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Who was René Robert, the flamenco photographer found dead on the streets of Paris? | USA

Swiss photographer René Robert made headlines last week after it emerged that he had died on the streets of Paris from hypothermia on January 19, at the age of 84. He had been left unconscious after a fall, and no one came to his aid for hours, until it was too late. The circumstances of his passing have eclipsed his work, which was dedicated to capturing the essence of flamenco. Friends, colleagues and experts in such photography describe a personality and craft of someone whose death has become a terrible symbol of the dehumanization of people in big cities.

Robert, who was born in Fribourg and is due to be laid to rest today, Monday, in Paris, had a partner, Sabine, for many decades. He discovered the magic of photography at the age of 14, thanks to the father of a friend who developed his images. That’s according to Robert himself, who gave an interview in 2007 to the website Música Alhambra. He sought his fortune in France as a photographer, and in the 1960s he began to frequent Le Catalan, a flamenco venue in Paris. In the aforementioned interview, he explained that he was first attracted by the dancing, while the musical part of the show was “more confusing” to him.

His friend, the journalist Michel Mompontet, who announced his death, describes Le Catalan as the place where the Spanish diaspora would go: the artist Picasso, whose workshop was nearby, as well as the painter Juan Gris. “The old flamenco artists say that you could see and hear both the best and the worst,” Mompontet explains. “Those who were hungry would arrive and they would be given food, drink and a place to sleep.” Mompontet met Robert when he was 20, at the end of the 1980s. At those shows, “there was almost always a very smart-looking gentleman with a spotted handkerchief, hat and a cigarette in his mouth – discreet, but a friend of the artists,” he explains. That man was Robert.

While Robert intimidated him at the start, Mompontet discovered the “simple personality” of a man who worked as a publicity photographer to put food on the table, until his images of flamenco began to be worth something. As the years passed, several generations of artists passed before his lens: Paco de Lucía, Camarón, Chano Lobato, Fernanda de Utrera, Aurora Vargas, Tomatito, Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Sara Baras, Carmen Linares, Vicente Amigo… “Robert didn’t talk much,” Mompontet recalls. “He was a humanist, with a great sense of irony and he was very kind.”

Singer Aurora Vargas, in a photo taken by René Robert.
Singer Aurora Vargas, in a photo taken by René Robert.

French photographer Jean-Louis Duzert agrees with this description. “He was humble, he liked to work in the shadows,” he explains. Duzert, a former photojournalist, also discovered flamenco and Robert more or less at the same time. Since then, their friendship and complicity was constant. “We would speak at least once a month to get up to date with shows, concerts…,” he explains. “He would send me his photos and I would send him mine,” he explains, still emotional over the death of someone he saw as a “guide, a master,” and even “a father,” even though there were only 13 years between them. As he wrote in the dedication of one of his books, Robert considered him “a brother of photography.”

Robert published Flamenco (1993), La Rage et la Grâce (or, The rage and the grace, 2001), and Flamenco attitudes (2003). He donated his photographic archives to the National Library of France, and Duzert insists that he was still preparing projects. “We were planning to do a book together about 50 years of flamenco in France,” he explains. “Regrettably, that will no longer happen.”

“Robert didn’t just photograph cantaores and bailaoras [flamenco singers and dancers] but also he tried to portray that kind of catharsis found in flamenco, that tragic spirit, always in black and white,” explains Eduardo Navarro Carrión, cultural manager at the Cervantes Institute in Paris and the organizer of an exhibition that, in 2019, displayed Robert’s photos in Nantes, at the Spanish cinema festival in the same city. Robert explained that when color was used to depict flamenco, it appeared “very touristy” to him. His style was a “very scenic” kind of photography, “in search of the creative moment,” Navarro adds.

“He didn’t want to move to digital,” adds Mompontet. “He liked to develop his photos. It’s curious, because at the same time he was very open to other arts. He loved Caravaggio, his dark scenes, and [flamenco] for him was a tragic representation of life’s extreme feelings. For someone as reserved as he was, that fascinated him.” And despite all of this work, Mompontet explains between giggles, Robert barely spoke any Spanish. “Flamenco is a way of feeling and he had that,” he explains. “That’s why the flamenco artists who were close friends, Camarón, Paco de Lucía, they got along well with him, although I don’t know in which language it was.”

Chema Blanco, an artistic advisor at the Nîmes Flamenco Festival and the director of the Flamenco Biennale in Seville, would share a glass of wine and a lunch with Robert and other figures during the French event. “He was much loved, there were a lot of people who admired him,” he says about this “shortish man.” At those meetings they would discuss “the shows that we had seen. He was very pleasant and had that typically French Bohemian air.” Blanco was impressed how “he looked at and listened to you with close attention.”

Farruco, as immortalized by Robert.
Farruco, as immortalized by Robert.

Flamenco photographer Paco Sánchez, who has been taking portraits of figures from the flamenco scene for 40 years, points out that Robert’s style is very similar to his. “I discovered him years ago and I was surprised, because I saw myself reflected when I was starting out, in the 1970s, with high-contrast photos in black and white, with the veins on the necks of the singers about to burst and the details of the dancers’ hands.” For Sánchez, he was a photographer who was characterized by “simplicity, very direct.” As for his personality, while he didn’t know him personally, he adds that “he was not much seen in the media, and was sparing in interviews.”

The artistic director of the Picasso Museum in Málaga, southern Spain, José Lebrero, was in charge of the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art in Seville when it organized a 2009 exhibition, which showed the role of flamenco in photography. Among the 50 or so featured photographers, with 200 or so images on display, was Robert. Lebrero includes him in “the tradition that there was in France with flamenco related to an interest in the exotic.” His work “formed part of a saga in which the dark side of Spain attracted him; it was more about the tavern and the ritual than esthetic excellence.”

With his death, Duzert laments, “a chapter has been closed in the world of flamenco.”

Juana la del Pipa, in another image by Robert.
Juana la del Pipa, in another image by Robert.

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‘Mrs. Doubtfire’: The highlights Of Robin Williams’ Role That defined His Artistic Greatness

The highlights Of Robin Williams’ Role That defined His Artistic Greatness

The Voice Of EU | One of the most versatile comedian and actor Robin Williams left an indelible mark on an entire generation throughout the 1990s, evoking both laughter and tears. His portrayal of a strict yet endearing housekeeper in the hit film “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) resonated deeply with audiences worldwide, propelling it to resounding success across global boundaries.

Señora Doubtfire Robin Williams
Robin Williams in a scene from ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993). Archive Photos (20th Century-Fox / Getty Images)

Williams played the role, despite the adversities and addictions that plagued his life at the time, by putting aside the devised script and becoming a master of improvisation during the filming of the movie, which brought in more than €400 million.

In the year of its release it was only outdone by Jurassic Park (€1 billion). This is what its director, also an avowed admirer of the American actor, explained on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Mrs. Doubtfire’s debut on the big screen: “It took me three months to rewrite the script. I sent it to Robin and he said he loved it.” After Williams’ suicide in 2014, in an interview for Business Insider magazine, Chris Columbus unveils details that were buried 30 years ago.

“Four and a half hours, maybe five,” is the time in which, according to the director, Robin Williams was able to play Mrs. Doubtfire, a characterization for which the film earned the Oscar for Best Makeup. The actor was not comfortable in portraying his role: a father who disguises himself as a housekeeper in order to spend more time with his children after a bitter divorce. For him, it presented a challenge. “We never could shoot two consecutive days of Robin as Mrs. Doubtfire. It was a punishing day for him, so always the next day, we would shoot him as Daniel (the father),” the director of the film reveals three decades after its release.

Comedy is acting out optimism.” — Robin Williams

In between the laughs and moments that are etched in the minds of many, Columbus describes the challenge of keeping actors such as Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field, who played leading roles in the film, from breaking away from the script of their characters while Williams was at his most unrestrainedly creative.

Indeed, according to the director, his boundless energy even created situations where the script supervisor could not keep up, resulting in unrepeatable and spontaneous takes. “None of us knew what he was going to say when he got going and so I wanted a camera on the other actors to get their reactions.” Most of the sequences in the film, and specifically all of those featuring Williams, were the result of an incredible amount of improvisation from the American comedian. “If it were today, we would never end. But back then, we were shooting film so once we were out of film in the camera, we would say to Robin, ‘We’re out of film.’ That happened on several occasions,” recalls Columbus.

“Hey boss, the way I like to work, if you’re up for it, is I’ll give you three or four scripted takes, and then let’s play.” This was the actor’s first warning to the director of Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams was a significant figure in Chris Columbus’ life, and he still is to this day. Not only because he was responsible for his move to San Francisco, the actor didn’t want to shoot anywhere else, but due to his ability to make people laugh and cry at the same time. “Williams wanted the film to be shot there because he was living in San Francisco with his wife, Marsha, and their children. Thanks to him I fell in love with the city that has become my home,” he explains.

“You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” — Robin Williams

The director also reminisced about some memorable scenes that contributed to the film’s status as a cinematic masterpiece, as perceived by many. However, what stood out the most was his innate ability to improvise: “The entire restaurant sequence was remarkable. When Robin, portraying Mrs. Doubtfire, accidentally loses his teeth in his drink, you can see the joy on Robin’s face; he’s almost smirking to himself for coming up with that.” Following the success of the Mrs. Doubtfire premiere, the production team is currently exploring ways to honor Williams and his portrayal in the film, although no definitive plans have been made yet. “There are approximately 972 boxes of footage stored in a warehouse somewhere in California. There’s something truly special and enchanting about his performances, and I believe it would be exciting to delve deeper into it.”

Despite initial reservations about creating a sequel, the notion of a new spin-off gained traction shortly before the actor’s tragic passing on August 11, 2014, at his residence in Paradise Bay, California. “Robin’s only concern was: ‘Boss, do I have to spend as much time in the suit this time around?’ The physical toll of portraying Doubtfire was immense for Robin; it felt like running a marathon every day,” the director recounts. Following a brief meeting at the actor’s home, and a simple handshake, Chris Columbus began outlining the script mere days before the unfortunate event. “During the rewrite, we contemplated reducing the role of Doubtfire. However, Robin’s untimely demise extinguished any hopes of a sequel,” he laments. Although not spearheaded by its creator, Mrs. Doubtfire has found new life as a stage musical. “What set him apart as a performer is that there was no one like Robin Williams before him, and there will never be anyone like him again. He was truly one-of-a-kind,” reflects the actor’s superior.

Mrs. DoubtfireRobin Williams and Matthew Lawrence in a scene from ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993).

In addition to the director, another Mrs. Doubtfire star who later spoke of Robin Williams’ brilliance was Matthew Lawrence, who played Daniel’s son. Lawrence was just a teenager in the film, which also gave a debut to his co-star Mara Wilson, the unforgettable Matilda. One day Lawrence went to Robin’s dressing room and did not expect what he was told: “‘Stay away from drugs, particularly cocaine.’ He was being serious and told me: ‘You know when you come to my trailer and you see me like that?’ He’s like, ‘That’s the reason why. And now I’m fighting for the rest of my life because I spent 10 years doing something very stupid every day. Do not do it.’ I stayed away from it because of him”, Lawrence recalled in an interview with People magazine in March 2022.

The lesser-known chapter of Williams’ life, while unrelated to his demise, shed light on the inner struggles of a comedian committed to bringing joy to others yet grappling with profound personal sorrow. “As charismatic as he appeared on screen, I’d often visit him in his trailer for chats, he was tormented. It was truly agonizing for him. He didn’t conceal it. He confided in me about his battles with addiction,” the actor concluded.


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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.


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