“Resurrect Dead: the mystery of the Toynbee tiles”

“Resurrect Dead: the mystery of the Toynbee tiles”

Worth It
May 24, 2011
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Have you ever heard of the mystery of the Toynbee Tiles? Me neither. That is until I saw, there Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. This quirky documentary was featured at Toronto’s Hotdocs festival 2011. The subject matter is bizarre. Justin Duerr, pharm the central figure of the film, clinic is obsessed with an ever-growing population (in the thousands) of handmade tiles fixed onto the streets of major cities throughout North and South America. It’s not quite as epic as crop circles but it’s the same idea. While this largely overlooked phenomenon seems easily dismissed, the film-makers manage to draw the audience into this strange mystery with intensity and glee.

The Toynbee Tiles are aptly named for the first word found on each tile. The tiles typically read, “TOYNBEE IDEA, IN MOVIE 2001, RESURRECT DEAD, ON PLANET JUPITER”. WHA?!!! Exactly. This is what drives Justin and his cohorts to unearth the mystery behind these apparently non-sensical plaques. But as the film moves along our psuedo-detectives come up with some interesting theories behind what the tile’s author is communicating. And these deputy-slueths do an amazing job at following each lead. Along the way we meet a host of colourful characters, some intriguing concepts and an ever-increasing sense that we are going to meet the maker of the tiles.

This is really great subject matter. I’m convinced the best documentaries are the ones with the strangest premises that take you somewhere you’ve never been before. Resurrect Dead is just that. As well, Justin Duerr has a wonderfully magnetic personality. I’m glad the director chose to keep him as the main driver of this journey. In many ways the film is just as much about Justin and his obsession as it is about the Toynbee Tiler. As the film nears the end there are some sublime, poetic sequences that suggest the two people are very much the same. It’s this human element that grounds the documentary and keeps it from simply being another investigative report.

All that said, Resurrect Dead does have it’s flaws. While the footage is great and the journey is pieced together well, the visual and audio editing feels very amateur. Some of the cuts are premature and careless. The sound editing is a hatchet job. While the score is dramatic and effective, it doesn’t flow in and out of the scenes properly. A shot will end and the music will just get cut off. No fade out, no transition to the next scene. And it’s not for dramatic effect. It is simply sloppy. As someone who works in editing, it drove me nuts. I kept thinking, “They could have done that better. Who’s the editor cutting this together?! He’s ruining a great documentary!” So, unfortunately the poor editing and sound mixing definitely detracted from what is otherwise a well-crafted film.

Regardless, I still had a great time following Duerr as he diligently unravels the mystery. Overall, Resurrect Dead is an intriguing, engaging and quirky doc that should please anyone who has an interest in the strange and geeky.

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Craig the Critic

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