Tuesday, 25 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
By Alan Bacchus
I love a good conspiracy, and I love a good mystery. The best conspiracy is one that is actually true. Such is the case of the fascinating Toynee Tile phenomenon. Across the United States and South America, but primarily in Philadelphia, pasted onto the ground in numerous places in seemingly random streets, are a series of secret coded messages written with a unique artistic penmanship which can only be attributed to one person.
Each tile has a similar wording:
On Planet Jupiter
There are hundreds of such tiles in dozens and dozens of cities. For over 20 years a cult has developed around these messages, which still remains unsolved.
Director John Foy creates a magnificently suspenseful and engrossing investigative Sherlock Holmes-worthy mystery following three young men, equally obsessed, as they go about solving the case.
Foy channels some of the best qualities of Errol Morris, in particular his masterpiece investigative doc The Thin Blue Line. Foy matches Morris for his rigorousness, his ability to parse out information in a clear and dramatic way, not to mention a sharp sense of humour. This is pure cinematic storytelling at work, maximizing drama from just a few characters in limited space.
Essentially the three characters recount their stories of the investigation. Some of it in real time on camera detective work, but much of it happened in the past and is recounted in talking head interviews. Fun on screen graphics and text provide a thoroughly entertaining way to visualize the details.
And this film lives and dies by the details. And it’s a fascinating collection of leads, false leads and red herrings. Believe it or not weaving into the evidence is an old David Mamet one act play from 1983, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the literature of American philosopher Arnold Toynbee, shortwave radio fanatics as well as a group of fascinating neighbourhood Philly folk who help the threesome uncover the mystery.
Of the three characters, Foy concentrates on the leader of the bunch Justin Duerr, whose backstory of pain and obsessiveness fuels his desire to connect with the artist of these tiles. For the filmmakers, the film echoes the obsessiveness of it's characters. Years in the making, the film was shot independently for low budget, funded from the director's wages as a house cleaner. The final product is admittedly missing some of the polish of these HBO Docs made for many many times the cost of this, but what Foy doesn't sacrifice is his magnificent score, composed by himself. Foy's dramatic brooding deep bass strings arrangements is another source of comparison to The Thin Blue Line, whose score was composed by Philip Glass.
Resurrect Dead could be this year’s Exit Through the Gift, and though it’s early, I’ve no doubt this will be one of the best documentaries of the year.