[Sorry for the lack of a podcast today. Schedules were fucked. There'll be a new episode next week, though.]
I have a love/hate relationship with the kind of documentary Resurrect Dead represents. As you know from my podcast on The King of Kong, I am fascinated by stories of obsessed, driven individuals, no matter their specific interests. I guess, given that I happen to have a particularly obsessive personality (devoted to writing and movie-watching), I can understand the mind-set. I feel like I’m watching compatriots. That being said, sometimes the interests of the people in such documentaries completely fucking baffle me.
Such as the the Toynbee Tiles, the obsession of artist Justin Duerr. Embedded in the streets of numerous big cities are tiles with a variation of this message:
IN MOVIE 2001
ON PLANET JUPITER
If you live somewhere between the US and South America, chances are you’ve walked by at least one of these tiles. I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever seen any here in New York, but apparently we’ve got a bunch. If I ever have seen one, I imagine my reaction was something along the lines of, ‘huh, that combination of words doesn’t make sense. Whatev—hey, watch where you’re fucking going. I’m walking here. You wanna go? Bring it the fuck on.’ After which I promptly forgot about the tile.
More bizarre than the random assemblage of words on the tiles, however, is the fact that these things are embedded with tar on busy streets. Even at the goddamn entrance of the Holland Tunnel.
Not to imply that this is mostly a New York thing, though. In fact, the majority of these tiles are found on the streets of Philadelphia ®. Which brings us back to Philadelphia resident Justin, the premier researcher on all things Toynbee. An obsessive by nature, Justin became, well, obsessed with these things after his first sighting. And so he devoted much of his life to discovering who made these; what they mean; how they were installed in such crazy locations; and how the guy was never caught.
Yes, everyone loves a good mystery, but these tiles are clearly either purposeful, Dadaist nonsense or the incoherent ramblings of a schizophrenic. Either way, meanings mean jack shit here. It seems a bit odd that anyone would devote so much time to this mystery. This road leads to either a pretentious outsider artist or a sad, mentally unstable shut-in. In other words, not much mystery; also, who cares? Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least slightly curious as to the thought process that lead an individual to string this particular set of words together and then present the incoherent message to the world.
Pitched somewhere between an Errol Morris character study and an Unsolved Mysteries episode, Resurrect Dead is never not entertaining. The movie teases out information at a regular enough rate that it's impossible not to get caught up in the untangling of the mystery. No, no, fight it; fight it. Don’t get interested in the story. The proper response to this shit is, who gives a shit. It's like trying to discover the mystery of why and how a homeless person has been pooping in people's walls. Actually, that's a mystery I'd be interested in.
But alas, I couldn't fight it. I had to know. I got interested. Mostly, I guess, I had to know why Justin had to know. This dedicated, talented artist had to know the answer to this mystery for no other reason than that he had to know. Maybe there's no point to most of our obsessions. Maybe all obsessively creative individuals are just tilting at windmills. Week after week, I watch movies and write about them for an under-read blog. What do I get out of it? Well...it's fun. But also...well, there has to be more meaning to what I do. What I'm doing isn't pointless. Right? Right? It's not as pointless as researching street tiles, right? Right?
I need a drink.