Monday, 26 September 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 with the fascinating Toynee Tile phenomenon. Across the United States and South America, but primarily in Philadelphia, pasted onto the ground in numerous places on seemingly random streets is a series of secret, coded messages written with a unique artistic penmanship that 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 the mystery of 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 and his ability to parse out information in a clear and dramatic way, not to mention his 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 is 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. 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 and 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 back story of pain and obsession fuels his desire to connect with the artist of these tiles. For the filmmakers, the film echoes the obsessiveness of its characters. Years in the making, it was shot independently with a low budget funded with the director's wages as a house cleaner. The final product is admittedly missing some of the polish of the HBO Docs made for many times the cost of this one, but what Foy doesn't sacrifice is his magnificent score, which he composed by himself. Foy's dramatic, brooding deep bass string arrangements are 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.