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Screening the Paris suburbsFrom the silent era to the 1990s$
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Derek Schilling and Philippe Met

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781526106858

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526106858.001.0001

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Erasing the suburbs: the grands ensembles in documentary film and television, 1950–80

Erasing the suburbs: the grands ensembles in documentary film and television, 1950–80

(p.158) 12 Erasing the suburbs: the grands ensembles in documentary film and television, 1950–80
Screening the Paris suburbs

Camille Canteux

Manchester University Press

The author explores a three-decade transformation in the audio-visual construction of the grands ensembles, the large-scale housing projects that well before the riots of 2005 had come to typify the blighted French suburb. Analysis is based on films commissioned by the French housing ministry and on television broadcasts aired from the 1950s to the 1980s. The earliest promotional films opposed the grands ensembles to the historic working-class suburbs outlying Paris: where the latter habitat was overcrowded and unhealthy, the rationally planned modern estates promised order, comfort and hygiene. Period documentaries amplified these contrasts the better to ‘erase’ from memory the pre-modern suburb and to make cost-effective mass lodging a national cause. As early as the mid-1960s, the author notes, negative aspects of the grands ensembles – shoddy construction, poor transportation, and scant amenities – came to dominate French screens. From the early 1970s onward, the largest estates were portrayed as immigrant spaces deserted by the middle class and beset with poverty and crime. The state’s attempt to redress the suburb’s image by launching the mixed-use villes nouvelles in the 1970s and 1980s proved unsuccessful, so indelible were these images of suburban blight.

Keywords:   documentary, housing crisis, new towns, blight, the State

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