Friday, August 11, 2017

BEYOND THE DARKNESS (Joe D'Amato, 1979--Severin Films Blu-ray Reviewed)

BEYOND THE DARKNESS/BUIO OMEGA  Severin Films Blu-ray
Beyond The Darkness [Blu-ray + CD Soundtrack]
A disturbed young man (Kieran Canter) drives up a country road somewhere in Italy as a lively, sinister GOBLIN theme pulls us into the scenario. He is on his way to make a pickup of a dead simian which, as a taxidermist, he will embalm and add to his macabre collection. But things get complicated for anti-hero Frank Wyler. It will turn out that Frank is a necrophiliac, cannibal and a murderer. Any one of those is problematic in the "normal" world, but to be all three, and a momma's boy to boot...! Well, you've got a problem there in Northern Italy, Brixen, to be exact, where this monster cult item is set. Frank is the monster, but a human monster, and the cult movie is Joe D'Amato's 1979 BEYOND THE DARKNESS.

You know something is wrong with Frank right from the very first shots. He seems to wear a look of startled lust, which becomes his default visage. Frank prepares his baboon for treatment while housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi) is busy presiding over a voodoo ceremony where a local sorceress sticks pins in a doll representing Frank's beloved Anna (Cinzia Monreale), who is dying in a nearby hospital, the result of an ongoing curse. Frank arrives at her side just in time for a last kiss. As she flat-lines he vows that death will not separate them.... 

Probably the best way to approach the experience of BEYOND THE DARKNESS is to first watch Mino Guerrini's 1966 horror thriller THE THIRD EYE (IL TERZIO OCCHIO). This somewhat obscure, but well crafted black and white film, whose story is credited to Gilles De Reys (sic), is a tale which another historical transgressor, The Marquis de Sade, might have penned. A young Count (a pre-DJANGO Franco Nero), who also practices taxidermy, is engaged to a young woman (Erika Blanc) who dies in a car accident engineered by his jealous housekeeper (Gioia Pascal). The emotionally dominated protagonist finally runs amok when the housekeeper also arranges the death of his domineering mother. Murder, mayhem and a final reckoning follow after an ironic undercurrent subtly displaces the lurid scenario into the realm of classical tragedy. On the other hand D'Amato's 1979 remake screams Tabloid! Guerrini's film (he also is credited as a writer on BEYOND THE DARKNESS) is hauntingly scored by the great Francesco De Masi with a Viennese type waltz theme which he also used in his score for Riccardo Freda's 1963 Barbara Steele Gothic, LO SPETTRO (THE GHOST). Both films are very much worth seeing for comparison and contrast, with a nod to Franco Nero delivering possibly his career best performance in the 1966 version. Hopefully, a future HD release with English subtitles with give THE THIRD EYE a much deserved resurrection from obscurity. 

The genius of D'Amato, who also directed the 16mm cinematography, was to stage all the macabre events in a completely different key than was used by Mino Guerrini in THE THIRD EYE. The same story, the same characters, the same setting, but the somber melody this time around is played by a madman pounding on the piano keys in between disembowelments, mutilations, feasts of flesh and internal organs. A frenzied tale of mad love which also has elements which might have been imagined by Edgar Allan Poe, BEYOND THE DARKNESS might not be D'Amato's very best film but it's certainly his most emotionally intense, with a delirious, urgent GOBLIN (credited as The Goblins) score, which puts us right into the skin of the demented protagonist. Much of the film's power comes from the performances of Canter and Ms. Stoppi. He's well cast as an underground man who is painfully shy in public but capable of the grossest atrocities when left alone with his corpses. Ms. Stoppi is an actress who, as she demonstrates in the interview THE OMEGA WOMAN, is sensitive to the internal forces which propel her manipulative character.

The shock scenes here, the detailed embalming, the hacking apart of the hitchhiker, the cannibal attack on the jogger, are strong stuff and the actors are wise enough to indicate their character's complete immersion in the mayhem without going over the top. The sensitive English language voicing provided by the skilled team of Ted Rusoff and Carolyn De Fonseca, really adds layers of emotion and ambiguity to both characters and the English option is the recommended track for playback. The Italian track is also available, but the subtitles are actually dub titles of the English language dialogue. Both tracks and the music are crystal clear and resonant in the 2.0 mix. BEYOND THE DARKNESS is one of the most enduring and popular of all Italian horror films and this Blu-ray presents it in 1080p full HD resolution and 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio. The shot -on-16mm images reveal a distinct graininess at first but the improved color and detail are impressive, especially in the night scenes of Frank in the graveyard, in which the crimson flora on the memorial wreaths seem to glow in the dark and the names on the stones are actually readable as our sick necrophile digs up his Anna for future sex games. 

BEYOND THE DARKNESS has had several previous releases. Including the 2001 Shriek Show DVD, to which I contributed a text bio of Joe D'Amato as part of the retail booklet. That disc only had English audio available and included some good bonus materials including a commentary by Assistant Director Donatella Donati and an interview with actress Cinzia Monreale, both conducted by Kit J. Gavin. The Severin Blu-ray edition has a new interview with Ms. Monreale in which she discusses the location, her impressions of Canter and Franca Stoppi and how she managed to be very convincing as a beautiful corpse. The interview with the late Ms. Stoppi also reveals an exceedingly talented, nice and generous person who seems the polar opposite of the vicious characters she plays in BEYOND THE DARKNESS and THE OTHER HELL.

 A 20 minute featurette revisits the locations today. Also included is a 3 minutes theatrical trailer, narrated in English by Ted Rusoff, which manages to cram each and every lurid moment into its short run-time. GOBLIN perform the opening theme live in Buio Omega LIVE 2016. A 60 plus minute documentary, Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience, from the feature Joe D'Amato; Uncut, is an in-depth sit down with the late, good natured director, who reveals his own favorite of his films was the non-linear Gothic DEATH SMILES A MURDER (1973). He also discusses working with the notorious Klaus Kinski, experimenting with hardcore sex and gore in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and expresses satisfaction at having produced the first feature film of Michele Soavi (STAGE FRIGHT) and the last film of Lucio Fulci (DOOR INTO SILENCE). On camera comments by frequent D'Amato actors "George Eastman" and Donald O'Brien are also included. The director makes a salient point toward the end, noting that director's like Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci and himself were an dying breed, an endangered species at that time, the mid 1990s. How sadly true that comment turned out to be. Only a few years later all three genre titans would be dead.

A 24 track CD of the GOBLIN score is also included when ordering the BD + CD edition. Over the years this has evolved into my own favorite GOBLIN film score and alone makes this a worthwhile purchase. 

I really can't report on the previous Blu-ray releases but Severin's HD presentation is probably going to be your go-to option for experiencing this defining example of European Trash Cinema. 
Reviewed by (C) Robert Monell, 2017

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tout le monde il en a deux (original title)
Bacchanales Sexuelles; Fly Me The French Way

SYNAPSE FILMS NTSC DVD
1.66:1 Anamorphic widescreen transfer
Original French language audio
English subtitles
Mono
Chapter Selections
103 minutes
2002 release

According to the notes on the back of this DVD box this is the full version of a film cut by almost 30 minutes for its US release. I haven't seen this shorter cut on video and don't know if it has ever appeared on disc of online or had a North American theatrical release. 

Valerie (Joelle Coeur) and her friend Sophie (Britt Anders) move into her cousin's apartment while he is away on business in America for six months. The two share an intimate relationship and the first 20 minutes of so feature an extended lesbian encounter between them. Suddenly, two women in cat burglar tights and masks break into the apartment and kidnap Sophie, taking her to the rural castle of Malvina (Israeli actress Brigette Borghese). It turns out that Valerie's cousin, a free lance journalist, has taken some photos of cult activities at the chateau and is blackmailing Malvina. Sophie knows nothing about this but is ordered tortured for further information by Malvina. Valerie finds out where her friend is being held and goes to investigate. Meanwhile, Malvina's agent, disguised as a maid, visits the apartment to steal the incriminating photos. A new cult candidate (Annie Belle/Brilland LIPS OF BLOOD) is also in the process of being initiated into the cult. Numerous complications, sensual liaisons, disguises, break-ins, tortures, cat fights and other sado-erotic events unfold before Malvina's evil empire is destroyed and the heroines escape.

Brunette Joelle Coeur made an impression as the sadistic Tina in Rollin's surrealist pirate movie, DEMONIACS (1973) as well as his "Michel Gentil" signed soft-core of the same year, JEUNE FILLES IMPUDIQUES. She also demonstrates a talent for rough house comedy. This is probably the best of Rollin's "for the money only" soft-core titles, in terms of production values, plot interest and pacing. At least there's an element of Rivette-like complot. It's actually quite amusing in the way it complicates its erotic passages by interrupting them with surprise entrances and exits by villains out to get what they want from Valerie and co. Two French maids are on hand, which one is real and which the secret agent? Why is the Valerie's bath water bright blue? What else do the cult do except plan orgies and punish offenders? It's all paced with such dispatch and shot with artful poise that logic isn't an issue here, it's a disposable distraction from the fun. A witty, energetic music score by "Rex Hilton", his only credited film score, boosts the action and sense of comic book style parody. This film functions as its own erotic "Cinesex" style photo-novel of the era. The film is perhaps a bit overlong at over 100 minutes but it has an internal energy which really rivets attention even during the extended erotica, sometimes shot in extreme close-up, with some obviously simulated hard-core moments. 

The Castel twins float through the action in costumes which suggest a Fantomas scenario or Franju's JUDEX (1963). Yes, this is an erotic exploitation film but Rollin imbues it with a distinct sense of Fantastique, as only he can. The formidable Brigitte Borghese (born Tamar Elkayam in 1955 in Israel, died on Febuary 9, 2013) was an actress who fits very well into the Fantastique realm, as she did in Rollin's LES TROITTOIRS DE BANGKOK (1984), and played the female lead, as the terrorist Britta in N.G. Mount's OPERATION LAS VEGAS (1990)*. She debuted in Menahem Golan's 1969 MARGO SHELI and made other adult features before appearing in TOUT LE MONDE IL EN A DEUX. She also appeared in the fanta=horr TENDRE DRACULA, with Peter Cushing and Rollin's NE PRENDS PAS LES POULETS PUR DES PIGEONS, Chickens pretending to be pigeons?! She also appeared in Mount's TREPANATOR (1992) and LE SYNDROME DE D'EDGAR POE (1995). She also worked on several unfinished N.G. Mount projects including BROOKLYN COP in the 1990s.  

Rollin went on to make about a dozen more of these pseudonymous erotic features, as well as the appalling LE LAC DES MORTS VIVANTS (1980), in order to finance his "serious" horror films such as LIPS OF BLOOD, FASCINATION and LES DEUX ORPHELINES VAMPIRES.

*N.G. Mount is Norbert Moutier, the former owner of a Parisian video store, in which he collected and sold cult videos for years. Some scenes in his features were shot in the basement of the video store. He is reportedly retired in Orleans, France. Thanks to Pete Tombs and Lucas Balbo. 

(C) Robert Monell,2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

BLACKENSTEIN (William A. Levey)

Thinking back to the 1970s, whoever thought that Blaxploitation would become a cult movie genre? As a regular patron of mainstream movies during that decade I avoided Black exploitation fare in general, although Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
was a memorable exception. I regret that I skipped Bill Gunn's truly subversive vampire film, GANGA AND HESS (1973).  That film thoughtfully and artfully addressed what it was like to be African American in America of the mid 1970s.  And, most importantly, it was conceived and directed by an African American. BLACKENSTEIN THE BLACK FRANKENSTEIN (onscreen title) was not, William A. Levey, the director of SKATETOWN U.S.A. and THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON helmed with no sense of place or pace, but more on that later.

A gravely wounded African American Vietnam vet (Joe De Sue) is transported by his fiancee, who is also a f medical student (Ivory Stone) to the clinic of Nobel Laureate Dr. Stein (John Hart), for experimental surgery to restore his blown off arms and legs. The surgery goes well but an assistant (Roosevelt Jackson) who wants to eliminate the patient so he can have his fiancee for himself, administers a toxic chemical mix which turns the patient into..... Blackenstein!

The creature, complete with an expanded cranium of Boris Karloff in the 1931 James Whale classic, lumbers around Los Angeles, tearing apart everyone he encounters, including mob moll/sleaze movie actress Liz Renay, a girlfriend of LA mobster Mickey Cohen, who was also a client of the film's writer-producer Frank. R. Saletri, and that's where fact becomes more interesting than fiction. Saletri may have produced a laughably ineffective horror film but his own life became a real life horror film when he became the victim of an execution style murder by a gunshot to the head inflicted by a home invader in 1982. The police determined that robbery was not a motive. The home was the Hollywood Hills estate of the late horror legend Bela Lugosi, whom Saletri idolized, and was a serious collector of everything related to classic Hollywood horror films. Saletri, a Hollywood lawyer, also had some rather sinister underworld clients, was one of us, a cult movie fan, but whose own back story, and double life, is certainly more compelling than anything in his one completed production.

Actually, BLACKENSTEIN works as a terrific party film, one you just have to bring along to make a party memorable or play when you host your own. It's teeming with reliable LOL moments, such as the monster's deliberate, slow motion walk with arms always outstretched. I was also pleased to see the vintage electronic equipment of Ken Strickfaden, who provided the flashing light panels,  buzzing resistors and exploding bolts for FRANKENSTEIN (1931) THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), THE LOST CITY serial, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN 1971).

Director William  A. Levey does absolutely noting to improve the crude staging or atmosphere but the eye popping 1080p  Full HD resolution of this presentation gives the action a candy colored look, an impressively detailed image, with razor sharp focus. The 2.0 audio clearly delivers the Blues songs of Cardella Di Milo, which does give the proceedings a much needed boost and provides at least one nod to African American arts and culture.

The Special Features include the longer (by 10 minutes) Video release version, an interview with producer Saletri's sister, an archived television news broadcast on Salteri's murder and the investigation, an interview with Special Effects creator Bill Munns, and interviews with Director Kent Osborne and actor Richard Dix (BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE) also concerning Saletri's career and death. The theatrical trailer is also included. .

BLACKENSTEIN is a hoot and addictive fun now available on this very entertaining presentation.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

THE DRIVER'S SEAT aka INDENTIKIT (1974)

THE DRIVER'S SEAT aka INDENTIKIT (1974): 
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The late Elizabeth Taylor plays Lise, a woman skittering on the edge of insanity in this elegantly crazy Giuseppe Patroni Griffi thriller. She's actually quite good as a middle aged woman who has gone completely over the deep end and is seeking a violent death as a kind of ultimate erotic fulfillment This is rather like an arty giallo which has numerous references to the urban terror which plagued Italy in the mid 1970s.  And what better place on Earth is there than Rome to escape to.... and die.  But his is not the Rome of LA DOLCE VITA, the city seems to take on the morbid quality of the main character, as if it were responding to her death wish. After all it's metropolis built on centuries of graves.

It has a striking piano score by Franco Mannino, is beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro (LAST TANGO IN PARIS) and is edited in a compellingly nonlinear fashion by Franco Arcalli (editor of THE CONFORMIST). It took some courage from Elizabeth Taylor to play this role considering the perverse nature of this character and the harrowing final scene. Ted Rusoff dubs the thuggish Roman police investigator trying to untangle the complicated case. Andy Warhol has a minor role as a strange aristocrat, supposedly an English Lord, which probably wasn't too much of a stretch.

This film reminds me somewhat of Jess Franco's NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS (1967) and makes an interesting double bill with John Huston's adaptation of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967), in which Taylor played the polar opposite of her character here.

I probably wouldn't have bothered to watch this but my friend Robert Guest insisted that I check it out and I thank him for sending a copy of the old US VHS, which is apparently uncut. Other versions, including the original US release, were trimmed according to the IMDB.  It's very difficult to locate an uncut version of this film in good video quality.

Based on a novel by Muriel Spark, which I haven't read, but there is a distinct feminist undercurrent as it examines the masochism of the main character within a male dominated social-political matrix. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

LES GLOUTONNES /THE GREEDY/EROTIC EXPLOITS OF MACISTE IN ATLANTIS (1973)

Here's a reprint of my brief review of LES GLOUTONNES, Jess Franco's Z peplum from 1973. Actually this and YUKA, made with same cast, on the same locations, are good, no-budget fun. Originally published by the wonderful Club Des Monstres!

Directed under his French name feather Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" movie and made it into a delirous collage of peplum, adventure, comedy, erotic and Fantasy patterns. It's Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte who attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers" the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (see LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who watches the antics with his horny expectant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck / Bigitoni. A very interesting, electic score by Robert Viger [?] Is a bonus. There's even a hardcore sex scene thrown in the mix. Mark Forest was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco. The opening sequence of a misty valley and the first view of the stormy coast of "Atlantis" are outstanding images but unless you are a Franco completist you may hate this film. Franco aussi made YUKA (also 1973 with Davis / Wohlfaart Waldemar and Robert Woods playing the lead in Reviews another erotic "peplum" set in the Middle Ages. Robert MonellFor more reviews:
The greedy aka Maciste and greedy aka Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantide- Jess Franco, 1973, France, 80m
Directed under his French name feather Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" movie and made it into a delirous collage of peplum, adventure, comedy, erotic and Fantasy patterns. It's Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte who attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers" the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (see LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who watches the antics with his horny expectant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck / Bigitoni. A very interesting, electic score by Robert Viger [?] Is a bonus. There's even a hardcore sex scene thrown in the mix. Mark Forest was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco. The opening sequence of a misty valley and the first view of the stormy coast of "Atlantis" are outstanding images but unless you are a Franco completist you may hate this film. Franco aussi made YUKA (also 1973 with Davis / Wohlfaart Waldemar and Robert Woods playing the lead in Reviews another erotic "peplum" set in the Middle Ages. Robert Monell

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BEST FILMS/BLU-RAYS/DVDS of 2016

Symptoms (Blu-ray)
Best of 2016: by Robert Monell

THE NEON DEMON: The high fashion world of Los Angeles is on grotesque display in this glossy art-horror film from Nicolas Winding Refn. It’s a world where vicious competition, soul vampires and casual cannibalism are omnipresent. A visually entrancing satire about a world where appearances are everything. This was the best new film a saw in a theater (nearly empty) in 2016.

SYMPTOMS: The best Blu-ray release of 2106. Jose Ramon Larraz was a Spanish master of light, shadow and madness, all on display in this moody study of a murderess on rampage in rural England. With  brilliant performances by Angela Pleasence and a small but memorable supporting cast. This release finally allowed the world to see this great film in HD, after years of being available only in poor video dupes from battered prints. A stunning experience. From Mondo Macabro.

DR. BUTCHER M.D; BURIAL GROUND: two outrageous  early1980s Italian gorefests featuring endless cannibal/zombie attacks in candy colored HD! Each fully loaded with a titanic cargo of special features: the DR. BUTCHER MD Blu-ray  presents two versions of the film. BURIAL GROUND includes the Italian language track and everything you ever wanted to know about Peter Bark! Both are Highly Recommended.  From Severin Films

COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE: A Blu-ray – DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome of Paul Naschy’s Gothic-experimental take on the Dracula legend. A vividly colorful HD remastering, check out Dracula’s crimson lined cape! Special features include the Spanish language track with English subtitles, a commentary track with director Javier Aguirre and Naschy, a fascinating interview with Mirta Miller by Elena of Spanish Fear, and more. A must have.

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES [MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE]: a welcome Blu-ray release of one of Jess Franco’s most personal and delirious 1980s erotic thrillers, involving mind control, betrayal, seduction and murder. A visual stunner in HD. From Mondo Macabro, your go-to place for quality releases of cult cinema from around the world.

THE FORGOTTEN FILMS OF JESS FRANCO: Dorado Films hits a home run with their first HD release which includes 4k scans from 35m of two rarely seen Jess Franco thrillers, THE SINISTER EYES OF DOCTOR ORLOFF and SILENCE OF THE TOMB (both 1972), both featuring Lina Romay lookalike Montserrat Prous. An interview with star Robert Woods, an informative booklet from Francesco Cesari and Robert Curti are also included among other special features. A recommended collector’s item.

CRIMSON: THE MAN WITH THE SEVERED HEAD: A crazy 1973 crime film featuring Paul Naschy as a robber who gets a brain transplant. The standard and the longer, explicit Euroversions are both included, along with English subtitles and commentary track by Richard Harland Smith.

SEX-MURDER-ART: Fullly loaded multi disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, featuring four legendary transgressive epics from the master of body decay, Jorg Buttgereit, NEKROMANTIK, DER TODESKING, NEKROMANTIK 2 and SCHRAMM. There’s not other filmmaker anywhere like Buttgereit, he highlights the grotesque and unspeakable with liberating humor and special insight. Includes CDs of the film’s soundtracks, making of featurettes, a documentary, JB’s short films, a 40 page booklet, commentaries, interviews with the director and collaborators and much more.   New HD, fully uncut & uncensored versions of all four films along with two versions of NEKROMANTIC and director’s introductions to all the films. Cult Epics.

THE KILLING OF AMERICA: Amazing, shocking and brilliant mondo-documentary style survey of decades of all American violence, featuring Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wayne Gacy, Jim Jones and an array of proud-to-be mass murderers. Includes the longer, even more outrageous Japanese versions along with a full metal jacket of extras. From Severin Films.

PRIVATE VICES PUBLIC VIRTUES:  In 1976 legendary Hungarian director Miklos Jancso went to Italy to make this sprawling, surreal account of a bacchanal set in a Central European Kingdom which ended in the shocking death of it’s host, the Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This high spirited staging of the infamous “Mayerlilng Affair” in the late 19th Century is closer to Fellini than a dry historical text and may be the wildest party ever put on film. With Teresa Ann Savoy. A light blasted, deliciously overripe depiction of decadence and death from a master. The shimmering HD transfer from original elements. The alternate English soundtrack is also available. Another essential delight unearthed and restored by Mondo Macabro.

THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK: I’m just happy that what I consider the greatest film from the “Golden Age of Italian horror” finally got a Blu-ray debut this year. It looks better than I’ve ever seen it. This is the shorter US release but it will do until a proper restoration comes along.  Olive Films.

THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST: The true Godfather of Gore passed away in 2016 but he lives on in this 17 Disc Limited Edition Box set of Arrow Films bursting-at-the-seams box set is a high ticket item  but nevertheless essential for gorehounds, exploitation historians, fans and collectors. It contains 14 of his most iconic films. These are his 100 proof gore classics, BLOOD FEAST THE WIZARD OF GORE, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (a personal favorite), A TASTE OF BLOOD (one of his more Mario Bava-esque productions), THE GORE GORE GIRLS and more. Featurettes, interviews, video essays, audio commentaries and HGL intros are among the too numerous to mention special features. I’ve only gotten through a few of them, the rest will keep you busy for …. A lifetime.