Whose screenplay is it, anyway?
I am returning here to a subject which I covered in a long report which I published separately last spring which can be found for anyone who is interested at: http://the-bernanos-letter.blogspot.com/
The subject of that report was the letter which the novelist Georges Bernanos wrote in 1947 explaining his refusal of a script for his novel Diary of a Country Priest which was written by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost and its apparent influence on François Truffaut in the writing of A Certain Tendency of French Cinema and the place of that letter in the latter-day controversy which has arisen from certain charges which director Bertrand Tavernier has leveled against Truffaut for his use of that screenplay which Bernanos refused. This post restates some of my arguments in the early post intending hopefully to clarify those points.
A recap of the main events:
In 1947, screenwriters Pierre Bost and Jean Aurenche wrote an adaptation of Bernanos's novel which Bernanos rejected writing a long letter to the magazine SamediSoir detailing his complaints. In 1952, François Truffaut borrowed that screenplay (and three others) from Pierre Bost in preparation for the writing of his article A Certain Tendency of French Cinema. From at least the mid 1980s, Bertrand Tavernier has on several occasions charged that Truffaut violated Pierre Bost in using material he borrowed from Bost to attack him. Antoine de Baecque in an article published in Cinematheque (Fall 1993) and again, this time, collaborating with Serge Toubiana in a biography of Truffaut discuss the incident but do not mount much of a defense simply because they were not aware of Bernanos's letter.
Some new speculation
As I have been rethinking my original thesis in the last month or so, I have found myself coming back to the question: Whose screenplay is it anyways? Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost prepared an adaption of copy-written material. That adaptation was rejected (and not by a producer who contracted them for the adaptation, but by the holder of the copyright on the underlying material). They can't pitch that material to another producer (at least one would think not). They can't take it to an editor and see it published in print. As long as they were paid as contracted and as any effort to carry forward with that screenplay see them credited, they can't claim much else. This would seem to imply that the "intellectual rights" to that property remain with the holder of the rights to the underlying material. In this case, Georges Bernanos, and , after his death, his heirs. Thus, it would seem that it is most correct to say that Pierre Bost lent -at least in the case of the adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest - a sheaf of papers on which was printed a screenplay which belonged to the heirs of Georges Bernanos. In addition to the screenplay for Diary of a Country Priest, Pierre Bost loaned Truffaut three other screenplays. He let him take home the screenplay for The Pastoral Symphony which had been filmed in 1946. And that for Dieu a besoin des hommes (God Needs Men) which had been released in 1950. Truffaut was also allowed to examine the screenplay for Le Blé en herbe - from the Colette novel - which Truffaut reveals in an end-note had been prepared by Aurenche and Bost in 1946 but which was not filmed until a few months after Truffaut borrowed the screenplay. That film was released on January 20 1954, almost simultaneously with appearance on the January 1954 issue of Cahiers du Cinema in which A Certain Tendency was first published. In that same note, Truffaut discussing Claude Autant-Lara (for whom the Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Le Blé en herbe had been prepared) unsuccessful plagiarism suit brought against Roger Leenhardt for his similarly themed 1948 film Les Drenières vacances. Leenhardt, it has to be noted, was André Bazin's mentor as a film critic and thus could be considered something of an arrière-mentor of Truffaut's. Truffaut also reveals that the "profaned host" scene which Aurenche and Bost had prepared for their version of Diary of a Country Priest had been inserted into their screenplay for the similarly themed Dieu a besoin des hommes from Henri Queffelec's novel Le recteur de Île de Sein. It does seem to me that we have something for the magistrate's here. Whose screenplay was the Aurenche-Bost version of Diary of a Country Priest anyways? As I have said, it would seem to me that that screenplay is the property of the detainer of the rights to the underlying material. It would seem to me that if the heirs of Georges Bernanos (Bernanos died in 1948, about a year after his ennuis with Jean Aurenche) sued for plagiarism, that the fact that Aurenche and Bost cannibalized, partially at least, their screenplay for Country Priest to write the later film would go a great way towards making the case. The question needs to be posed, to what extent had the Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Country Priest morphed into the screenplay for Dieu a besoin des hommes? One person who had the chance to study that question was François Truffaut to whom Bost had lent both screenplays. This might explain the reference to a "police report" in Bost's note to Truffaut written after A Certain Tendency was published, "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). Also, With his Benedictine memory of the films he had seen, Truffaut may have immediately picked up on the similarities between the two projects and his aim in borrowing both screenplays could have been to investigate just this point."