The New Confessions Summary
by William Boyd

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The New Confessions

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like Rousseau’s, Todd’s own birth, in Edinburgh in 1899, resulted in the death of his mother. Reflecting on it from the vantage point of a Mediterranean island in 1972, Todd presents “one man’s life in the twentieth century” as though it were a mirror of that age. He was an active participant in two world wars, and his career as a pioneer filmmaker took him through much of Europe and North America. He was a victim of Hollywood blacklisting and of his own ineptitude and paranoia. Above all, however, Todd claims his place in history as director of THE CONFESSIONS: PART I, a six-hour silent epic that, despite the advent of sound, the bankruptcy of his studio, the vicissitudes of war, politics, age, and death, he has struggled to continue.

Todd first learned his cinematic craft as a combat cameraman during World War I, and it was then, he insists, that “I was formulating a credo that would inform all my work. The truth was what mattered, unflinching verisimilitude.” Shaped by Todd’s vanity, enthusiasms, and myopia, THE NEW CONFESSIONS is no more unflinching in its verisimilitude than any other memoir. The truth is that his book provides a convincingly detailed sense of particular places and times--Belgian trenches in World War I, Weimar Berlin, Southern California in the 1950’s. They are, however, filtered through the sensibility of a man who is pointedly not the new Rousseau.

“Sense, order, pattern, meaning,” declares Todd, “they are all illusions.” A brief encounter with Kurt Godel convinces him that his own cinematic masterpiece inspired the mathematician to formulate his Incompleteness Theorem. An extended encounter with the proudly inconclusive life of John James Todd should inspire the reader . . . with caution.