Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Film review: New age movie, 'Finding Joe'...about finding your bliss

Film review: A documentary look at Joseph Campbell's ideas on Myth, 'Finding Joe'
by Peter Menkin

Golden Buddha

One reviewer wrote:
This is an inspiring documentary. For those who feel they’ve dead-ended in life, it’s worthwhile to see people out there that have found divine joy in their lives. It’s self-help- (almost to a fault) but this film isn’t preachy.

In a documentary that touts the virtues of new age philosophy, Finding Joe speaks of finding one’s bliss in a series of interviews with people you may know as motivational speakers, authors of bestselling books, the Deepak Chopra, a surfer, and a skateboard professional among others. A kind of advertisement in style and cinematic form, the film opens with the story of the Golden Buddha and lets the viewer know that each of us is golden.

What does that mean? First it is said by Alan Cohen in a way that has authority and believability, a real conviction, and a sense of religious enthusiasm. It is really not a nonsense statement, but a way of starting this documentary series of interviews and statements with a myth that offers how key subject of the film is saying: Joseph Campbell, a writer about myths whom many have respected and enjoyed for what he’s offered as insight in living life and the story presents the hero’s journey: a path to bliss.

The Press Notice provided by the producers reads: Rooted in deeply personal accounts and timeless stories, FINDING JOE shows how Campbell’s work is relevant and essential in today’s world and how it provides a narrative for how to live a fully realized life—or as Campbell would simply state, how to “follow your bliss”.
The film features interviews with visionaries from a variety of fields including Deepak Chopra, Mick Fleetwood, Tony Hawk, Rashida Jones, Laird Hamilton, Robert Walter, Robin Sharma, Catherine Hardwicke, Sir Ken Robinson, Akiva Goldsman and many more.

While studying myths, and writing on the human experience, Joseph Campbell was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College for 38 years. His seminal work, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces” was published in 1949 and greatly influenced generations of artists and writers, including Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Jerry Garcia and others.
Director Patrick Takaya Solomon said “Joseph Campbell’s work has influenced every major turning point in my life, including my decision to become a director. I owe my good fortune to the ‘aha moments’ I experienced while reading his books. I was compelled to make this film, and look forward to working with Balcony to share it with audiences across America.”

Probably the most succinct statement about the way the film depicts the journey of life and finding meaning, outside the Christian faith and within the California dreaming popularity of New Age sensibility, is how one woman says she learned about Joseph Campell when studying religion in College. The actress tells us she was, “God smacked” by the transformational power of Joseph Campbell’s teachings, and how she learned, “all religions are the same.”

This universalism may seem trite to a degree of amusement, but because it is so pervasive as a way of life that says, You can do it, and offers that we all have Human Potential, the movement becomes a popular philosophy spoken of in serious tones by so many Californians and western American individuals. The film has been released in the Western United States and hopes to make its way East through distribution channels.

The hero’s journey is simply that one is restored and redeemed through trial. It is that we learn who we are in a coming of age manner and allows everyone without much effort, but for a kind of special exercise in insight, to “arrive.” Some call this Transformation Work.

Hero at Work

A film consisting of happy scenes of excitement, action and success as backdrop to a series of interwoven and cut between interviews with successful people, Finding Joe tells the viewer that through this method of the journey, that you, we, all of us full of potential will get out of everything wrong in life.

This path to pure consciousness is through a way of negative feelings and experiences, experiences overcome by recognizing that this is how one becomes the hero in one’s own life, not the victim. Albeit this is a lot of philosophy, and the center of the message remains Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow ones bliss.

How does one follow one’s bliss? Find out what your passion is and you will find a way to your bliss, so Deepak Chopra offers. The skateboarder Tony Hawk says he found his bliss: skateboarding. He offers, “I just want to fly.”

What is there to say beyond all this?

From the webpage Finding Joe:

Hi, I’m Pat Solomon, producer and director of Finding Joe. For the past 12 years I have been directing commercials; you can check out my reel at I started my career shooting action sports films: snowboarding, motocross and skateboarding, etc. Notable films include Totally Board and Crusty Demons of Dirt. I started Finding Joe in February 2009 and, even though it’s not yet completed, it has been the best experience of my professional life by a mile.
Joseph Campbell’s work has influenced every major turning point in my life, including my decision to become a director. I owe my good fortune to the concepts and ideas that I discovered in his books. The Hero with a Thousand Faces put me on a path years ago that led me here, to my present film Finding Joe. One day in 2009 I saw The Power of Myth again and though I love that program I felt I could better understand the material if there was more visuals to help describe the concepts.


Informal pose in sketch of the interviewer Peter Menkin at Starbucks, north of San Francisco

  1. 1. The press notice describing your documentary, Finding Joe, reads: FINDING JOE is an exploration of what Campbell calls “the hero’s journey” and intends to highlight a path for the audience. The film features such notable guests as Deepak Chopra, Laird Hamilton, Tony Hawk, Gay Hendricks, Rashida Jones, Mick Fleetwood and many more. There is so much to explore in this work you’ve directed. As a start, this statement from an article on Beliefnet about Religion and Spirituality titled, “Spiritual but not Religious,” by Robert C. Fuller: Forsaking formal religious organizations, these people have instead embraced an individualized spirituality that includes picking and choosing from a wide range of alternative religious philosophies. They typically view spirituality as a journey intimately linked with the pursuit of personal growth or development. A woman who joined a meditation center after going through a divorce and experiencing low self-esteem offers an excellent example. All she originally sought was a way to lose weight and get her life back on track. The Eastern religious philosophy that accompanied the meditation exercises was of little or no interest to her. Yet she received so many benefits from this initial exposure to alternative spiritual practice that she began experimenting with other systems including vegetarianism, mandalas, incense, breathing practices, and crystals. When interviewed nine years later by sociologist Marilyn McGuire, this woman reported that she was still “just beginning to grow” and she was continuing to shop around for new spiritual insights. Read more: Do you think as director that Joseph Campbell was looking at spirituality in this kind of way described in the Beliefnet article, or does your film really explore religion in the Christian sense as a journey of the hero? Is there something unique about the hero’s journey Campbell offers as interpreted in your documentary that you wanted to say in your new film, Finding Joe?

It was Campbell looking at spirituality – My belief, yes; Campbell was looking at spirituality and all of religion and mythology as a personal experience. The thing that I took away from Campbell’s work is there was a personal aspect in every story. That is, the story is about you. So the answer to the question, I guess, is yes, if you are looking at stories whether they are religious or not, you are looking at them in a personal way. It’s a Campbell thing. All stories become personal. They are stories about people learning and growing.

  1. 2. That first question given above was a big question, so encompassing. When working on a documentary about big ideas and big questions of life, how did you find a way to ground the statements to better involve and communicate to the audience what you offered about myth? Was the visual work that in so many instances is very strong, part of that statement— kind of high impact as a television commercial is played? This writer asks the question because you made television commercials. To better refine the question of director’s point of view, did you find certain methods learned in commercial making work transferred to this documentary, and if so, what were they? Will you give us an example of one or two such instances?

My big thing as a commercial director was kind of a blessing in making this film. It was almost like I was in a training ground in making this film. Basically, in a commercial you have a very short time to convey a message. Usually that is a retail message. Usually as a commercial director you learn to make a highly impactful style, or your shot making becomes all about making the biggest impact in a short amount of time. To make it a short sound bite. I had been selling products to the masses for years, and I finally had this product I really resonated with. I already had this great idea to sell, instead of corporate products. I think the general concept of the kids acting out various points of the hero’s journey, so the idea of tying an image or an enactment with what people were saying on screen, was really in itself directly impactful on film. And that comes from commercials. And then when you see the images, they’re quite strong and impactful with an emotional resonance with them. You get an emotional impact, either up or down. That for me came from commercials.

I really consciously made an effort to edit the piece using a lot of editing methods where people ended each other’s statement, and all saying one thing about the same thing. There’s an example from the film where someone’s describing the journey from the Hero’s’ Journey, a mandala … so instead of having one person describe one point along the journey…I’m really cutting between all five of them. So it has more impact for the viewer when it has more points of view. They were describing the Hero’s Journey Circle. They started with separation, and they move into initiation, and then return back to the beginning. That’s a mandala: the vision of how that is presented.

Finding Joe – Trailer V.7 from pat solomon on Vimeo.

  1. 3. Among the many interesting and well-known figures you interviewed, including Depak Chopra, who did you find in your own estimation had the strongest sense that was closest to your point of view on myth and the spiritual in people’s lives? Do you think that these views presented are in some way non-religious statements, which is they are parallel but not the same as the Christian message? What in the religious realm, among the many denominations of the Christian faith, meet the ideas presented by myth and spirituality? Is this path, or way, at all something by which we may learn to live better lives, more fully lived lives, because of the myths Joseph Campbell notes in his writings and works?

Really, from a mythological standpoint, the work of Campbell opens up the Christian method…As it does for many religions. As you know, Campbell was a Catholic. His parents were strict Catholics. To him, when he started comparative mythology to his story to other stories, he was able to experience the Christian message in a way that the Church didn’t offer. It kind of opened up his experience of Christianity, rather than a strict dogma—it was more liberating. Once again, the stories took on a personal meaning.

  1. 4. Talk to our readers for a short time about the story of the Hero’s Journey created by Joseph Campbell, for many will not be aware of this wonderful tale that talks of human development, challenge, and even psychological awakening to the civilized world in the West?

To start with, the hero’s journey…I think that Campbell when he created it, he discovered it. It is a similar pattern found in every hero’s journey told from the beginning of time until now. That is a hero starts out (or heroine) in his her village and is somehow called to an adventure, and along the way they meet obstacles they must overcome. They gain power; they come to the ultimate battle or crisis where the treasure is owned. And they return to share the treasure. That’s an extremely simplified version. Sometimes you try to live and have a treasure and don’t enjoy it. The symbolism of the dragon in the western culture is the greedy or bad … the dragon hordes the treasure. The dragon hordes the virgin. It’s a treasure he cannot use. In the east the dragon is more vital and life affirming.

Almost all of the stories in the Bible represent a hero’s journey. Jesus went into the desert and had his trials and he came back. The Bible is full of stories like that. Campbell uses the story of Jonah. That’s a staple of Jonah that he gets into the belly of the whale. That one is getting into the deepest, darkest places of yourself…dealing with your own demons, darkness, ogres and dragons.

  1. 5. What in your own life do you think merits a comparison with some of what you offer in your film Finding Joe, and where may we see this in the film? Did you take any time away from the camera and the documentary we as audience see that you’d like to tell us about that will help an audience member better appreciate your work and the documentary itself?

Most of the things that I covered in the movie are a personal representation of my journey. For an example, there is this apotheosis that we die and are resurrected in another form. So in your life and mine we are born again and we die. I think in the Christian sense, when you are born again the old part of your way of being is killed, and you are resurrected as a different person. This happens to other people in their lives with tragedies. You get to be a different person and add something new.

  1. 6. It’s been a pleasure to get to make your acquaintance in this way. If there is something this writer has not covered that you want to add, please do so at this time.

The movie comes out in San Francisco Bay Area October 14. It’s in Los Angeles and it is doing well. It opens in Santa Barbara today. We are setting with West Coast theatres and moving East. When the movie plays it theatrical release, it will be available in DVD…same title, Finding Joe.

Informal sketch of writer Peter Menkin by Kranes, M.D. of Mill Valley, California

This film review appeared originally in Church of England Newspaper, London.

No comments: