Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pierre Bost's letter

continues from: Jean Aurenche's story

Truffaut / Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana ; translated from the French by Catherine Temerson (page 399)

"Dear Sir, your article in Cahiers du Cinema contains some things that are intelligent, some things that are unfair, and others that are inaccurate. But there is also something else - and this is the only matter I will bring up today. In my day, one did not come to a person's house to borrow writings, make public use of them, and exploit them for acerbic criticism. Especially not confidential writings, since we are talking about a script that has not yet been filmed. I admit that your behavior surprised me, and that I will now feel a mistrust that is not in my nature - here's the proof. I do not hold any of your reproaches against you . I only wish that none of the many details that you give should come from me (after all, I may have spoken to you too and your piece sometimes takes on the tone of a police report). In any case, you lack elegance. I'm sorry to tell you so, but I'm entitled to say at least that."

This seems to me to be the work of a man who is in a deep and desperate state of denial. The way that team Aurenche-Bost operated was that Aurenche was the half that was too likely to go off on a two-week lunch and Bost was solid side of the equation who kept Aurenche's erratic propenisties in check. Yet, here, Bost acts like a man who unconscious of the world around him. Seven years after Georges Bernanos published a letter that revealed all the "confidential" material that Truffaut "made public", Bost seems to be unaware of any of the affair. Three years after Bresson's film was released , he seems to be stating that his and Aurenche's version is still in the pipeline. Three years after Truffaut's mentor, André Bazin quoted that letter in a long essay on Bresson's film in an issue of Cahiers du Cinema where Bost names is trumpeted in the table of contents as a future contributor to Cahiers, Bost writes as if nothing of this happened.

An agreement between Truffaut and Bost??

Since, when Bost handed Truffaut that screenplay he certainly must have know that he was furnishing the young journalist with a document that was controversial, then he had to have set guidelines as to its usage. As he could scarcely have denied Truffaut the right to discuss what had already been discussed, it would seem reasonable speculation that he requested that Truffaut not communicate details except where those details had already been made public. Truffaut, indeed, reports nothing outside of what Bernanos reported. The only major difference between Truffaut and Bernanos is that where Bernanos had summarized a scene, Truffaut quotes from the screenplay.

In his essay on the writing of A Certain Tendency which appeared in Cinematheque no.4 Antoine de Baecque states that while Truffaut was in Andernach military prison in 1951, the year before he began to write that article, he spent his time reading a serialized version of Raymond Radiguet's novel Le Diable au corps which was appearing in the newspaper Ici Paris and that, from this reading, he drew up a list of numerous "equivalance-betrayals" (scenes created by the scriptwriter because he deemed the printed version unfilmable) in the Aurenche-Bost filmed version of that novel which had been released in 1953.

Bernanos in his letter while he only specifies two examples in the Aurenche-Bost screenplay of where his novel was "cruelly falsified". He specifies though serial violations betraying the spirit of his novel in that screenplay. Now, the few instances of "equivalence-betrayals" in the Aurenche-Bost screenplay of Diary of a Country Priest which Truffaut reports coincide with the instances which especially raised Bernanos's ire. Truffaut reports no "equivalence-betrayals" in the handling of the diary writing, none in the communion class scene, none in the medallion scene, nor in the scene with the canon. Bresson's film is renowned for its fidelity to its source material. If Truffaut found none of his "equivalence-betrayals" other than where Bernanos reported his misgivings, then one would have to assume that the Aurenche-Bost screenplay hew close to the one Bresson provided for himself. By all rights, Truffaut should have been able to produce a thick dossier of "equivalence-betrayals". He did not. Bernanos's letter makes it plain that he should have been able to. This circumstance seems to suggest that either Truffaut was abiding by an expressed arrangement or, in the case of no arrangement, he felt himself limited only to the material already public.
And what to make of this sentence, "
I only wish that none of the many details that you give should come from me (after all, I may have spoken to you too and your piece sometimes takes on the tone of a police report)." The statement outside the parenthesis seems straight forward, until you try to understand it with the statement in the parenthesis. It seems to me that any attempt to infer meaning would have to be only pure speculation. And then the two clauses inside the parenthesis. They don't seem to me to have any relationship to each other, but there they both are. joined by a conjunction and enclosed in a parenthesis. Bost appears to be too precise a writer for it not to have a specific meaning.
Truffaut had written Bost a short note of thanks immediately after returning the manuscripts which read, "I didn't expect that reading these screenplays would be so fruitful and revealing. That's my excuse, as well as the desire not to leave anything to chance and to do a comprehensive job. I hope I haven't put these documents to too bad a use. With all my gratitutude and respectful good wishes." (Truffaut / Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana ; translated from the French by Catherine Temerson page 75). Toubiana and de Baecque describe this as a "malicious, rude note", but they think that Truffaut mined the Diary of a Country Priest for his attack. But knowing that Truffaut was mixing in to what was already a controversy, it reads more like a genuine thank-you note. Had Truffaut wanted to be rude and malicious, he could have done the comprehensive job that Bernanos suggest could have been done with that screenplay.
Also, I have to believe that this is the letter which Tavernier read in 1973 and which he is remembering through the haze of misconceptions.

continues at: A Certain Tendency and the Bernanos letter

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