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Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth (DVD Review)

16 Sep, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 9/21/10
$49.99 two-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers.

Bill Moyers’ 1988 PBS documentary The Power of Myth was an eye-opening lesson in not only how deep concepts of mythology run through our society, but how the traits of our collective consciousness are improbably shared across diverse cultures that seemingly have nothing to do with each other.

The subject of Moyers’ interview, renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, who died a few months before the program could air, even goes so far as to speculate that understanding myths played an important role in self-discovery, as they provided key examples that one could apply to their own experiences.

In modern times, films and the popular arts have largely filled the niche of mythological tradition, and The Power of Myth is not shy about citing “Star Wars” as the preeminent modern myth. In fact, Campbell was something of a mentor to “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, who slickly re-packaged mythological archetypes for the space age (Luke Skywalker’s saga in particular offers a textbook example of the journey and sacrifice of the hero, one of the cornerstones of Campbell’s mythological musings).

Campbell’s teachings are no less relevant today than they were 22 years ago, or even 50 years ago. The new Athena edition of The Power of Myth contains all the material from the 2001 DVD, including a 14-minute interview with Lucas about Campbell that was recorded in 1999 in the more-innocent time prior to The Phantom Menace.

What makes this version more special is a never-before-released 25-minute interview between Moyers and Campbell recorded in 1981 for the “Bill Moyers’ Journal” program. I’d actually suggest watching this first before the six Power of Myth episodes because it provides a good general overview of Campbell’s philosophies that would be expanded upon in the longer program.   

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