Here's the cryptic message: "Toynbee Idea in Movie 2001. Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter."
Sometime in the mid-1980s, that message began appearing carved into tiles that were embedded into the roadways of American cities. An artist in Philadelphia noticed the tiles in his city, and was stunned to find out there were other such tiles in Boston, New York and Washington -- among many other U.S. cities. After some investigation, he discovered tile sightings in such far-flung spots as Chile and Argentina.
What did the message mean? Who was creating the tiles? And what was with all the little extra tile sidebar messages about killing journalists and hellion Jews?
This is the territory examined in Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, a wild and wooly adventure tale about the pursuit of the elusive tile-maker.
Philadelphia artist Justin Duerr got hooked on the modern mystery from the first tile he spotted, pursuing various leads and clues that might lead him to the creator of the tiles. Along the way, he works with Philly locals Steve Weinik and Colin Smith, two other tile followers. The men had a couple of leads: a Philadelphia street address carved into a tile found in Chile; a news article from 1983; and a David Mamet play called 4 a.m.
The men then create a list of local suspects, but that's not really the point. Even as he investigates the tiler, Duerr -- rebellious art student, early school-leaver, creative loner -- is investigated by the movie. His determination and his obsessive interest in the truth about the tiles create some 'outsider' parallels.
Filmmaker Jon Foy was not the only person interested in making a documentary about the Toynbee Tiles. According to the movie, two other crews tried to make a film and at least one detective also tried and failed to crack the tile mystery; you wouldn't call this film the definitive Toynbee Tile movie, but it will keep your interest. Up to a point.
Aside from the more obvious tile references to Arnold Toynbee and to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tiles' messages seem to be a bit of sci-fi weirdness that only the man who created them might fully explain.
At any rate, the mystery continues, and Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles works out to be a bit of a shaggy dog story.
If you know nothing about the tiles, the film might play like an urban mini-thriller. It's never entirely satisfying, however, and the filmmakers seem to run out of steam before their story is told.