Better than CLASH OF THE TITANS!
Confident that I was now familiar enough with Campbell to get by, I didn't touch him again for almost fifteen years until I pulled Hero with a Thousand Faces off the bookshelf when Mrs. Word Player and I were housesitting in Laurel Canyon a while back. Reading him again, especially after focusing so much of my life as a development guy on dissecting the Hero's Journey and three-act narrative structure in screenplays, was eye-opening.
His writing and thinking was far more valuable than merely a guideline for understanding the past and creating fictional narratives, they were critical insights about how to interpret and experience your life's narrative.
Over the past several months we've watched the four-DVD set THE POWER OF MYTH, a series of interviews conducted by journalist (and former White House Press Secretary) Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell in the last years of Campbell's life. Produced by PBS and originally aired in 1988, MYTH is an awe-inspiring portrait of one man's wisdom, drawn from a lifetime of studying the primal, archetypal stories told by and about our planet known as mythology.
Campbell, who was in his mid-80s as MYTH was filmed, is a surprisingly mesmerizing screen presence. Shot entirely in medium shots and close-ups, he has such an expressive face and an incredible gift for recall and oratory that you never think for a moment that you're just watching a talking head for an hour. Avuncular, charming, and powerful, Campbell has a similar quality as the Dalai Lama does in interviews I've seen: you simply want to know what they know so you can be the way they are.
His worthy foil is Moyers, no slouch himself in the brains or conversation department. Campbell was an agnostic and Moyers a practicing Christian, and the interplay as they take stabs at interpreting the wonder and meaning of life and death is an amazing thought provoker.
I have grown comfortable knowing that I have far more questions than I do answers about why we're here and what (if anything) happens next, and Campbell's quote from the final minutes of the final episode of MYTH is one I can safely adopt as part of my personal philosophy:
“He who says he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows he doesn’t know, knows.”
The DVDs have gone out of print and now list on Amazon for $80 and up, so if you're interested I'd recommend Netflixing them. MYTH is not only a wild ride through history, religion, philosophy, poetry and more, but it's also one of the extremely rare examples of something truly and purely life-affirming. Dig it.