Blogathons, Films I Love, Musicals

The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon: Top Hat (1935)

fred-and-gingerCrystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, and Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood are co-hosting this blogathon about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Top Hat is my favourite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. I also really love The Gay Divorcee, Swing Time and The Story Of Vernon and Irene Castle. Despite my great love for the majority of the films that Fred and Ginger starred in together, it is Top Hat which has found a very special place in my heart. 

I love Top Hat so much and I never get tired of watching it. The film is one of my go to comfort films due to it always being able to leave me in such a good mood. 

The film is also special to me because it is the first Fred and Ginger film that I ever saw, and it is the film which ended up making me a fan of their work and led me to check out their other films.

Top Hat is also the first black and white film that I ever saw. I’ve been a fan a black and white films ever since.

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An intimate moment for Jerry(Fred Astaire) and Dale(Ginger Rogers). Screenshot by me.

Top Hat is a joyous, uplifting and very romantic film. I think the film features Fred and Ginger at their very best, both in terms of their acting performances and their dancing. The film also has some of the best and most memorable dance routines in Fred and Ginger’s entire screen partnership. 

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Dale and Jerry having fun at a dinner party. Screenshot by me.

Top Hat was Fred and Ginger’s fourth film together. By this time they had developed a very good screen chemistry and they both seemed very comfortable being in these films. 

I think that Top Hat is the film which made audiences finally start to sit up and take some real notice of these two.

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Dale and Jerry take a boat ride and have a talk. Screenshot by me.

 Top Hat is also an incredibly funny film. The comic parts and the mistaken identity storyline ensure that the film has a timeless quality about it. The funny reactions, silly situations and funny romantic games really haven’t dated at all in my opinion.

The other fabulous thing about this film is the set design and costumes, both of which are stunning and beautiful. The Venice set in particular is a truly spectacular sight to behold. You can see the hours of hard work which had been put into designing, building, and making the sets and costumes in every single scene of the film. 

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Part of the Venice set. Screenshot by me.

This impressive set was three levels high. the Venice set consisted of canals, bridges, terraces and balconies. The Venice set was so big that it was spread across two adjoining sound stages.

The art director for the film was Carroll Clark, he oversaw all of the magnificent set and furniture design which we see in the film. The art direction for the film was nominated for an Academy Award. It was a well deserved nomination in my opinion.

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Part of the dance finale on the Venice set. Screenshot by me.

As well as the fabulous visuals to gaze at, and Fred and Ginger to enjoy, we also get the wonderful supporting performances of Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore.

                 Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore.  Screenshot by me.

These four actors were among the greatest American character actors of the classic film era. They are all comedy gold in this film. They steal all the scenes they are all in, and the comic bickering between them all is priceless. I think that they all add so much to this film. 

I consider Top Hat to be the best of Fred and Ginger’s films because everyone and everything in it is the very best they can possibly be. Top Hat became one of the most popular and profitable films of the 1930’s, and it has also since become the most successful and best remembered of all the Fred and Ginger films. 

The film is directed by Marc Sandrich, who was the director of several of the Fred and Ginger films. Acclaimed American tap dancer, Jerry Travers(Fred Astaire) has arrived in London to take the lead in a stage show being produced by his friend, Horace Hardwick(Edward Everett Horton).

                                  Jerry dancing and waking up Dale. Screenshot by me.

Jerry is demonstrating a tap routine to Horace in his hotel suite one night, when his loud tap dancing disturbs the sleep of Dale Tremont(Ginger Rogers), who is staying in the suite below. Dale complains about the noise and Jerry says sorry to her. It’s clear to us that there is an instant attraction developing between the two.

Dale and Jerry fall in love but she has mistaken Jerry for Horace, as the film goes on this case of mistaken identity gets even funnier and more complicated. This mistaken identity also prevents Dale and Jerry from being able to get together as quickly as they should be able to.

When Dale discovers that Horace is married to her friend Madge(Helen Broderick), Dale is shocked that he is romancing her and attempting to begin an affair with her which would mean he would be cheating on Madge. Dale is even more shocked when Madge seems to not to mind, shows she has a very open mind about love and flirting, and seems very amused by Dale telling her that Horace got romantic with her.

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Horace, Jerry and Madge discuss Dale mistaking Jerry for Horace. Screenshot by me.

Dale goes on holiday to Venice with Madge. Dale is romanced there by dress designer Alberto Beddini(Erik Rhodes), things get complicated when both Jerry and Horace show up, along with Horace’s hysterical and meddling valet, Bates (a scene stealing Eric Blore). Can Dale and Jerry set things straight and get the happy romantic ending they deserve?

In addition to the characters and the romance story, there are also lots of dance sequences for us to enjoy. The highlight of the film for me is Fred and Ginger’s Cheek To Cheek dance sequence. The dance caused many problems at first, due to what happened with the feathers on Ginger’s ostrich feather gown. 

                               Part of the Cheek To Cheek dance. Screenshot by me.

The feathers sewn onto the dress flew off in clouds whenever Ginger and Fred started dancing during early takes. Filming was stopped, the dress was altered slightly, and dancing resumed. Although feathers can still be seen falling off during the completed sequence, the shedding of feathers is not as noticeable as it had been initially. 

                                More of the Cheek To Cheek Sequence. Screenshot by me. 

The Cheek To Cheek sequence is so beautiful to watch. The dance is very graceful and expertly choreographed. This elegant, graceful and effortless sequence is the epitome to me of what Fred and Ginger were all about. 

The other standout dance sequence in the film is the Top Hat stage routine. This scene is part of Jerry’s stage show.

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Jerry and his backing dancers in the Top Hat sequence. Screenshot by me.

Fred gets to do some terrific solo tapping in this sequence, and he gets superb support from a large group of backing dancers. The dancing, the stage design and that brilliant song and music by Irving Berlin all help to make this a stunning sequence.

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Jerry does some solo tap. Screenshot by me.

I think there is something here for everyone to enjoy in this film. You will also be sure to be tapping your toes right along with Fred and Ginger. I also love that for a film which is clearly all about fantasy and which is set in a very artificial world, the plot and characters somehow manage to feel very authentic and believable.

The film makes you care about Dale and Jerry and you want them to be together by the end. Top Hat is an uplifting and delightful fantasy that can cheer you up if you are feeling down. I always feel happy after spending some time watching this one.

Fred is at his most charming and loveable in this film. Ginger is equally lovable and she also gets to prove to us how much comic talent she had too. I love Ginger’s shocked and bemused expressions during the scenes where she is telling Madge about Horace flirting with her. I also think she and Fred are so funny in the scene where she pretends to be someone else and acts as though they used to be lovers.

For a film made during the time of the infamous Production Code, I think that this film is also rather risque in its subject matter. Madge’s reaction to the news that Horace (we know it’s really Jerry that Dale is talking about but Madge doesn’t)has been flirting with Dale and wants to have a relationship with her, is not a response that you may expect to find in a 1930’s Code film.

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Madge and Dale talk about men. Screenshot by me.

Madge makes it very clear that she doesn’t care if he cheats on her or not. Madge’s response also seems to imply that the couple may well have an open relationship. I’m surprised the Code people passed this scene discussing affairs involving a married person, when they famously didn’t even allow characters who were married couples to be shown sleeping together in the same bed!

Madge is another reason why I love this film so much. She is a middle aged woman who you expect to be very reluctant to discuss her marriage and her husband’s fidelity, but Madge is just the opposite, she is very open and she comes across as being a very modern woman in her attitudes towards marriage, and she is also a very fun person too.

Madge is very open when she talks about Horace’s flirting and fooling around, she also tells Dale that you can never really stop men looking at other women and desiring them. The banter between Madge and Horace is also first class and I think that both Helen Broderick and Edward Everett Horton work together so well in this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Jerry tap dancing to shock the boring old men at Horace’s club. The Cheek To Cheek dance. Dale trying to tell Madge about Horace being in love with her. The scene where Dale pranks Jerry and acts as though she thinks they had an affair in France years ago. The Piccolino dance finale. Jerry waking Dale up with his dancing. 

Anyone else here love Top Hat as much as I do?

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Blogathons, Films I Love, Musicals, Romance

The Broadway Bound Blogathon: My Fair Lady (1964)

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Rebecca over at Taking Up Room is hosting her first ever blogathon! She has decided to host a blogathon all about Broadway shows. Be sure to visit Rebecca’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I have decided to write about a musical that I love a great deal. It is a story which started out as a stage play, then it became a Broadway musical, and then it was made into an Oscar winning film in 1964. The musical is My Fair Lady.   

My Fair Lady wasn’t always known by this particular title. The musical began its life as a stage play called Pygmalion,which was written in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw. 

The title of Shaw’s play came from the Greek legend of a sculptor called Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue that he had made.

The play was first performed on the stage in 1913.  Shaw always remained adamant that Eliza and Higgins should not become romantically involved, and he fought against any attempts to perform the play with an added romantic happy ending with Higgins and Eliza getting together.

A none musical film version of the story was co-directed by Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith in 1938. This earlier British screen version is well worth a look for fans of the 1964 film. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza.   

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adapted Shaw’s play and turned it into a very successful stage musical under the new title of My Fair Lady. This musical version made its Broadway debut in New York, on the 15th of March, 1956. The two original stars of this stage version were Rex Harrison in the role of Professor Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle.    

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Rex as Higgins. Screenshot by me.

Rex Harrison reprised his role in director George Cukor’s 1964 film adaptation. Try as I might, it is very hard for me to imagine anyone else having played the role of Higgins the way that Rex Harrison did.

I really like Leslie Howard’s portrayal in the 1938 film, but it is Rex’s portrayal of the arrogant, pompous, self-centered, selfish and energetic Higgins that lingers most in my mind. Rex really does a terrific job in the role. I especially love his subtle facial acting where he conveys to us that he is coming to genuinely care about Eliza.

Audrey Hepburn was chosen to play Eliza in Cukor’s film. The still somewhat unknown Julie Andrews was controversially not chosen to reprise her stage role in the film version, despite the fact that she was a brilliant singer and had proved to be a talented actress in the stage play. Ironically, Julie would star in her first film this same year, another musical called Mary Poppins. Not only did she find a place in film audiences hearts with that film, but she also took home the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the magical nanny.

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Audrey as Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Audrey Hepburn does a good job in this film and she really tries her best, but she is stuck playing a character who I think is always a difficult one for actresses to play.

In every version of this story I’ve seen the actress playing Eliza always struggles with the cockney flower girl scenes and excels at playing the transformed and elegant lady. So it is with Audrey.

Audrey certainly manages to convey Eliza’s sweet nature and her desperate desire to please Higgins by transforming into a refined lady, and she also convinces as the classy society lady. I think that her performance in the first half of the film is very over the top though and I think she also struggles with the cockney accent.

I think that Audrey is at her best in the second half of the film, especially in the slippers scene after the ball, she really makes you feel Eliza’s distress, frustration, and also her overwhelming despair in that particular scene. Audrey also did her own singing but she was then later dubbed over by Marni Nixon.  

I also like how Audrey manages to convey Eliza’s fiercely independent nature and her staunch refusal to change who she is inside. I love Audrey in scenes where Eliza and Higgins are arguing, she really puts so much energy into these shouting scenes and shows us that Eliza won’t back down and give in to Higgins bullying and rudeness. I love her the most when she ferociously gives him a piece of her mind singing the song Without You.  

Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is a flower girl working in Edwardian era London. She becomes the subject of a bet between two phonetics experts, Professor Henry Higgins(Rex Harrison)and Colonel Pickering(Wilfred Hyde-White), when Higgins claims that he can teach her to speak properly and can pass her off as a genuine society lady at a society ball. 

Higgins works very hard teaching and supporting Eliza in her transformation, and despite the pair not having the easiest of relationships both start to care for one another and enjoy being around one another. Higgins teaches Eliza how to speak in a different way and he also gifts her with new clothes.

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Eliza and Pickering arrive at Ascot. Screenshot by me.

Eliza’s first test in public is a trip to the Ascot racecourse. Eliza charms and dazzles the assorted society folk attending the race, but the things she says are quite odd and many there are bemused by her. The dashing Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett)falls for her and he is very amused at the things she says. Sadly it all goes wrong when Eliza loudly swears and yells at a very slow horse running in the race. The uproar caused by her outburst mortifies her but it greatly amuses Higgins who isn’t a fan of the snobbish upper classes. 

Eventually the time comes for Eliza to go to the Embassy Ball to dance and speak with royalty and upper class society. Eliza charms all there and she is even mistaken for a princess! Higgins has a great laugh about this and pats himself on the back for winning his bet. He fails to congratulate Eliza for her hard work and for getting through the evening successfully, Eliza loses her temper at this and becomes very distressed. Higgins calms her down and then says now she is a lady she should get married.

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The trio arrive at the Embassy Ball. Screenshot by me.

Eliza says that all he and his transformation of her has left her fit for now is to sell herself. As a flower girl she may have lived in poverty, but at least she could go out and earn some money and do what she wanted, but as a society lady it would now be unthinkable for her to work, and so all that is left for her to do is to get married and rely on a man for support. Eliza leaves Higgins and her departure makes him realise just how much she has come to mean to him. He tries to track her down and get her to come back to him. When he finds her will she come back and stay with him?

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Eliza is upset and angry after the ball. Screenshot by me.

Filled with some truly unforgettable songs and some gorgeous costumes (designed by Cecil Beaton), My Fair Lady is a real treat for fans of musicals. It has become one of the most beloved musical films of all time and it is one which always leaves me with a smile on my face. The film won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor. Audrey wasn’t even nominated and I’m sure that it must have been a bit upsetting for her when the film won so many awards and she didn’t get anything.

Audrey presented Rex with his Academy Award for Best Actor, and in the footage from that presentation she looks genuinely thrilled for him to have won. They hug and he looks at her with such affection and kindly says about the Oscar ” I feel in a way that I should split it in half between us”. He puts his arm around Audrey and keeps her at his side throughout his entire acceptance speech. I think this was a lovely thing for him to do because in a way it was like Audrey was up there winning an award too. He also says at the end “deep love to two fair ladies”, which I think was his way of throwing some love out there to both Julie Andrews (who was in the audience and would win the Best Actress Oscar that same night) and Audrey.  

The songs in this film are irresistible and whenever I watch the film I always end up singing along with them. My favourite songs are Show Me,I Could Have Danced All Night, Servants Chorus, An Ordinary Man, Just You Wait, Without You and With A Little Bit Of Luck. 

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Freddy and Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Rex and Audrey are both terrific and they receive strong support from the rest of the cast. Stanley Holloway delivers an hysterical performance as Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. Mona Washbourne is excellent as Higgins long suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce. Gladys Cooper steals every scene she is in as Higgins mother. Wilfred Hyde-White is sweet as Colonel Pickering. Jeremy Brett is charming and adorable as Freddy (even if this character does come across as a being a right stalker, not to mention a guy who won’t take no for an answer!).

My main reason for loving this film so much is because I find the relationship between Eliza and Higgins to be endlessly fascinating. I love how Higgins views her merely as an experiment, then as he spends more time with her, he really can’t help himself and he actually ends up beginning to like her very much.

Eliza dislikes him intensely and then she grows to like him but she still can’t stand his attitude and behaviour, and she is also well aware that he won’t ever change his behaviour. The pair keep being drawn back to one another no matter how many times they say or do something to hurt the other. They can’t live together, but they can’t live without one another either.  

Many see the final scene between them as being romantic but I don’t actually see it as being so. I think they have certainly connected emotionally and that they care for one another, but they don’t seem to do anything to take their relationship to the next level, and in the final scene of the film they never even kiss one another. Maybe in the future they will become romantically and sexually involved, but I seriously don’t see that as being on the cards in the final scene as it’s shown to us in the film. I think they will just take things one day at a time and see how it goes.

The ending reminds me of the “shut up and deal” ending to The Apartment and I have the same view of the relationship between those characters at the end as I do of Eliza and Higgins. It should be noted that Eliza actually marries Freddy at the end in Shaw’s original play.  I am often left wondering if the film and Eliza even need a romantic ending? Eliza will always be grateful to Higgins for his help in her transformation, but does she need to become his wife or Freddy’s? I think she has more than enough strength, courage, determination and focus to be able to go on and live a very happy independent life without needing a man in it. I would have been very happy had the film ended after the Without You sequence and Eliza had gone off to stand on her two feet and make her own way in society. I’d love to know what your views are on the ending and on their relationship.

My favourite scenes are the following. Eliza going back to Covent Garden Market and remembering her former life there. The entire Embassy Ball sequence, especially the scenes where Eliza and Higgins dance and where Eliza speaks to the Queen. The Without You scene. Higgins putting marbles in Eliza’s mouth. Higgins and Eliza both having headaches. Alfred coming to visit Higgins when he learns Eliza is there. The argument between Eliza and Higgins after the ball. Alfred telling Eliza what has happened to him. Eliza having her first bath. The Rain In Spain scene.

What do you think of this film?

Musicals

Hello Dolly! (1969)

This is one of the first musicals I ever saw, and it is one that has held a special place in my heart ever since. This features so many memorable and toe tapping songs, stunning costumes, and an unforgettable performance by Barbra Streisand.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Streisand as an actress. I love her as a singer though, but can barely stand her as an actress, however in Hello Dolly! I really do love her performance.

I think that she was the perfect choice as both actress and singer for the role of Dolly. Streisand makes Dolly so full of life, so outgoing, so amused by the reactions to her matchmaking and interference by some people. I also like how she makes Dolly very vulnerable and fragile at times.

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My favourite of Barbra’s many dresses from the film. Screenshot by me.

Dolly is grieving following the death of her husband, but when the time is right she realises that she can move on and allow another man to claim her heart.

Dolly’s serious and more emotional side is revealed in the park scene; her sad reaction to watching all the young couples enjoy the day brings home to us what she has lost from her own life, she then pulls herself out of her sadness and joins in the happiness of the day by singing Before The Parade Passes By.

Gene Kelly directed this and filmed much of it out on location. The film is set in the late 1800’s and it tells the story of New York matchmaker, Dolly Levi(Barbra Streisand).

Dolly ends up falling in love with the man she is currently trying to match with a suitable wife. That man is wealthy Yonkers store owner, Horace Vandergelder(Walter Matthau). Horace likes Dolly, but is annoyed by her interference and how she seldom takes life seriously. Horace takes life too seriously and is a very grumpy man.

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Cornelius and Barnaby. Screenshot by me.

Cornelius (Michael Crawford)and Barnaby(Danny Lockin)are two clerks who work for Horace. When Horace is away in New York, wooing the elegant Irene Molloy(Marianne McAndrew), Cornelius and Barnaby head to New York for a well earned small break.

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Irene and Minnie. Screenshot by me.

Chaos and comedy ensue when Cornelius ends up falling for Irene, and a series of misunderstandings lead the two men to be mistaken for millionaires. Barnaby enjoys his own flourishing romance with Irene’s bubbly assistant, Minnie(E.J. Peaker).

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Dolly arrives for dinner. Screenshot by me.

This all leads to a dinner at the lavish Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, this is a dinner that you won’t forget in a hurry. This dinner spectacle is overseen by head waiter Rudy(David Hurst).

Irene Sharaff designed the films beautiful costumes and they are all lovely to look at. My favourites are Dolly’s gold beaded evening gown, Dolly’s purple dress and feather hat she wears during the parade, Irene and Minnie’s blue and red evening gowns, and Dolly’s pale pink dress and hat she wears during the proposal scene.

My favourite songs are the following: Put On Your Sunday Clothes, Hello Dolly, Elegance and Before The Parade Passes By.

Louis Armstrong makes a fun cameo as the bandleader at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant who sings Hello Dolly with Barbra. That sequence is my favourite in the whole film, I love the song and the way Barbra and Louis perform that scene. It is also in this scene where we see Barbra in that unforgettable gold dress. Does anyone know what ever happened to that dress? It really is something to behold and I’d like to think someone out there has it safe.

I love Michael Crawford as the hapless Cornelius. His role is very comic, but also quite touching and he plays this superbly. We love his character and want him to get a happy ending and the respect of his boss. Michael does a lot of physical comedy in this and shows his skill at this as he would do later in the TV series Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

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Walter Matthau as Horace. Screenshot by me.

Walter Matthau is the unfortunate weak point of the film for me. He is just so stiff, dull, and seems quite out of place. I also never really buy the growing romance between his character and Dolly.

I doubt someone as outgoing and fun loving as Dolly would want to be the partner of this guy. If we had some more scenes depicting their growing feelings for one another this might have been convincing. As it is though, I just don’t find their relationship convincing at all.

Thankfully though as there is so much else going on in the film, the character of Horace doesn’t spoil things too much. Walter was a brilliant actor and comic, but it feels like he was seriously miscast in this role. He does convince as the domineering boss and uncle though. I also think he is funny during the dinner scene where he is on a date.

Everything about this film is big, from the vast crowd scenes, to the songs, to the visual spectacle(costumes, sets etc). It really is one of the last great musicals to come out of classic era Hollywood, and it was all overseen by the musical legend that was Mr. Gene Kelly. It’s like Gene Kelly wanted the musical era to go out on a real high. I’d say he succeeded. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Cornelius and Barnaby hiding in Irene’s hat shop when Dolly and Horace come calling. The entire Harmonia Gardens sequence. The park dance and the parade that follows. Dolly’s conversation with her dead husband. The Put On Your Sunday Clothes sequence. Horace’s hysterical dinner date with Ernestina Semple(Judy Knaiz). The opening sequence.

Never seen this before? What are you waiting for? Put on your Sunday clothes, buy a train ticket for New York, and stop off for a meal at the Harmonia Gardens with Dolly and her friends.

Please leave your thoughts on the film below.