From the author's introduction.
As one who takes delight in the study of culture, I see today’s new myths coming to us in the form of celluloid. Joseph Campbell, by contrast, coming out of the Modernist generation, saw the new myths of his time emerging in the literary apotheosis of the novel under the pens of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, and in the art of Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. Film, in those days, was still a minor art, considered not one of the highbrow arts at all, but a diversion for the masses. Oswald Spengler compared it with the Roman mime shows of the days of the Empire and Campbell thought so little of it that, with the advent of the talkies which he and his colleague at Sarah Lawrence, the art and film critic Rudolf Arnheim, dismissed as a decline into realism he completely avoided the medium until the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Later, when George Lucas invited him to see his Star Wars trilogy which, after all, had been based on The Hero with a Thousand Faces he remarked, "I thought real art had died with Joyce and Picasso, but I guess I was wrong."
It is my contention in this book that film, with the aid of myth, is expanding and developing the great themes of the Western canon, and that it was not until the late 1960s and 1970s, when filmmakers began to make conscious use of myth, that this process began. And by "conscious use of myth," I mean, for example, that filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas and George Miller drew inspiration for their narratives from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, while Francis Ford Coppola structured the climax of Apocalypse Now upon the model of Frazer’s myth of the slain bull god-king in The Golden Bough.
From these four examples of the deliberate use of myth, five of the most successful films of all time were created 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Road Warrior which then spawned hordes of secondary imitators whose work did not bear the direct influence of mythic scholarship, but were mythologically inspired nonetheless by way of their being affiliated to these five films. To this secondary group belongs such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Altered States, The Last Wave, Dune, Jacob’s Ladder (inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead), the Star Trek movies and others.
John Ebert’s Celluloid Heroes is a profoundly erudite look at the deeper meanings of cinema. Drawing on his incredible range of knowledge of myth, literature, ancient history, and modern communication theory, Ebert weaves a tale as engrossing as the films he analyzes. Leonard Shlain, author of The Alphabet vs. The Goddess
John David Ebert is an independent scholar who is the author of Twilight of the Clockwork God: Conversations on Science and Sprituality at the End of an Age (Council Oak Books, 1999). Formerly, he was an editor with The Joseph Campbell Foundation, and he has published numerous articles and essays in periodicals like The Antioch Review, Utne Reader and Alexandria. Currently, he resides in the Southwest.
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