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    Irene Cara, ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ Singer, Dies at 63

    Ms. Cara was a child star from the Bronx who gained international fame as the singer of major pop anthems from movies of the 1980s.Irene Cara, the Academy Award-winning singer who performed the electric title tracks in two aspirational self-expression movies of the 1980s, “Flashdance” and “Fame,” has died. She was 63.Her death at her Florida home was confirmed by her publicist, Judith A. Moose, on Twitter on Saturday. Ms. Moose, who did not specify when Ms. Cara died, said her cause of death was “currently unknown and will be released when information is available.”Ms. Cara, a child actor, dancer and singer, was the voice behind two of the biggest movie theme songs of the 1980s. She performed the title track from the movie “Fame” (1980), which followed a group of artsy high school students as they move through their first auditions to graduation.In 1984, she won the Oscar for best original song as one of the writers of “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” the title song from “Flashdance,” which she also sang. The buoyant song also earned Ms. Cara a Grammy Award in 1984 for best pop vocal performance, female, and a Golden Globe for best original song. The movie, like “Fame,” chronicled the aspirations of a young person seeking to express themselves through art, in this case, dance.Ms. Cara was born Irene Escalera on March 18, 1959, in the Bronx. She repeatedly disputed reports about her birth year, at times describing it as in 1964. Her official Twitter account says she was born in 1962. Her mother told The New York Times in 1970 that a young Ms. Cara, already a busy performer, was 11 years old.Her mother, Louise Escalera, was a cashier and her father, Gaspar Escalera, was a musician and worked at a steel factory. Details on Ms. Cara’s survivors were not immediately available.Ms. Cara grew up in New York City and attended music, acting and dance classes as a child and was said to be able to play the piano by ear at age five. She attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, a school for child performers and children studying the arts.As a child, she sang and danced on Spanish-language television. At 13, she was a regular on “The Electric Company,” a children’s show from the 1970s. She was also a member of its band, the Short Circus.She stayed busy, taking roles in theater, television and film, including the title role in “Sparkle,” a 1976 film about a family of female singers in the 1960s that was remade in 2012.Her breakout role was in the movie musical “Fame,” where she played Coco Hernandez, a student at a school modeled after the high school now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. On the film’s soundtrack, Ms. Cara sang the title track, “Fame,” and another single, the ballad “Out Here on My Own.”Both songs were nominated for an Oscar in 1981. The film was nominated for several awards and “Fame” won for both best original song and score.She continued to act and make music into the 1990s, when she was embroiled in a legal battle with her record company over her earnings. She was awarded $1.5 million by a California jury in 1993 but Ms. Cara said she was “virtually blacklisted” by the music industry because of the dispute, People magazine reported in 2001.In recent years, she shared songs from her catalog, including some that had not been released, on her podcast, “The Back Story.”In an episode from July 2019, she spoke about her ballad “As Long as it Lasts,” and said it had similar qualities to “Out Here on My Own,” and explained why she connected to both songs.“Very naked, just vocal and piano and a great lyric and a great story within the lyric, those are the kinds of songs I relate to as a songwriter,” Ms. Cara said. More

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    Jean-Marie Straub, Uncompromising Filmmaker, Is Dead at 89

    Emerging from the French New Wave, driven by artistic purity, he and his wife and directing partner, Danièle Huillet, didn’t care if audiences walked out on their films.Jean-Marie Straub, a celebrated filmmaker aligned with the French New Wave who sparked critical debate with films he made with his wife, Danièle Huillet, that were known for their aggressively cerebral subject matter, Marxist leanings and anti-commercial sensibility, died on Sunday at his home in Rolle, Switzerland. He was 89.The Swiss National Film Archive announced his death.“The Straubs,” as they were often called (although they preferred Straub-Huillet as a professional moniker), emerged in the 1950s from the same circle of revolutionary French filmmakers as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, a friend over the years who lived nearby in Rolle until his death in September.The New Wave directors upended moviemaking conventions by channeling their cinephilic theories into auteur-driven works that reflected the anti-authoritarian sentiments of postwar France. Mr. Straub and Ms. Huillet took those same impulses in a more radical direction, eschewing traditional narrative techniques and structures to create a form of ideologically driven film that proudly flouted basic standards of entertainment.Their 1981 documentary, “Too Early, Too Late,” for example, featured Ms. Huillet, in a voice-over, reading from a letter written by Friedrich Engels to the Marxist theorist Karl Kautsky about the economic despair of French peasants as seemingly unrelated footage of locations in contemporary France played onscreen.Mr. Straub with his wife and filmmaking partner, Danièle Huillet, in 2002. Their films, one critic wrote, “indifferent to love or admiration, are monuments to their own integrity.”Sipa/ShutterstockThe films’ source material often seemed plucked from a graduate-level syllabus, drawing from the likes of Bertolt Brecht, the novelist and literary critic Elio Vittorini and the operas of the atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg.Critics, film theorists and discerning viewers held strong views of their work, which could be seen as either poetic or tedious. Their minimalist approach to editing, cinematography and acting demanded that “one be in a mood so receptive that it borders on the brainwashed,” as Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times in his review of “Class Relations,” their 1984 interpretation of Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, “Amerika.”The film is now hailed as one of the most accessible and beautiful of the Straub-Huillet films, but Mr. Canby said the actors’ impassive line delivery sounded “as if they were giving instructions on how to put on one’s life jacket in case of an unscheduled landing at sea.”To other critics, that steadfast commitment to an aesthetic was an artistic statement in itself. “Some movies want to be loved,” the critic J. Hoberman wrote in The New York Times reviewing a 45-film Straub-Huillet retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2016. “Others prefer to be admired. And then there are the movies, like those by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, that, indifferent to love or admiration, are monuments to their own integrity.”Despite a body of work largely confined to art-house theaters and museum screenings, Mr. Straub was awarded the Leopard of Honor lifetime achievement award in 2017 by the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, an award that previously went to the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Werner Herzog and Mr. Godard. (Ms. Huillet died in 2006.) Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote that Mr. Straub was “one of the least known of great filmmakers — he never had a hit or sought one.”If audiences shifted uncomfortably in their seats, so much the better. To the combative Mr. Straub, filmmaking could be a revolutionary act. “If we hadn’t learned how to make films,” he once said, “I would have planted bombs.”Mr. Straub in 2017 at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where he received its Leopard of Honor lifetime achievement award, an honor previously bestowed on the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Werner Herzog and Jean-Luc Godard. Urs Flueeler/EPA, via ShutterstockJean-Marie Straub was born on Jan. 8,1933, in Metz, in northeastern France, and was a film buff from an early age, showing an affinity for the films of Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson and Jean Grémillon.He studied literature at the Lycée Fustel-de-Coulanges in Strasbourg, eventually earning his degree from University of Nancy. In the early 1950s, he organized a film club in Metz, to which he invited Mr. Truffaut, then a provocative critic for the seminal French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, and André Bazin, a Cahiers founder, to discuss films. (Mr. Straub began contributing to the magazine himself.)He met Ms. Huillet in 1954, and the couple settled in Paris, where Mr. Straub began his film career as an assistant, working on movies like Mr. Bresson’s “A Man Escaped,” released in 1956. Two years later, to avoid conscription in the Algerian War, he fled France for West Germany. He and Ms. Huillet were married in Munich in 1959, beginning a long career as expatriate filmmakers working largely in Germany, Italy and Switzerland.Their first short feature, “Not Reconciled” (1965), was adapted from a novel by Heinrich Böll, which dissects the growth and legacies of Nazism. The writer and public intellectual Susan Sontag later said the film had made her want to kiss the screen.In 1968, the couple won international acclaim for their first full-length feature, “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1968), which was a deconstructed version of a biopic of Johann Sebastian Bach.Set in locations in Germany where Bach had actually lived and worked, the film offers a sparse narrative consisting of voice-over reminiscences from a fictional diary by Bach’s second wife (the text was written by the filmmakers). Much of the action, as it were, is provided by musicians in period costume performing the composer’s great works.While the film baffled some critics in its day — A.H. Weiler deemed it “repetitious and static screen fare” in The Times — others, over time, came to see it as a masterpiece, a work of art “whose visual austerity, resolute slowness and refusal of conventional narrative were meant to advance a ruthless critique of capitalist aesthetics,” as A.O. Scott wrote in The Times in 2018.A scene from “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1968), which won international acclaim. It was Mr. Straub and Ms. Huillet’s first full-length feature film.Collection Christophel/AlamyAs their reputation grew, Mr. Straub and Ms. Huillet continued to push boundaries over the decades. Their films “From the Clouds to the Resistance” (1979) and “Sicilia!” (1999) both premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival, a category reserved for artistically daring works.Critics were less kind to their 1979 adaptation of “Othon,” a 17th-century French play by Pierre Corneille, which announced its intentions to confound with a 22-word title in English: “Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times, or, Perhaps One Day Rome Will Allow Herself to Choose in Her Turn.”The film featured nonprofessional actors costumed as ancient Romans barking out the text of the play in an emotionally flat, rapid-fire fashion from the ruins of Palatine Hill in contemporary Rome, with the din of the modern city humming below.Ever the utopian, Mr. Straub said he considered the target audience of “Othon” — about a Roman nobleman’s political ambitions amid calls for bringing power to the people — to be the modern proletariat.“I would like to have ‘Othon’ seen by workers in Paris,” he was quoted as saying in a 1975 interview. “They’ve never been told that Corneille is impossible to understand.”The film, he added, “threatens not just a class, but a clique of power.”That clique of power apparently included critics at the New York Film Festival in 1970, half of whom bolted for the exit during the film’s press screening.But perhaps that was the point. As Mr. Straub once put it, “We make our films so that audiences can walk out of them.” More

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    Pablo Milanés, Troubadour of the Cuban Revolution, Dies at 79

    His music blended traditional idioms with pop inflections and social themes, earning him comparisons with Bob Dylan.Pablo Milanés, a Cuban musician whose blend of folk idioms, pop influences and themes of love both personal and patriotic earned him a reputation as the Bob Dylan of Latin America, died on Tuesday in Madrid. He was 79.His son Fabien Pisani confirmed the death, in a hospital, and said the cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder.Mr. Milanés, known to fans as Pablito, was a founding member of nueva trova, a musical movement that emerged in the late 1960s and infused traditional Cuban arrangements with social and political themes.He wrote songs to accompany the dramatic changes sweeping across Cuba in the wake of the 1959 revolution, making him and the two other founders of nueva trova, Silvio Rodríguez and Noel Nicola, its unofficial troubadours.“The success of Silvio and Pablo is the success of the revolution,” Fidel Castro said during a reception for Mr. Rodríguez and Mr. Milanés in 1984.Mr. Milanés, left, with his fellow nueva trova musician Silvio Rodríguez in 1983. “The success of Silvio and Pablo,” Fidel Castro once said, “is the success of the revolution.”Prensa Latina, via AP ImagesMr. Milanés’s influence spread beyond Cuba. As the revolutionary tides that swept over Latin America in the 1960s receded in the face of right-wing authoritarians in the 1970s, songs of his like “Yo No Te Pido” and “Cuba Va” became anthems of the continental left, sung in dissident meetings and among exile communities.“To millions of Latin Americans, Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanés and their guitars are as much a symbol of Cuba and its revolution as Fidel Castro and his beard,” Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times in 1987.With his gentle guitar work and a voice poised on the edge between tenor and baritone, Mr. Milanés performed songs that were not, on their surface at least, about class struggle and revolution, but instead about love, longing and the beauty of the Cuban countryside.In 1970 he wrote one of his most famous songs, “Yolanda,” dedicated to his wife at the time, Yolanda Benet, after the birth of their daughter Lynn.“This can’t be more than a song/I would like it to be a declaration of love,” he sang. “If you miss me I will not die/If I have to die I want it to be with you.”Nevertheless, his close identification with the Cuban government made him a controversial figure among Cuban Americans. He recorded almost 60 albums, but until recently they were hard to find in American record stores; those that made it north were often smuggled. He was largely unwelcome in Cuban exile communities, especially in Miami, and radio stations that played his music reported receiving threats afterward.Mr. Milanés performing in 1974 for an informal gathering including the Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, right, and the Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Puebla, third from right.Jose A. Figueroa/Prensa Latina. via Associated PressHe toured the United States several times, coming and going with the fluctuations in U.S.-Cuban relations. At a 1987 appearance at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, a particularly passionate fan mounted the stage midsong, knelt before Mr. Milanés and placed a single red rose at his feet.“I am a worker who labors with songs, doing in my own way what I know best, like any other Cuban worker,” he told The New York Times after that show. “I am faithful to my reality, to my revolution and the way in which I have been brought up.”By the 1980s he had established himself as an ambassador of Cuban music. He put the music of Cuban poet-patriots like José Martí and Nicolás Guillén to song. He oversaw the Varadero International Music Festival, which brought leading artists from around Latin America to Cuba. And he released a series of albums that revitalized neglected Cuban musicians and styles, especially those who, like him, were rooted in the country’s Afro-Caribbean culture.His love for the revolution was not always requited. In 1965 the Cuban military sent him to a forced labor camp; he was one of tens of thousands of artists, intellectuals, priests and gay people deemed potentially subversive by the government.In the 1990s he founded a nonprofit, the Pablo Milanés Foundation, to promote Cuban culture. It supported artists, published books and produced a magazine, but the Cuban Ministry of Culture dissolved it after less than two years, without official explanation.He became more critical of the government in recent years, as occasional flare-ups in dissident activity were met with official repression. His stance drove a wedge between him and Mr. Rodríguez, his old ideological compatriot, who remained closely aligned with the government and even signed a letter in 2003 supporting the arrest of dozens of protesters.Mr. Milanés suffered several health setbacks over the last 20 years and moved to Spain in 2017 to receive medical treatment. He continued to tour Latin America but rarely returned to Cuba, though he did make one last appearance in Havana in June.Mr. Milanés had lived in Spain for some time and rarely returned to Cuba, but he did perform in Havana in June.Alexandre Meneghini/ReutersPablo Milanés Arias was born under auspicious signs for a future revolutionary: His birthday, Feb. 24, 1943, was the 48th anniversary of the Grito de Baire, the declaration of Cuban independence against the Spanish in 1895, while his birthplace, Bayamo, in southeastern Cuba, was a cauldron of Cuban revolutionary sentiment.His father, Angel Milanés Aguilera, was a saddler and leather craftsman for the Cuban army, and his mother, Caridad Arias Guerra, was a seamstress and dressmaker who traded one of her creations for Pablo’s first guitar.His mother supported him in other ways: When he was still young, she moved the family to Havana, where she entered him in musical contests and sent him to the city’s Municipal Conservatory of Music to study piano.When he was 12, he encountered a group of street musicians playing traditional Cuban music, and he persuaded his mother to let him leave school to start his career early.Mr. Milanés was married five times. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Pérez, and their children, Rosa Parks Milanés Perez and Pablo; his daughter Lynn Milanés Benet and son Liam, both with his second wife, Yolanda Benet; his children, Mauricio Blanco Álvarez, Fabien Pisani Álvarez and Haydée Milanés Álvarez, with his third wife, Zoe Álvarez; and his son Antonio, with his fourth wife, Sandra Perez. Another daughter with Ms. Benet, Suylén Milanés, died in January.In 1965 Mr. Milanés released “Mi 22 Años” (“My 22 Years”), the dewy-eyed lament of a young man who has already seen so much: “Long ago, I longed to find eternal bliss,” he sang. Threaded with Cuban folk and American jazz, it is considered the first nueva trova song.His international fame grew through the 1970s, alongside the promise and struggle of revolutionaries across the developing world who often looked to Cuba as their ideological lodestar. He sang to Cuban soldiers serving in Angola, and he toured the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.He won two Latin Grammys, both in 2006 — one for best singer-songwriter album, the other for best traditional tropical album.His turn away from the Cuban government coincided with Fidel Castro’s decision to step down that year, to be succeeded by his brother, Raúl, who promised significant reforms. When those promises went unfulfilled, Mr. Milanés spoke out.“When one thinks of the reforms, you think they’re going to come united with a series of freedoms, such as freedom of expression,” he said in an interview with El Nuevo Herald, a Miami newspaper, in 2011.But he remained a devotee of the revolutionary fervor of his youth, and he never lost his legions of fans on the left.When a reporter asked Michelle Bachelet, the left-leaning former president of Chile, in July about a proposed change to the Chilean Constitution, she said it reminded her of a line from one of Mr. Milanés’s songs.“It’s not perfect,” she said, “but it’s close to what I always dreamed of.” More