“Le chat” was broadcasted yesterday on TV5, a most oppressive movie by Pierre Granier-Deferre based on a novel by Simeon, with Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret, made in 1971. It brought me back to my study of urban changes in Paris in the same year… with La Défense as the most alienating example. The deterioration of the relationship of an old couple is coupled with images showing the demolition of a typical 19th century suburban town of Paris La Courbevoie, now vanished and called La Défense.
It is all about erasure on the basis of a simple story of a ‘marriage à trois’ with a cat as one of the partners. The cat is murdered first and as the expropriation and eviction letters are shoved under the front door by the bailiff the last act of the drama of a consumed love and a mutual anchored destiny enfolds…. This movie should be seen as a classic example of a cinematic study in psycho-geography: the influence of the outer surroundings on the mind and the projection of inner feelings onto the landscape.
The research on changing Paris of the early seventies I did was published in a special issue of the magazine TABK (Tijdschrift voor Architectuur en Beeldende Kunst/magazine for architecture and visual arts) at that time edited by Ruud Brouwers. That magazine edition was solely dedicated to the impact of mass transport subway and elevated railways on cities. The new super métro the RER was then constructed with its devastating effects on the urban structure: the razing of suburban areas like Courbevoie for the new high rise business centre La Défense and at the other end of the line the digging of what Parisians called at that time ‘le grand trou’ (the big hole) what is now Le Châtelet/Les Halles. It razed ‘Les Halles’ of the architect Baltard to the ground, an end of the 19th century elegant construction of cast iron arches housing the city’s main food market, and replaced it with a cheaply designed subterranean labyrinthian shopping area. The photographer Willem Diepraam was send in 1972 for this publication to Paris to make a reportage on some of the most dramatic vistas of what was at that time summarised in a Mai 68 poster: “Rénovation – Spéculation – Déportation”, an international phenomenon that need not to be translated.