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Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan
File:Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by
Written by Robert Rodat
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Janusz Kamiński
Edited by Michael Kahn
Distributed by
Release dates
  • July 24, 1998 (1998-07-24)
Running time
169 minutes
Country United States
Language English, German, French
Budget $70 million[1]
Box office $481.8 million[2]

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American epic drama war film set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II. Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat, the film is notable for its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, and for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes, which depict the Omaha Beach assault of June 6, 1944. It follows United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and a squad (Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies) as they search for a paratrooper, Private First Class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), who is the last-surviving brother of four servicemen.

Saving Private Ryan received universal critical acclaim, winning several awards for film, cast, and crew as well as earning significant returns at the box office. The film grossed US$481.8 million worldwide, making it the second highest-grossing film of the year. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the film for eleven Academy Awards; Spielberg's direction won him a second Academy Award for Best Director, with four more awards going to the film. Saving Private Ryan was released on home video in May 1999, earning $44 million from sales. In 2014, Saving Private Ryan was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry as per being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[3]


On the morning of June 6, 1944, the beginning of the Normandy Invasion, American soldiers prepare to land on Omaha Beach. They suffer heavily from their struggle against German infantry, machine gun nests, and artillery fire. Captain John H. Miller, a company commander of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, survives the initial landing and assembles a group of his Rangers to penetrate the German defenses, leading to a breakout from the beach. In Washington, D.C, at the U.S. War Department, General George Marshall is informed that three of the four brothers of the Ryan family were killed in action and that their mother is to receive all three telegrams in the same day. He learns that the fourth son, Private First Class James Francis Ryan, is a paratrooper and is missing in action somewhere in Normandy. Marshall, after reading Abraham Lincoln's Bixby letter, orders that Ryan be found and sent home immediately.

Three days after D-Day, Miller receives orders to find Ryan and bring him back from the front. He assembles six men from his company— TSgt. Mike Horvath, Privates Richard Reiben, Stanley Mellish, Adrian Caparzo, Danny Jackson, medic Irwin Wade—and T/5 Timothy Upham, a cartographer who speaks French and German, loaned from the 29th Infantry Division. Miller and his men move out to Neuville; there, they meet a platoon from the 101st Airborne Division, and Caparzo dies after being shot by a sniper. Eventually, they locate a Private James Ryan, but soon learn that he is not their man. They find a member of Ryan's regiment who informs them that his drop zone was at Vierville and that his and Ryan's companies had the same rally point. Once they reach it, Miller meets a friend of Ryan's, who reveals that Ryan is defending a strategically important bridge over the Merderet River in the town of Ramelle. On the way to Ramelle, Miller decides to neutralize a German machine gun position, despite the misgivings of his men. Wade is fatally wounded in the ensuing skirmish, but Miller, at Upham's urging, declines to execute a surviving German and sets him free on condition that he gives himself up. No longer confident in Miller's leadership, Reiben declares his intention to desert the squad and the mission, prompting a confrontation with Horvath. The argument heats up until Miller defuses the situation by revealing his origins, upon which the squad had earlier set up a betting pool. Reiben then reluctantly decides to stay.

Upon arrival at Ramelle, Miller and the squad come upon a small group of paratroopers commanded by Corporal Henderson, one of whom is Ryan. Ryan is told of his brothers' deaths, the mission to bring him home, and that two men had been lost in the quest to find him. He is distressed at the loss of his brothers, but does not feel it is fair to go home, asking Miller to tell his mother that he intends to stay "with the only brothers [he has] left." Miller decides to take command and defend the bridge with what little manpower and resources are available. Elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division arrive with infantry and armor. In the ensuing battle, while inflicting heavy German casualties, most of the Americans—including Jackson, Mellish, Horvath—are killed. While attempting to blow the bridge, Miller is shot and mortally wounded by the German prisoner set free earlier, who has returned to battle alongside the SS. Just before a Tiger tank reaches the bridge, an American P-51 Mustang flies over and destroys the tank, followed by American reinforcements who rout the remaining Germans. Upham, furious at the perfidy of the German prisoner, shoots him, and the rest flee in panic.

Reiben and Ryan are with Miller as he dies and says his last words, "James ... earn this. Earn it." In the present day, an elderly Ryan and his family visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Ryan stands at Miller's grave and asks his wife to confirm that he has led a good life, that he is a "good man" and thus worthy of the sacrifice of Miller and the others. His wife replies, "You are." At this point, Ryan stands at attention and delivers a military salute towards Miller's grave.




In 1994, Robert Rodat saw a monument in Putney Corners, New Hampshire, memorializing Americans who were killed from the American Civil War to the Vietnam War. He noticed the names of eight siblings who died during the American Civil War. Inspired by the story, Rodat did some research and decided to write a similar story set in World War II. Rodat's script was submitted to producer Mark Gordon, who liked the story but only accepted the text after 11 redrafts. Gordon shared the finished script with Hanks, who liked it and in turn passed it along to Spielberg to direct. A shooting date was set for June 27, 1997.[4]


Before filming began, several of the film's stars, including Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, and Tom Hanks, endured ten days of "boot camp" training led by Marine veteran Dale Dye and Warriors, Inc., a California-based company that specializes in training actors for realistic military portrayals.[5] Matt Damon was intentionally not brought into the camp, to make the rest of the group feel resentment towards the character.[6]

Spielberg had already demonstrated his interest in World War II themes with the films 1941, Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List, and the Indiana Jones series. Spielberg later co-produced the World War II themed television miniseries Band of Brothers and its counterpart The Pacific with Tom Hanks. When asked about this by American Cinematographer, Spielberg said, "I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years; the fate of the baby boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. Beyond that, I've just always been interested in World War II. My earliest films, which I made when I was about 14 years old, were combat pictures that were set both on the ground and in the air. For years now, I've been looking for the right World War II story to shoot, and when Robert Rodat wrote Saving Private Ryan, I found it."[7]


File:CimetièreUS allées.JPG
The opening and closing scenes of the film are set in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

The D-Day scenes were shot in Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe Strand, Ballinesker, just east of Curracloe, County Wexford, Ireland.[8][9][10] Filming began June 27, 1997, and lasted for two months.[11][12][13] Some shooting was done in Normandy, for the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer and Calvados. Other scenes were filmed in England, such as a former British Aerospace factory in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, Thame Park, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. Production was due to also take place in Seaham, County Durham, but government restrictions disallowed this.[14]

Portrayal of history

Saving Private Ryan has received critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of World War II combat. In particular, the sequence depicting the Omaha Beach landings was named the "best battle scene of all time" by Empire magazine and was ranked number one on TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest Movie Moments".[15] The scene cost US$12 million and involved up to 1,500 extras, some of whom were members of the Irish Reserve Defence Forces. Members of local reenactment groups such as the Second Battle Group were cast as extras to play German soldiers.[16] In addition, twenty to thirty actual amputees were used to portray American soldiers maimed during the landing.[17] Spielberg did not storyboard the sequence, as he wanted spontaneous reactions and for "the action to inspire me as to where to put the camera".[18]

Saving Private Ryan was noted for its recreation of the Omaha Beach landings.

The historical representation of Charlie Company's actions, led by its commander, Captain Ralph E. Goranson, was well maintained in the opening sequence. The sequence and details of the events are very close to the historical record, including the seasickness experienced by many of the soldiers as the landing craft moved toward the shoreline, significant casualties among the men as they disembarked from the boats, and difficulty linking up with adjacent units on the shore. The contextual details of the Company's actions were well maintained, for instance, the correct code names for the sector Charlie Company assaulted, and adjacent sectors, were used. Included in the cinematic depiction of the landing was a follow-on mission of clearing a bunker and trench system at the top of the cliffs which was not part of the original mission objectives for Charlie Company, but which they did undertake after the assault on the beach.[19]

The landing craft used included twelve actual World War II examples, 10 LCVPs and 2 LCMs, standing in for the British LCAs that the Ranger Companies rode in to the beach during Operation Overlord.[19][20] The film-makers used underwater cameras to better depict soldiers being hit by bullets in the water. Forty barrels of fake blood were used to simulate the effect of blood in the seawater.[17] This degree of realism was more difficult to achieve when depicting World War II German armored vehicles, as few examples survive in operating condition. The Tiger I tanks in the film were copies built on the chassis of old, but functional, Soviet T-34 tanks.[21] The two vehicles described in the film as Panzers were meant to portray Marder III tank destroyers. One was created for the film using the chassis of a Czech-built Panzer 38(t) tank[22] similar to the construction of the original Marder III; the other was a cosmetically modified Swedish SAV m/43 assault gun, which also used the 38(t) chassis.[23]

Inevitably, some artistic license was taken by the filmmakers for the sake of drama, distorting the historical veracity of the film's presentation. There are strategic and operational, as well as tactical flaws in the film's depiction of the Normandy campaign. There is a strategic problem in that at the time of the mission, American forces from the two American beach areas of Utah and Omaha had not yet linked up.[24] Had such a mission been executed in reality, a Ranger team operating out of the Omaha beach area would have had to move through the heavily enemy-occupied city of Carentan, or swim or boat across the estuary linking Carentan to the channel, or transfer by boat to the Utah landing area. On the other hand, US forces moving out of Utah would have had direct and much shorter routes, relatively unencumbered by enemy positions, and were already in contact with some teams from both US airborne divisions landed in the area.[25] The Utah beach landings, however, were relatively uncontested, with assault units landing on largely unoccupied beaches, and experiencing far less action than the landings at Omaha.[26] The film-makers chose to begin the narrative with a depiction of the more dramatic story of Omaha, despite the strategic inaccuracy of an impossible mission that could easily have been pursued from the other beach area. In addition, one of the most notable of the operational flaws is the depiction of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, as the adversary during the fictional Battle of Ramelle. The 2nd SS was not engaged in Normandy until July, and then at Caen against the British and Canadians, one hundred miles east.[27] Furthermore, the Merderet River bridges were not an objective of the 101st Airborne Division but of the 82nd Airborne Division, part of Mission Boston.[28]

Much has also been said about various "tactical errors" made by both the German and American forces in the film's climactic battle. Spielberg responded, saying that in many scenes he opted to replace sound military tactics and strict historical accuracy for dramatic effect.[29] Some other technical errors were also made, often censored, including the mistaken reversed orientation of the beach barriers; the tripod obstructions with a mine at the apex. To achieve a tone and quality that was true to the story as well as reflected the period in which it is set, Spielberg once again collaborated with cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, saying, "Early on, we both knew that we did not want this to look like a Technicolor extravaganza about World War II, but more like color newsreel footage from the 1940s, which is very desaturated and low-tech." Kamiński had the protective coating stripped from the camera lenses, making them closer to those used in the 1940s. He explains that "without the protective coating, the light goes in and starts bouncing around, which makes it slightly more diffused and a bit softer without being out of focus." The cinematographer completed the overall effect by putting the negative through bleach bypass, a process that reduces brightness and color saturation. The shutter timing was set to 90 or 45 degrees for many of the battle sequences, as opposed to the standard of 180-degree timing. Kamiński clarifies, "In this way, we attained a certain staccato in the actors' movements and a certain crispness in the explosions, which makes them slightly more realistic."[30]


Box office

Saving Private Ryan was a critical and commercial success and is credited with contributing to a resurgence in America's interest in World War II. Old and new films, video games, and novels about the war enjoyed renewed popularity after its release.[31] The film's use of desaturated colors, hand-held cameras, and tight angles has profoundly influenced subsequent films and video games.[32][33] Saving Private Ryan was released in 2,463 theaters on July 24, 1998, and grossed $30.5 million on its opening weekend. The film grossed $216.5 million in North America and $265.3 million in other territories, bringing its worldwide total to $481.8 million and making it the highest-grossing domestic film of the year.[1]

Critical response

The film received critical acclaim and has a 'certified fresh' rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 124 reviews with an average score of 8.6 out of 10. The consensus states "Anchored by another winning performance from Hanks, Spielberg's unflinchingly realistic war film virtually redefines the genre."[34] The film also has a score of 90 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 34 reviews indicating 'universal acclaim'.[35]

Much of the praise went for the realistic battle scenes[36] and the actors' performances.[37] It earned some criticism for ignoring the contributions of several other countries to the D-Day landings in general and at Omaha Beach specifically.[38] The most direct example of the latter is that during the actual landing the 2nd Rangers disembarked from British ships and were taken to Omaha Beach by Royal Navy landing craft (LCAs). The film depicts them as being United States Coast Guard-crewed craft (LCVPs and LCMs) from an American ship, the USS Thomas Jefferson (APA-30).[19][39][40] This criticism was far from universal with other critics recognizing the director's intent to make an "American" film.[41] The film was not released in Malaysia after Spielberg refused to cut the violent scenes;[42] however, the film was finally released there on DVD with an 18SG certificate much later in 2005. Many critics associations, such as New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, chose Saving Private Ryan as Film of the Year.[43] Roger Ebert gave it four stars out of four and called it "a powerful experience".[37]

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has expressed admiration for the film and has cited it as an influence on his 2009 war epic, Inglourious Basterds.[44] Conversely, film director and military veteran Oliver Stone has accused the film of promoting "the worship of World War II as the good war," and has lumped it alongside films such as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down that he believes were well-made, but may have inadvertently contributed to Americans' readiness for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[45] In defense of the film's portrait of warfare, Brian De Palma commented, "The level of violence in something like Saving Private Ryan makes sense because Spielberg is trying to show something about the brutality of what happened."[46]

Actor Richard Todd, who performed in The Longest Day and was amongst the first of the Allied soldiers to land in Normandy, said the film was "Rubbish. Overdone."[47] Other World War II veterans, however, stated that the film was the most realistic depiction of combat they had ever seen.[48] The film was so realistic that combat veterans of D-Day and Vietnam left theaters rather than finish watching the opening scene depicting the Normandy invasion. Their visits to posttraumatic stress disorder counselors rose in number after the film's release, and many counselors advised "'more psychologically vulnerable'" veterans to avoid watching it.[49]


The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, with wins for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Film Editing, and Best Director for Spielberg, but lost the Best Picture award to Shakespeare in Love, being one of a few that have won the Best Director award without also winning Best Picture.[50][51] The Academy's decision to not award the film with the Best Picture Oscar has resulted in much criticism in recent years, many of whom believe it is one of the biggest Oscar snubs.[52][53]

The film also won the Golden Globes for Best Picture – Drama and Director, the BAFTA Award for Special Effects and Sound, the Directors Guild of America Award, a Grammy Award for Best Film Soundtrack, the Producers Guild of America Golden Laurel Award, and the Saturn Award for Best Action, Adventure, or Thriller Film.[43] The American Film Institute has included Saving Private Ryan in many of its lists, ranking it as the 78th greatest American movie in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition),[54] as well as the 45th most thrilling film in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills,[55] the 10th most inspiring in AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers,[56] and the eight best epic film in "AFI's 10 Top 10".[57]

List of awards and nominations received by Saving Private Ryan
Award Category Nominee Result
71st Academy Awards Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Sound Effects Editing Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns Won
Best Film Editing Michael Kahn Won
Best Sound Mixing Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Ron Judkins Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Art Direction Thomas E. Sanders and Lisa Dean Nominated
Best Makeup Lois Burwell, Conor O'Sullivan and Daniel C. Striepeke Nominated
Original Dramatic Score John Williams Nominated
Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Ian Bryce, Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Robert Rodat Nominated
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Best Thriller Film Won
Best Special Effects Nominated
Amanda Awards Best Foreign Film Steven Spielberg Nominated
American Cinema Editors Best Edited Feature Film Michael Kahn Won
American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Janusz Kamiński Nominated
Art Directors Guild Feature Film Nominated
Awards of the Japanese Academy Best Foreign Film Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Sound Won
Best Special Visual Effects Won
Best Music John Williams Nominated
Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Nominated
Best Editing Michael Kahn Nominated
Best Film Nominated
Best Makeup & Hair Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Production Design Nominated
Best Direction Steven Spielberg Nominated
BMI Film Music Award BMI Film Music Award John Williams Won
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Favorite Actor Tom Hanks Won
Favorite Supporting Actor Jeremy Davies Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Cinematography Won
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Picture Won
Best Score John Williams Won
Camerimage Best Cinematography Nominated
Casting Society of America Best Casting Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Won
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Best Director Steven Spielberg Nominated
Cinema Audio Society Best Sound Won
Czech Lions Best Foreign Film Steven Spielberg Won
César Awards Best Foreign Film Steven Spielberg Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Won
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement Steven Spielberg Won
Empire Awards Best Actor Tom Hanks Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Film Nominated
European Film Award Screen International Award Steven Spielberg Nominated
Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Best Cinematography Won
Golden Globes Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Motion Picture Won
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television John Williams Won
Huabiao Film Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Humanitas Prize Feature Film Category Nominated
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Best Foreign Director Steven Spielberg Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Supporting Actor Jeremy Davies Won
Key Art Awards Best of Show – Audiovisual Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Best Cinematography Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Picture Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards Film of the Year Won
Actor of the Year Matt Damon Nominated
Actor of the Year Tom Hanks Nominated
Director of the Year Steven Spielberg Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Cinematography Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Picture Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Action Sequence Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Male Performance Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Movie Nominated
Motion Picture Sound Editors Best Sound Editing – Dialogue Won
Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects Won
Best Sound Editing – Music Nominated
National Board of Review Top Ten Films Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Film Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Cinematography Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Ensemble Won
Best Film Won
Best Film Editing Michael Kahn Won
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Music John Williams Nominated
PGA Awards Motion Picture Producer of the Year Award Won
Russian Guild of Film Critics Best Foreign Film Steven Spielberg Won
Satellite Awards Best Editing Michael Kahn Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Nominated
Best Film Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Best Original Score Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Tom Sizemore Nominated
Best Visual Effects Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Ensemble Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Picture Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Picture Won
Best Male Performance Tom Hanks Nominated
Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay Nominated

Television broadcasts

On Veterans Day from 2001–2004, the American Broadcasting Company aired the film uncut and with limited commercial interruption. The network airings were given a TV-MA rating, as the violent battle scenes and the profanity were left intact. The 2004 airing was marred by pre-emptions in many markets because of the language, in the backlash of Super Bowl XXXVIII's halftime show controversy.[58] However, critics and veterans' groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars assailed those stations and their owners, including Hearst-Argyle Television (owner of 12 ABC affiliates); Scripps Howard Broadcasting (owner of six); and Belo (owner of four) for putting profits ahead of programming and honoring those who gave their lives at wartime, saying the stations made more money running their own programming instead of being paid by the network to carry the film, especially during a sweeps period. A total of 65 ABC affiliates—28% of the network—did not clear the available timeslot for the film, even with the offer of The Walt Disney Company, ABC's parent, to pay all fines for language to the Federal Communications Commission.[59] In the end, however, no complaints were lodged against ABC affiliates who showed Ryan, perhaps because even conservative watchdogs like the Parents Television Council supported the unedited rebroadcast of the film.[60] Additionally, some ABC affiliates in other markets that were near affected markets, such as Youngstown, Ohio ABC affiliate WYTV (which is viewable in parts of the Columbus, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh markets, none of which aired the film), still aired the film and gave those nearby markets the option of viewing the film.[61] TNT and Turner Classic Movies have also broadcast the film.[62][63]

Home video

The film was released on home video in May 1999 with a VHS release that earned over $44 million.[64] The DVD release became available in November of the same year,[65] and was one of the best-selling titles of the year, with over 1.5 million units sold.[66] The DVD was released in two separate versions: one with Dolby Digital and the other with DTS 5.1 surround sound. Besides the different 5.1 tracks, the two DVDs are identical. The film was also issued in a very limited 2-disc LaserDisc release in November 1999, making it one of the very last feature films to ever be issued in this format, as LaserDiscs ceased manufacturing and distribution by the year's end, due in part to the growing popularity of DVDs.[67]

In 2004, a Saving Private Ryan special edition DVD was released to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. This two-disc edition was also included in a box set titled World War II Collection, along with two documentaries produced by Spielberg, Price For Peace (about the Pacific War) and Shooting War (about war photographers, narrated by Tom Hanks).[68] The film was released on Blu-ray Disc on April 26, 2010 in the UK and on May 4, 2010 in the US, as part of Paramount Home Video's premium Sapphire Series.[69] However, only weeks after its release, Paramount issued a recall due to audio synchronization problems. The studio issued an official statement acknowledging the problem, which they attributed to an authoring error by Technicolor that escaped the quality control process, and that they had already begun the process of replacing the defective discs.[70]

See also

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Further reading

External links

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