A few years ago, rumors circulated around Hollywood that there were only a few good original movie scripts; the rest were merely remakes, rehashes, or reboots of those precious few originals. "Finding Joe," a new documentary from Patrick Takaya Solomon, explores that idea through the life of Joseph Campbell and his concept of the "monomyth." Most epic stories can, according to Campbell, be broken down into the same component parts.
Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey
When reached by phone this week, Solomon said a bunch of things happened that inspired him to create "Finding Joe."
"Have you ever seen that Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell? That's kind of what made him famous, that interview," Solomon said. He had been a Campbell fan in high school, but after the Moyers interview, he totally "nerded out."
"I had been watching that (documentary) quite a bit. It always seemed a little dated to me, even at the time it came out. They used a lot of old images. I really enjoyed it because I was into Campbell, but if you could do things differently or use different images, you could make it more appealing," he said.
Campbell spent years analyzing myths, legends, and stories, uncovering the common elements that appeared in each. After unearthing what has become known as the "Hero's Journey," Campbell showed that heroes typically are displaced from the world they know and undergo tests and trials before returning back home.
"Finding Joe" features some familiar faces
One catalyst for "Finding Joe," Solomon said, was to explain Campbell's work in such a way that could reach an audience who didn't know who he was. "Another was that I had been going through a crisis in my own life. Every time I have a crisis, I turn to Campbell's work and it sets me straight," he said.
Solomon rounds up a group of famous faces, including actress Rashida Jones, to talk about Campbell and his influence on their body of work. "I wanted to have a mix of people who were familiar with Campbell's work and then I wanted to have those who didn't know who Campbell was," Solomon said.
The filmmaker noted it's interesting when you apply the Hero's Journey to your own life.
"It's like 'Oh yeah, that's what I have been doing,'" he said. "As you move through life, you are constantly leaving one phase behind and picking up the sword and going into another journey."
Using Campbell's methodology, it's also easy to see how much Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter have in common. Each young man lives with an aunt or uncle before he is thrust into a brand new world. Luke and Harry then face dangerous trials and eventually return home a different, more powerful person.
Even Kenny, Cartman, Stan, and Kyle, the heroes of "South Park," have been on their own epic journey for 15 years.
"They go through the same trials and make the same journey in every episode," Solomon said.
"Finding Joe" starts a limited theatrical run on September 30.
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- Patrick Takaya Solomon