Film Review: Tim’s Vermeer

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 22 July 2014.

From the twisted and warped minds of famed Las Vegas illusionist duo, Penn and Teller, comes a new documentary that is neither twisted or warped but manages to be magic nonetheless. Tim’s Vermeer tells the tale of inventor and successful entrepreneur Tim Jenison and his obsession with unlocking one of the mysteries of the art world.

Prior to the screening I was the last person you would invite to be on your table at a great Dutch painters trivia night, so apologies if you already are familiar with the topic. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is renowned for his photo realistic painting style, seen in perhaps his most famous work, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Said to “paint with light”, there has been much speculation that Vermeer utilised optical devices to aid his work.

Armed with this knowledge, Jenison goes one step further and sets out to prove this theory by attempting to design and build an optical “machine” in order to paint his own Vermeer.

I had the pleasure of attending Penn and Teller’s Las Vegas show at The Rio, which has been successfully running for the past 12 years. Highly intelligent and utterly hilarious, their act can be a little confronting if you do not agree, or are at least sympathetic, to their political ideals (libertarianism) or philosophical beliefs (atheism and skepticism).

Unlike their fantastic pseudoscience debunking TV show, Bullsh*t!, Penn and Teller do not adopt their usual aggressive and confrontational style for Tim’s Vermeer. Instead we are drawn in with a gentle observational approach which does not cast judgement on Jenison’s preoccupation but rather simply takes us along for the journey.

Directed by Teller and narrated by Penn (the former is the one who doesn’t speak onstage), it is hard not be totally absorbed in Jenison’s quest as he travels to Delft in the Netherlands to see where Vermeer worked, and London to speak to experts. He even is granted 30 minutes with the Queen’s own Vermeer in Buckingham Palace.

Neither a painter or a tradesman, Jenison almost singlehandedly reconstructs the setting of The Music Lesson, including walls, furniture, props and costumes, before spending almost five years painstakingly recreating the painting one brushstroke at a time using his ingenious lens and mirror device.

Although a shortlisting in the best documentary category in the 2014 Academy Awards did not eventuate into a nomination, Tim’s Vermeer is a fascinating and highly enjoyable tale of one man’s eight year quest. Edited from 25,000 hours of raw footage, Penn and Teller have crafted their own masterpiece.

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Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 15:08  Leave a Comment  
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