Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Athena.
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Beautiful, thought-provoking and inspirational, this six-episode series which originally aired on PBS in 1988, marks some of the most fascinating and important television ever created. In The Power of Myth, scholar Joseph Campbell sits down with renowned journalist Bill Moyers to discuss what he has learned about the nature of life and man in his decades of study in comparative mythology and religion.
Let’s begin with a brief note about conversational television. Sadly, real intellectual discourse on television is all but lost to us. When we turn the television at night, discussions of what it is like to work with Megan Fox are as deep as we’re likely to come by. But oh how refreshing it is when watching The Power of Myth and the first question to come from Bill Moyers’ mouth in episode 3 is, “What do you think our soul owes to ancient myth?” Good conversation is rare on television, and we are indeed fortunate that companies such as Athena and Shout! Factory (with their Dick Cavett collections) feature highly literate television in their catalogs.
As for the discourse in The Power of Myth, to put it bluntly, the ideas Joseph Cambell offers herein can change your life, or at the very least enrich it. Campbell presents myths as more than the quaint beliefs of primitive cultures, for they are, at the core, the beliefs of modern society as well; and where they are not, he would argue, they should should be. Myths are man’s way of relating to the universe, to history, and, more than that, to one another, offering up a veritable a road map for living if read properly. One can find all the answers to their questions about coping with life and death in myths, according to Campbell, and only people’s unwillingness to look to the wisdom of the past is keeping them from “following their bliss.”
For those unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell, this set provides a unique opportunity to discover this brilliant scholar’s work the way the majority of people did in the late 1980s. And for those already familiar with Joseph Campbell and the series, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to revisit it. Either way, The Power of Myth is absolutely essential viewing.
As if simply offering the series on DVD were not incredible enough, this 2-disc set is packed with special features. Included are selections of an interview by Bill Moyers with George Lucas around the time of The Phantom Menace’s release, about the mythology of the Star Wars films and Lucas’ relationship with Joseph Campbell (the first 5 episodes of The Power of Myth were in fact filmed at Skywalker Ranch). Unlike the conversations with Campbell, there’s unfortunately very little life to this interview, and I felt as though Lucas would have rather not been doing it at all. Also featured are a terrific, never-before-released conversation with Campbell from Bill Moyers’ Journal, Profiles of Campbell’s Influences, photo galleries, a biography of Moyers, selections from the film Sukhavati, and a 12-page viewer’s guide.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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