Saturday, March 31, 2018

Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB — An Artifact of the Future

by G. Jack Urso


Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB (1967). Written and directed by George Lucas. Starring Dan Nachtsheim as THX 1138 and Joy Carmichael as YYO 7117. Edited by Dan Nachtsheim.

Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB is a 15-minute science fiction film produced by George Lucas in 1967 while he was student at the film school of the University of Southern California (USC). It served as the basis for the full-length 1971 feature film, THX 1138, directed by Lucas and starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie, Don Pedro Colley, and Ian Wolfe. An important and influential film, THX 1138 is a stunning visual masterpiece whose story is told through a series of images with little exposition. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it challenges the viewers’ preconceptions of the narrative and can justifiably be regarded as a work of art. All the basic elements of the 1971 production can be seen in the 1967 student film, provided above from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

Lucas wrote and produced Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB based on an idea by his USC classmates Walter Murch and Matthew Robinson. The resulting film covers what essentially became the final sequence in THX 1138 — the chase and escape scene. 1967 and 1968 were important years in science fiction. In addition to Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB, the novel Logan’s Run was also released in 1967 followed by the films 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes in 1968. These works show a darker, dystopic view of the future more reflective of the times in which they were produced. As 1967 was considered the “Summer of Love,” the events of 1968 were described by Time magazine as “Nightmares in the Year of the Monkey” (referring to the Chinese Zodiac). The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the police riot at the Democratic National Convention, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 all heralded a downward turn in U.S. history.

Lucas asserts in the documentary Artifact of the Future: The Making of THX 1138, that the film is not about the future, but rather it is a critique about the modern consumer lifestyle. One of the hallmarks of the 1960s counterculture was a criticism of the Western consumer culture that grew after World War II. An increasing uniformity of dress, goods, education, accommodations, and employment was seen as an growing threat to individuality. As Lucas himself calls it, the film is a parable, but the story is told in images, not words. As a result, it lacks the structure of a traditional narrative.  This approach provides a platform for cutting-edge filmmaking.


Trailer for the 1971 feature film.

The abstract nature of the film can be explained, as Walter Murch puts it, as an “artifact of the future.” An artifact from the past, for example a mosaic, may be damaged and have pieces missing. There is nothing to explain what you’re looking at, who the characters are, and what it means. In a similar way, THX-1138 4 EB, and the later feature film, are artifacts of the future. They provide us with a glimpse of the future, but not the complete picture. The viewer becomes an archeologist discovering a lost world, and to that end the act of viewing is no longer passive, it becomes an act of conscious engagement. As a consequence, we are drawn into the film and become more involved in the narrative.

In Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB, Lucas builds a futuristic world by using such locations as the computer center at USC, and the post-modern architecture at a parking lot at UCLA, the Los Angeles International Airport, and the Van Nuys Airport. Like an artifact that only provides a partial image of the past, Lucas only needs to provide a partial image of the future. He doesn’t need to fully define the politics and technology of his future world, he only needs to suggest them. While effective with the THX 1138 concept, this approach had mixed success in Star Wars where the lack of definition of those two elements worked both for and against the first film trilogy. While moving the story along, it also created plot holes and inconsistencies.    


THX-1138 4EB is set in a subterranean post-apocalyptic world where the society is closed and every aspect of life controlled. Individuality is suppressed through uniformity. Everyone dresses the same. There are no names, only numerical designations.  As the 1971 film later portrayed, individuality is further repressed with shaven heads, drugs are used to sublimate sexual desire and improve work performance, and religion is used to maintain conformity. One key plot point in both the 1967 and 1971 films, sometimes overlooked due to the unconventional narrative, is that there are two classes of people: those born in a clinic and those born as the result of a sex act. The “EB” in Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB stands for “ErosBod,” which denotes those born of a sex act (see screen shot, above). EBs are considered inferior to those born in a clinic, or “ClinicBods.” The existence of EBs suggests that the city isn't quite as in command of things as it appears to be. The feature film explores this further by showing malfunctioning robot police, horrific workplace accidents, and other system glitches. Despite the apparent planning and sophistication, the city is breaking down and individuals are a reminder that the machine is broken.

At the start of Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB, we see THX’s mate, YYO 7117, reject him due to his origin as an ErosBod (YYO herself is a ClinicBod). This in turn drives THX to escape to the outside world, which he’s been taught means certain death. Nevertheless, THX would rather leave and face the unknown than stay in a society that regards him as a reject. This ethical dilemma was played out in various scenarios throughout the 1960s, from drop-outs to draft dodgers to those embracing alternate lifestyles.

THX-1138 4EB, Logan's Run (the novel), 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes heralded in a darker, more dystopic era of science fiction film and reflected the cynicism of their times. Ironically, it would be George Lucas’ seminal work Star Wars that put an end to the pessimism in sci-fi movies that his first film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB, pioneered.  



Related Content from Aeolus 13 Umbra

The Prayers of Shiva — A spoken word performance I produced layered with audio clips from THX 1138 and the TV show The Prisoner:

 
                         
 

Friday, February 23, 2018

In Search of . . . The Complete Series

by G. Jack Urso 


This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones to the mysteries we will examine.
— Opening Narration to In Search of . . .

In Search of . . . was a weekly documentary series that aired in syndication between 1977 and 1982. Produced by Alan Landsburg and narrated by Leonard Nimoy, the program explored fringe topics popular during the 1970s — everything from Bigfoot and Killer Bees to Atlantis, auras, biofeedback, the Bermuda Triangle, Easter Island, reincarnation, and UFO’s. During the course of the series, 144 30-minute episodes and four hour-long specials were produced. The complete series and the specials are available on an Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel dedicated solely to the series. See below for a complete listing of links to each episode.

Aeolus 13 Umbra has previously turned its attention to this series in an earlier article, In Search of . . . The Complete First Season, which introduces just the first season episodes. Additionally, individual episodes have served as the basis for articles on this website that explored the following topics:

·         In Search of . . . Atlantis





The origins of In Search of . . . date back to 1968 with Erich von Däniken’s bestselling book, Chariots of the Gods?, which attributes some of humanity’s crowning achievements and enduring mysteries, such as Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, to alien influence. The same year, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey is released, and its main plot involves aliens influencing human evolution. 1968 also saw the release of Planet of the Apes, where astronauts return to a dystopic future Earth humans no longer rule. Alan Landsburg, and others, identified a growing sub-current in Western culture and moved to tap into it. A whole new genre in book and film was established and quickly proliferated over the next decade.

As man landed on the Moon in 1969, many asked the question whether an alien civilization ever visited earth. This was not entirely an unreasonable question to ask; however, the “aliens must have did it” explanation applied to anything we do not understand has the effect of diminishing the very real achievements of ancient cultures and indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and Europe.

Prior to the series in 1976, Alan Landsberg produced several hour-long TV specials based on von Däniken’s works, including In Search of Ancient Astronauts and In Search of Ancient Mysteries, both in 1973, and The Outer Space Connection in 1975. All were narrated by Rod Serling, who was also slated to work on the series until his untimely death in 1976. These programs are probably the best of their type ever produced, expertly blending on-location footage, Serling's narration, and an ambient soundtrack. A fourth film, Manbeast! Myth or Monster, released in 1978 at the height of series’ popularity, is less successful. The film investigates creatures like Bigfoot and the Yeti, but the story tends to ramble. Nimoy was not tapped to handle the narration and the person filling in, while certainly professional, lacks the gravitas and connection to Sci-Fi that Nimoy provides. Nevertheless, the film is a good record of the era’s fascination with cryptozoology. Click on the links above to view the films on the Aeolus 13 Umbra ISO YouTube channel.

As would be the case with the series, production teams for the specials went worldwide gathering footage. Film, as opposed to digital video, has a warmth about it, a dreamy effect that provides an almost timeless quality. The soundtrack utilizes ambient music to produce a relaxing, almost meditative space for contemplating the topics at hand.
The episodes linked below are from digital video masters, but true fans may wish to check out my earlier article, In Search of . . . The Complete First Season, which features 16 mm film versions recovered from the archives of a television station. Run through a projector, the film has a slightly different quality and more closely shows what audiences in the 1970s experienced.

The series draws upon the production values established in the films, and Leonard Nimoy is a seamless replacement for Serling who nonetheless establishes his own rhythm and pace. Not all the episodes explore fringe paranormal topics; many cover historical or environmental topics with the same focus on accuracy and detail as a National Geographic special. The episodes on Dracula, Inca Treasure, Killer Bees, Michael Rockefeller, Vincent Van Gogh, Pompeii,  Tidal Waves, The Lost Colony ofRoanoke and numerous other entries, are excellent short-subject educational films that introduce viewers to little-known subjects.

While I do not subscribe to tales of alien astronauts (as discussed in my article, In Search of . . . Preposterous Explanations), I still have a great love for the series. The combination of the writing, Nimoy's narration, on-location filming, reenactments, and audio production set an industry standard. Over the course of 144 episodes, the show covered a wide range of popular and obscure cultural interests of the 1970s. The typical episode averages a little over 22 minutes — providing just enough time for an overview of the topic and limiting the amount of conjecture, which tends to get repetitive. The program reports, but does not prove or disprove claims. We're introduced to the story, and left to decide for ourselves its veracity. Certainly, however, many episodes do tend to be steeped in unsubstantiated claims.

The music by Laurin Rinder and W. Michael Lewis could have been a mistake, but instead was a boon. The LA-based production team was known at the time for their work in disco, not documentary filmmaking, yet the duo turns in the classic opening theme that immediately identifies the show. The synthesizer and orchestral elements are skillfully used to highlight both the drama and mystery of the series as well as give room for reflection in quieter moments. An LP of the series soundtrack was released in 1977 by AVI Records. The program turned out to be the height of their career, and Rinder & Lewis broke up in 1982 when the series ended.

In Search of . . . still retains an active fanbase. Visual Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in in 2012, which also included the short-lived 2002 series hosted by Mitch Pileggi (of The-X Files) on the Sci-Fi Channel. More recently, the History Channel announced in January 2018 a revival of the show with Zachary Quinto as host, who also replaced Nimoy as Mr. Spock in Star Trek. Nevertheless, the magic of the original series is hard to recreate. Like lightning in a bottle, the series captured the cultural zeitgeist of the times. As we opened up the future, we looked to the past for hints about where we are going as a species. Have there been civilizations lost to history? Are there terrifying creatures we’ve yet to discover? Is there intelligent life on other planets? The answers are out there, and what they reveal about us is still worth going, dare I say, In Search of . . .
Extraterrestrials, Magic and Witchcraft, Missing Persons, Myths and Monsters, Lost Civilizations, Special Phenomena. In Search of . . . cameras are traveling the world, seeking out these great mysteries. This program was the result of the work of scientists, researchers, and highly skilled technicians.     — End Credits Tag for In Search of . . .
In Search of . . . The Complete Series
Season 1
Season 2
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Episode Title
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1
4/17/1977
1
12/24/1977
2
4/24/1977
2
12/21/1977
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4/24/1977
3
1/5/1978
4
4/27/1977
4
1/7/1978
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4/28/1977
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1/12/1978
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5/1/1977
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1/21/1978
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5/7/1977
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1/26/1978
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5/14/1977
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1/28/1978
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5/21/1977
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5/22/1977
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2/9/1978
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5/26/1977
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5/28/1977
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2/18/1978
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5/28/1977
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2/23/1978
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5/29/1977
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2/25/1978
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6/1/1977
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2/27/1978
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6/8/1977
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3/4/1978
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6/15/1977
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3/9/1978
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6/22/1977
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3/11/1978
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6/29/1977
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3/18/1978
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7/6/1977
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4/27/1978
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7/13/1977
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5/4/1978
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7/26/1977
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5/11/1978
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8/11/1977
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5/18/1978
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9/10/1977
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6/1/1978

 
Season 3
Season 4
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9/14/1978
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9/20/1979
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9/21/1978
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9/27/1979
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9/28/1978
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10/4/1979
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10/05/1978
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10/11/1979
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10/12/1978
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10/18/1979
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10/19/1978
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10/25/1979
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10/1/1978
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11/8/1979
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11/2/1978
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11/15/1979
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11/9/1978
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11/22/1979
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12/7/1978
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11/1/1979
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12/14/1978
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12/6/1979
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12/21/1978
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12/13/1979
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12/28/1978
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12/20/1979
14
1/4/1979
14
12/27/1979
15
1/11/1979
15
1/3/1980
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1/18/1979
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1/10/1980
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1/25/1979
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1/17/1980
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2/1/1979
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1/24/1980
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2/8/1979
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1/31/1980
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2/15/1979
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2/07/1980
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2/22/1979
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2/14/1980
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3/17/1979
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2/21/1980
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5/10/1979
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3/7/1980
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5/17/1979
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3/14/1980
 

Season 5
Season 6
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Airdate
Episode Title
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Airdate
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1
9/20/1980
1
9/21/1981
2
9/27/1980
2
9/28/1981
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10/4/1980
3
10/5/1981
4
10/11/1980
4
10/12/1981
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10/18/1980
5
10/19/1981
6
10/25/1980
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10/26/1981
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11/1/1980
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10/31/1981
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11/08/1980
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11/2/1981
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11/15/1980
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11/9/1981
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11/22/1980
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11/16/1981
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11/29/1980
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11/21/1981
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12/6/1980
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11/23/1981
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12/13/1980
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11/30/1981
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12/27/1980
14
12/6/1981
15
1/10/1981
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12/13/1981
16
1/24/1981
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12/20/1981
17
1/31/1981
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1/3/1982
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2/7/1981
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1/17/1982
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2/14/1981
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1/24/1982
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2/21/1981
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2/1/1982
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2/21/1981
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2/8/1982
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4/30/1981
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2/15/1982
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5/16/1981
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2/22/1982
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5/19/1981
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3/1/1982