Thousand Screenplays. The french imagination in a time of crisis

Thousand Screenplays. The french imagination in a time of crisis

Sabine Chalvon-Demersay
Chicago,  Chicago University Press, 1999,  199 p.

In 1991, French public television held an amateur screenwriting contest. When Sabine Chalvon-Demersay, a french sociologist, examined the roughly 1.000 entries, she had hoped to analyze their differences. What she found, however, surprised her. Even though the entrants covered nearly every social demographic, their screenplays presented similar characters in similar situation confronting similar problems.

Although the contestants wrote about life in France, their concerns and struggles have a distinctly universal ring. A lucid, witty writer, Chalvon-Demersay offers a clear, if still developing, photograph of the contemporary imagination.

“In this intriguing study, Sabine Chalvon-Demersay analyzes French screenplays written by a variety of people — grandmothers, surgeons, immigrants, Parisians, people from the provinces, writers, amateurs — and finds that they all write of a dark and pessimistic world in which nothing works right, nothing can be achieved, friendship and love are impossible, and the self is fragmented and tormented.The problems of the characters are, she argues, depicted as problems of the crisis of the whole society. She lays this out in great detail, with many fascinating quotes from the screenplays. Written with wit and keen sociological insight, A Thousand Screenplays presents a surprising diagnosis of contemporary society.”

Howard S. Becker, University of Washington


“This beautifully written book is an excellent example of intelligent and creative sociology. Drawing on Geertz, Sabine Chalvon-Demersay dissects these screenplays as templates of the cultural landscape of French society, focusing on problems faced by protagonists and the temporal and spatial dimensions in which they are located. A Thousand Screenplays provides a vivid illustration of how texts can shed light on the ways in which individuals conceptualize the changing social world that surrounds them.”

Michèle Lamont, Princeton University


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