Reviewed by T. Michael Testi
Joseph Campbell: The Hero's Journey – A Biographical Portrait is a documentary about the life and works of Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. During his life Campbell was known as an American Mythology professor, a writer, and a lecturer who revolutionized the fields of comparative mythology.
Joseph Campbell was born and raised in White Plains, New York in an upper middle class Roman Catholic family. As a child he was fascinated with American Indian culture. He taught himself everything he could about the culture and focused on the mythology of the Indians. During the 1920's he spent time traveling in Europe and became highly influenced by the Lost Generation; a group of American authors such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dos Passos, as well as the avant garde artists of the time such as Matisse and Picasso.
It was during this time that he realized that many of the myths throughout the world had similar threads and this became the theory of the journey of the archetypal hero. It is this theory that formed the basis of his 1949 seminal classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This is also the book that filmmaker George Lucas credits with helping him to form the stories of the Star Wars films; Lucas is shown giving credit to Campbell in this film. At the same time Campbell came to understand the myths that defined his own existence.
Joseph Campbell: The Hero's Journey – A Biographical Portrait is a film that is 57 minutes long and is narrated by Peter Donat. It is 4:3 full screen format and contains no bonus materials. It mixes much of its time between interviews with Campbell, listing to him lecturing, and historical footage so as to put time frames in perspective.
Joseph Campbell: The Hero's Journey – A Biographical Portrait is the kind of film that needs to be watched multiple times to really get all that Campbell has to offer. The lectures and interviews appeared to have happened in the 70's and 80's (based on hair and clothing styles), but you can tell what an captivating speaker and storyteller he was.
The biggest problems that I had with Joseph Campbell: The Hero's Journey – A Biographical Portrait is its length. In my opinion it is too short. You get a good representation of his life from a young age to around the time of World War II and then you have him lecturing in the last decade of his 83 years, but not anything in between.
If you have seen my reviews on Mythos I and Mythos II you will know that I really like Campbell's work and have a high degree of respect for the man and what he has done for reclaiming myth for the modern generation. If you don't know about Joseph Campbell the man, I highly recommend Joseph Campbell: The Hero's Journey – A Biographical Portrait.