Today Where is Rocky II? will be used as a case study at the 2017 Art:film session
by Nick Cunningham
Back in 1979, leading US artist Ed Ruscha placed a large fake rock, made out of fibre glass and covered in granite dust, in the Mojave Desert - just for the sheer hell of it. First time director Pierre Bismuth, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, tells how, after seeing a BBC programme documentary about the event, he was determined to find this rock. His intriguing and highly entertaining “fake fictional” Where is Rocky II follows that search, but in the process Bismuth has no compunction about blurring all lines between fiction and reality, at the same time actively inviting audience skepticism over the veracity of what they are watching.
The film, pitched at CineMart Art:Film in 2013, follows private investigator Michael Scott as he attempts to find the second Ruscha rock (Rocky I was constructed out of wheat paste and papier mache and was eaten by vermin). Eventually he tracks down former surfer and artist Jim Ganzer who not only constructed the rock, but also helped Ruscha place it in the desert.
In a parallel strand two screenwriters are engaged by Bismuth to write a thriller around the basic facts of the Rocky story and, in another, their screenplay is played out, one that involves an artist on the run, a beautiful girl and a handful of bullets.
No fake documentary
"Everything you see in the film is real… but the idea was to reverse the process and to hide reality within a fiction. It is purely a mirror image of the piece by Ruscha," comments director Bismuth. "The Ruscha [aspect] is only a starting point to fire up the story… Number one, it is not a documentary, and number two it is not even trying to fake a documentary. It is trying to fake fiction, but with real elements. That is the basis of the film, to film real people in real situations having real conversations… and then trying to make it look as if it was fictional. My desire was to ask, if you can do that, can you still perceive that it is something real? And my belief is that, because it is real, it has a very specific quality that cannot be imitated."
And how did Ruscha react to the project? “I had a meeting with [him] on the 17th of January and…he was very impressed by the film,” Bismuth adds. "My understanding is that he understood the game I was playing and he didn't question that. When you see the film you realize that the rock is a pretext... What I say usually is that Where is Rocky II? has as much to do with Ed Ruscha and art as The Da Vinci Code has to do with Renaissance painting and Leonardo da Vinci."