James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

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Pinewood Studios has announced plans for a huge development which combines – in a move of either supreme logic or inspired surrealism – movie making and sustainable development. The 200 million GBP Project Pinewood will centre on a 100-acre site next to the existing studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire.

The “Project Pinewood” website tells us that the project “will create the world’s first purpose built residential film and TV locations.”

Which means a place that is a collage of generically filmic locations. The site will comprise permanent working sets of streetscapes and zones replicating locations across the UK, Europe and the US. These zones will include an amphitheatre, a complete castle, a Venetian canal, an Italian lakeside and street scenes from London, New York, Paris and Los Angeles.

“These zones were selected after extensive research revealed that they were locations used consistently in the film and television industries; for example, a downtown area of New York, or the boulevards of Paris. The plan is to have 18 to 20 different zones that will be identical matches to their original locations, but also allowing multiple shooting angles.”

But it’s not quite a simple as big movie sets. Behind the facades there will be 2500 residential units, including affordable housing, with community facilities such as creches, health care and education facilities.

So outside, the buildings replicate a series of real international locations used again and again for shooting film and TV. Inside, they contain a sustainable community that will significantly contribute to the shortage of housing in the South East.

What it means is the architectural image becomes – in optimistic theory at least – a commercial asset which enables social provision.

Does this mean future residents of this town will see James Bond suavely defeating power crazed villains as they look out of the window of their local nursery school? Or Jason Bourne violently dispatching foes outside the health centre?

In many ways, this is the logical conclusion of the suburban project.

The suburbs are never authentic places, they are synthesised environments which overwrite the accidents of geography that we usually call ‘place’. Unwin and Parker, the first architects of the suburbs would base their designs on their holiday sketchbooks, mixed with remembered historical elements. Manufactured image is an intrinsic part of the suburban ideal. Project Pinewood turns suburban imagery into an industry – a raw material for film and TV.

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[Brookside Close is now - as this photo shows - abandoned. A ruin of the 1980s]

It’s a idea that has been kicking around the fringes of British broadcasting for a while. Long running UK soap Brookside was shot on a cul de sac in a suburban housing development which had been purchased by the shows production company.

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Ciudad Del Cine is another example – the place the ill fated euro-soap El Dorado was filmed. El Dorado was built as a real location by the production company – it was designed by Keith Harris, who had also designed EastEnders Albert Square (which was, and is very much a set). The set proved far more enduring than the soap. It’s still there, described by Trip Advisor user Beckster100 as follows: “Truth is, no-one really stays there and it is lacking investment. You can take yourself off for a wander around “los barcos” and see where it was all filmed, but it is a very lonely place. Beautiful, but lonely.”

Project Pinewood seems to be offering the chance to live in replica of a New York brownstone just off the M25, a slice of Venice as social housing or a piece of Paris as primary school. But perhaps strangest of all is the label that marks an area as ‘British Suburb’. Could this be a one-to-one replica of generic suburbia – a simulation of the local vernacular built for filming big budget remakes of Terry and June starring Brad and Angelina?

What would it feel like to live in these simulations? Perhaps they would be populated by people condemned to carry out their lives as non-speaking extras in Pinewood films. Forced to wear uniforms of appropriate visual character – one might find oneself in a hospital full of medieval peasants, or a neighbourhood of toga wearers (imagine the dry cleaners). Somewhere between the Prisoner, the Truman Show and the New Towns Act.

Of course, it would be somehow more appropriate if this was to happen in JG Ballards backgarden at Shepperton Studios.

On a related note, an article in todays Guardian talks about the cinematic imagery of cities – and how often real cities become inauthentic celluloid versions of themselves.

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