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  • Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles | Review


    By | April 9, 2011

    Director: Jon Foy

    I became incredibly obsessed with the mysterious Toynbee tiles while living in Philadelphia in the mid-1990s. I vividly remember the first Toynbee tile that I ever experienced — a seemingly nonsensical rant about the Philadelphia Inquirer, the tile which is nothing like any of the other Toynbee tiles was located at 16th and Chestnut Streets. Then I started noticing the “Resurrect Dead” tiles (the ones with the text “TOYNBEE IDEA IN KUBRICK’S 2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER”) elsewhere and everywhere around the city. That was around the same time that Terry Gilliam was shooting Twelve Monkeys in Philadelphia and I assumed that the tiles were wayward props from the film’s locations. (After watching Twelve Monkeys the connection to the strange post-Apocalyptic message on the tiles made even more sense to me.) But soon I was hearing about similar tiles in New York and Washington D.C. Was this a new Shepard Fairey tag (ala Andre the Giant Has a Posse)? No, that did not seem possible…but then who would do this and for what purpose?

    Upon relocating to Austin, Texas, my obsession with the Toynbee tiles quickly subsided. But during a visit to Philadelphia (to join my comrades in the protests of all things Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2000), I was reminded of the Toynbee tiles once again. I remembered a daydream I once had about making a documentary about the tiles. Such a documentary would be difficult to make now that I lived in Austin, so that daydream was promptly put to rest once again. I thought to myself, someone else will surely make a documentary about these strange tiles…

    Looking back, the strangest part of my personal encounters with the Toynbee tiles is that I never bothered to research who or what Toynbee was. Sure, I got the reference to the final chapter — Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite — of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it never made any sense in the context of the Toynbee tiles. And what of that strange ranting anomaly on the corner of 16th and Chestnut Streets? Why was that tile so different…and (presumably) so damn angry?

    Along comes first-time director Jon Foy who hooks up with Toynbee tile aficionado Justin Duerr (ironically enough, I partied at Duerr’s squat house at 5th and Bainbridge while I lived in Philadelphia but I was never aware that he was as obsessed with the Toynbee tiles as me). Foy’s resulting documentary, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, is about Duerr’s attempts to unravel the mystery behind the Toynbee tiles.

    I am not going to give anything away regarding what Duerr discovers, I will only say that Foy’s documentary technique is somewhat unique. Foy could have very easily researched the Toynbee tiles and documented himself doing so (which is essentially how I pictured my Toynbee [documentary] idea), but instead he uses Duerr as a vessel for his story. I could have done without the reenactments, but otherwise I think the approach works quite well.

    Duerr seems like a fairly motivated and determined guy, but it is quite obvious that having Duerr’s camera present helps prod him along. Each time the going gets tough, Duerr seems to be subconsciously reminded that he cannot let Foy down. Onward they trod into the Toynbee fog…Duerr (and Foy) will not give up until the riddle is solved. You will be thankful for their persistence — well, at least I am.

    Rating: 7/10

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