Pierre Bismuth, graphic artist and co-writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a question. Where is the piece of art by Ed Rushca, named Rocky II? The piece was created in 1976 out of fibreglass and wire, to resemble to native rocks in the Mojave Desert. Ruscha then deposited the rock in the world, where it has remained ever since, and Bismuth wants to know where it is. To find out more, Bismuth hires a private detective to do the investigatory legwork, and screenwriters D.V. DeVincentis and Anthony Peckham to create a screenplay about the PI’s findings in a documentary that plays with fact and fiction, reality and the imaginary.
Screening at the Locarno Film Festival this week, Where is Rocky II? is exactly the kind of film you would expect one of the screenwriters of the delightfully strange Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to make in his directorial debut. The film blends fact and fiction, while examining the idea of memory to create an entirely strange, while oddly pedestrian film about what amounts to being… A rock.
The film is created to play like a dramatic mystery thriller; music adds melodrama throughout the film – even though, at times, it seems to be deliberately out of place. Following detective Michael Scott for the most part, Where is Rocky II has all the hallmarks of a great cover up being found out; gallery owners and art aficionados have never heard of Rocky II, those who worked on a BBC documentary about the piece in 1976 claim vague memories, and Ed Ruscha – when asked the rock’s location by Bismuth at a press conference – simply refuses to give away the secret. While all of this is going on, Bismuth’s two screenwriters are trying to crate a story around a hidden rock, with the help of Mike White and other familiar faces.
There is every chance for Where is Rocky II? to be a weird and wonderful delight, as a tenacious and curious man searches for something that no-one else wants found, but in blending in the story line about the screenwriters trying to create fiction around what seems to be a true story, the film goes from being strange and fun to jumbled and lacking in energy. There underlying feeling of amusement at just what these filmmakers are doing pervades however, and the fact that this is another examination of memory from Pierre Bismuth, as he tries to jog the memories of the people involved in the project add to the playful feeling of this film, which is more about the mystery than having it solved. As well as this, the eerie feel of the Mojave Desert as a setting, and its role as a centre of the mysterious and the spiritual adds to the unsettling and odd feel of the film.
In all, Where is Rocky II? is just as strange as you could hope it is, but a lack of resolution may bother some members of the audience, and the notion that fact and fiction blend together makes for a sometimes confounding cinematic experience, but going along for the ride on this film about mystery and memory is fun. Just don’t expect it all to come together in the end.