which only lent time for a few questions, including "What is his most powerful tool?" "My eyes." A question about feature animation was met with how pitching ideas got old really fast, and he finds that working for himself is much more rewarding. And then, for reasons I can not recall now, he relayed a story of one of his greatest influences: Monty Python's Flying Circus, and an evening where he was able to wander backstage at a sold out performance and ended up sitting in the front row. Someone thought he was Johnny Depp. Hee hee...

Maxxxxx saysre Don Herzfeldt: "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taxidermia (Revised for the US (Region 1) DVD release)

"Taxidermia" (dir. György Pálfi, Hungary/Austria/France, 2006, 91 mins.) is the anxiously awaited (by ME anyway) 'sophomore piece' from the director of Hukkle, which I LOVE and waited for FOUR YEARS for something more from him! Well, I've got it! And, well, Mr. Pálfi is my new cult figure. The man is severely twisted. "Taxidermia" opens with a man masturbating and ejaculating fire. I only mention this as it is featured on the poster as it was released in Europe, therefore it is NOT a spoiler. The film progresses into two other segments, each following the next two generations of men. The fire-ejaculation-man's son is a competitive speed eater, and his son is a taxidermist. There appears to be a lot going on here, though it isn't as blindingly apparent as at the end of "Hukkle". Pálfi's continued references to the birth process, from conception to delivery must be leading us somewhere, though I am not exactly sure.

Part of my confusion lies in Pálfi's strongest aspect and possible weakness, that is his visual style. It is so outrageous at moments, that I was completely taken away from what was happening. In the first sequence, there is a rotating pan of a giant wooden basin (symbol for the uterus?) in which we see a dozen life events take place in it. The basin is set at a 90 degree angle on the screen and then we spin around it, going through the floors and walls. Hard to describe, but breathtaking, nonetheless. The next two sequences suggest Terry Gilliam or David Cronenberg at their most brilliantly disgusting. Sequence two in particular might drive people out of the auditorium with it's revulsion. Sequence three is nearly a horror show, transcending any comparison to any other artist out there.

"Taxidermia" can be a very difficult film to watch. The performers are all thoroughly dedicated to Pálfi's vision. They are asked to participate in a physical grotesqueness that is beyond the call of duty. However, the extremity of that grotesqueness is what captivated me. Particularly in section two, where I found myself having to distance from the hyper-realism of what was happening on screen to ask "HOW did they do that?!"

The film is finally available on Region 1 (US) DVD!! It has been available in Europe for nearly three years. (It was also available in the 'bittorrent universe', where I first saw it.) The DVD comes with a "Making Of..." which is 42 minutes long and in Hungarian, German, some English, with English subtitles. It is unusually thorough. That, or I have gotten used to having "Making Of..."s broken down into smaller featurettes, i.e. the CGI sequence could have been a chapter in itself. There is a lot of information on the screen to keep involved with. At one point, during the German section, it is subtitled in Hungarian, supertitled in English and there are sections where there is split screen work, mostly horizontal, as the film is in 2:35 aspect ratio. Director Palfi does seem young and eager and quite anxious and hopeful that people understand how and why he has woven together the three short stories.

The video transfer is viewable, though not overly remarkable, considering the source material. It is presented in anamorphic 2:35 widescreen. The audio transfer is surprisingly clean and crisp!

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