I Just Watched Resurrect Dead
Resurrect Dead is an indie documentary about the mysterious Toynbee tile phenomenon. For the uninformed, the Toynbee tiles are linoleum tiles which can be found in two dozen cities in the United States and four South American capitals. With only a few exceptions, the message on the tiles are the same:
IN Kubrick’s 2001
ON PLANET JUPITER
Most of the research for the film was done by Justin Duerr and he is featured prominently. I was made aware of Justin’s musical works a few years ago when I was in correspondence with Bood Samel of Oneiric Imperium. Both Bood and Justin are part of a thriving underground music and art scene in Philadelphia. Musically, this scene encompasses the fuzzcore of Justin’s Northern Liberties, the twee folk of the Vivian Girls Experience and the dark ambient of Oneiric Imperium. One common denominator is an interest in the esoteric and outsider art.
The documentary traces the idea behind the Toynbee tiles to a group called the Minority Association. The most plausible explanation for the meaning behind the tiles message is a misinterpretation of a passage about dead molecules from Arnold Toynbee’s Experiences. The main perpetrator behind the tiles seems to have believed that Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a further development of this idea and that the movie was stating that the resurrection of the dead, or dead molecules, was possible on the planet Jupiter. The Minority Association was a group dedicated to propagating this idea. It seems likely that the Minority Association was the work of one man.
The documentary also uncovers a 1983 article from The Philadelphia Inquirer where journalist Clark DeLeon interviews one James Morasco:
Call me skeptical, but I had a hard time buying James Morasco’s concept that the planet Jupiter would be colonized by bringing all the people on Earth who had ever died back to life. Morasco says he is a social worker in Philadelphia and came across the idea while reading a book by historian Arnold Toynbee, whose theory on bringing dead molecules back to life was depicted in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s why he’s contacting talk shows and newspapers to spread the message. He’s even founded a Jupiter colonization organization called the Minority Association.
A combination of four tiles on a Philadelphia street detail a complex conspiracy implicating newspaper publisher John Knight, the mafia, and several major media corporations. The interview with the reporter from the Inquirer is also mentioned. As such, it would appear that the Toynbee perpetrator suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. The elaborate persecution fantasy these four tiles describe are very similar in tone and language to the ravings of Francis Dec. It is interesting to note that those suffering from this mental affliction often blame the same groups or institutions for their persecution (i.e. the mafia, the CIA, major corporations especially media corporations, the Soviet Union or communists in general, and Jews.)
Going on the name from the 1983 newspaper article, the filmmakers track down a James Morasco in Philadelphia. They soon find out that he’s since passed away and that he would have been in his 70s when most of the tiles were placed. As such he seems like an unlikely candidate.
The filmmakers then go to a Philadelphia neighborhood based on an address found on a tile in Santiago, Chile. While the residents of the address know nothing of the Toynbee tiles some of their neighbors point Justin and his crew to a local eccentric named Severino Verna. Several attempts are made to contact Verna but all are unsuccessful. Verna’s neighbors describe him as a quiet, intelligent man who seems to suffer from paranoia and possibly agoraphobia. When he does venture from his house it is at night. The neighbors also offer information which seem to confirm that Verna is the creator of the Toynbee tiles. The most telling of which is that Verna used to drive a car without a section of the floorboard on the passenger side which explains how some tiles ended up on major highways. One of Verna’s neighbors also mentions that he used to have a large antenna attached to the roof of his car which he would use to cut into television signals so he could broadcast his message about the resurrection of the dead on Jupiter. I found this to be a particularly fascinating case of an unexplained broadcast.
Resurrect Dead is a unique and intriguing documentary which respects the subject and never falls into the trap of over dramatization of events. The Toynbee tiles are a great example of American outsider art and Justin Duerr and the rest of the documentary crew do an excellent job documenting them and giving their story justice.
Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
Jon Foy, US, 2011
A partire dagli anni 80, una serie di piccole lastre di linoleum portanti criptiche iscrizioni ha fatto la sua comparsa sulle strade di Philadelphia e altre città statunitensi. Il misterioso messaggio fa riferimento allo storico Arnold Toynbee, il film 2001: Odissea nello spazio e un’ipotetica resurrezione dei morti su Giove. Nonostante l’attenzione dei media locali, negli ultimi trent’anni nessuno ha mai dichiarato la paternità delle cosiddette Toynbee tiles, creando un piccolo ma affascinante X-file metropolitano.
L’idea di un documentario dedicato a questo mistero è all’apparenza folle quanto le frasi scritte sulle lastre. Eppure Resurrect Dead, premiato per la regia all’ultimo Sundance, riesce a costruire (e forse risolvere) un giallo avvincente e a tratti toccante, costellato di personaggi memorabili.
Il protagonista Justin Duerr e i suoi “aiutanti” sono uniti dall’ossessione per le Toynbee tiles. Incontratisi agli albori di internet su forum dedicati alla risoluzione del mistero, s’improvvisano investigatori e vengono seguiti dalla telecamera di Jon Foy negli ultimi cinque anni di una lunga indagine. Seguendo una schizofrenica pista, scoprono il mondo sotterraneo delle radio pirata, trovano indizi nelle opere di David Mamet e bussano più volte alle porte di sconosciuti in cerca di risposte. E quando le risposte arrivano e risultano incomplete o confuse, si scopre che l’indagine conta molto di più del mistero, e che la bellezza di questo documentario sta in realtà nel sottile legame che traccia tra ricercatore e ricercato.