TIFF 2013: TIM’S VERMEER Review

     September 5, 2013

tims-vermeer-review-slice

Made by legendary bullshit busting magicians Penn & Teller, Tim’s Vermeer already looks like not just one of the best documentaries at TIFF this year, but possible one of the best films of the year, full stop. Like all of the best docs, it’s a unique story that would probably be unbelievable were it not factual. And like all Penn & Teller projects it’s flippantly funny, weirdly revealing, and always magical. You wouldn’t think that a movie about a computer genius with too much time on his hands recreating a Dutch master’s painting could be this entertaining, but you also wouldn’t think Penn & Teller would make a movie about it. So, I guess the whole thing is filled with surprises, isn’t it? Hit the jump for more. 

tims-vermeer-tim-jenisonDutch master Johannes Vermeer is an artist who has confounded and thrilled art historians for generations. His work boats a level of detail and realism so remarkable that he’s developed a reputation for “painting with light” and no one is quite sure how he pulled off his finest works. Some recent art historians started to wonder if Vermeer was possibly using a camera obscura to project images for detailed reproduction on a canvas. Most of these theories are dismissed as “cheating” by short-sighted experts and it’s generally not taken seriously. Enter Tim Jenison, a computer genius and optics expert fascinated by Vermeer’s unique work. Jenison’s years of experience with photography led him to notice how most of Vermeer’s work depicts light in a similar way to how digital and video technology deconstructs it through a lens. He also happens to be a bit of an inventor himself and creates a small piece of equipment using a few mirrors and lenses that allows him to perfectly recreate a photograph in paint by simply matching shades and colors one thin line at a time. He’s also never painted before, but when experts (including rather amusingly Martin Mull) look at what he created, they can’t deny that the results are remarkable.

And so Tim Jenison begins on a quest. He will recreate a Vermeer painting on his own using his invention. His lack of experience in painting shouldn’t matter since if his theory is correct, Vermeer was always more of an ingenious technician and craftsman than painting prodigy, and Tim is certainly that. He also plans on meticulously recreating  Vermeer’s studio and working exclusively with tools and materials that Vermeer had access to at the time. Fortunately, Tim is also a self-made millionaire with just the right combination of talent, drive, ambition, eccentricity and free time to pull it off. And so Tim Jenison sets out on a quest to recreate his own Vermeer painting and his old buddies Penn & Teller are on hand with cameras to film the entire process.

tims-vermeerIt’s certainly a unique and bizarre story, but also a fascinating one. What sounds like a painfully niche subject for painting snobs only actually emerges as a universal and even beautiful story about creation and imagination. Tim’s conviction and dedication to his task is remarkable, the results of what he produces are absolutely astounding. The journey is a long one, but worth the ride given the results. As to where Penn & Teller come into the play, aside from voiceover and the occasional on camera appearance, it’s all about tone.  The film is filled with their humor, which is pretty important given that there are literally scenes in the movie about watching paint dry. But more than that, throughout their career Penn & Teller have been interested in exposing how tricks are pulled off and deconstructing false truths. Tim’s Vermeer fits into that career long mandate perfectly and might even be one of the best things they’ve ever put their name on.

In a way, Tim’s Vermeer works like a perfect Penn & Teller illusion from their act. They show you how a trick is done, even giggle at the mechanics and absurdity of it. Yet, what’s required to pull off trick is so remarkable on it’s own that the result is even more magical than if you didn’t know how the sausage was made. It’s a funny, sweet, endearing, and even moving doc directed with style by first timer Teller. It’s good enough to suggest that Penn & Teller could have a healthy filmmaking career ahead of them if they ever decide to give up the Vegas millions. Of course the challenge would be finding another subject this compelling, but given that Tim Jenison has plenty of free time on his hands again now never seems short on outlandishly pet projects projects, it might happen sooner than you’d think.

Grade: A-

Around The Web

Latest News

POINT BREAK Gets Reimagined in New Featurette Celebrating The Extreme Stunts

Go behind the scenes of the impressive stuntwork with a new featurette for Warner Bros. 'Point Break' remake.

KUNG FURY: Insane 80s Throwback Action Comedy Released Online

David Sandberg's over-the-top homage features Arcade-robots, ninjas, vikings, Hitler, and The Hoff.

Will Forte Joins Key and Peele Movie KEANU; Plot Details Revealed

Key and Peele play friends who decide to pose as gangsters in order to retrieve their stolen cat.

ALOHA Review

Say ‘goodbye’ to Cameron Crowe’s latest film and possibly his career.

SAN ANDREAS Review

It’s not “The Rock vs. The Earthquake”; It’s “Dwayne Johnson and an Earthquake”, and that’s good enough despite a selfish “hero”.

Make-Up Legend Rick Baker Is Retiring; Cites Studios Wanting “Cheap and Fast” Over Quality

We've not only lost an icon, but an entire artform is in danger of becoming extinct.

Director Kyle Newman Talks BARELY LETHAL, His PG-13 Battle, Assembling the Cast, and More

Plus his thoughts on High School movies, his first cut, and doing the film independently.

Poster Roundup: ANT-MAN, LONDON HAS FALLEN and TED 2

Big bullets, big explosions and ... Ted.

FAST & FURIOUS 8: Vin Diesel Shares Promo Poster Teasing New Location

Things might be getting significantly more violent in the eighth installment of the immensely popular franchise.

Watch: THE COMEDIANS Star Josh Gad Plays “Save or Kill”

Plus he talks about his first TV crush, his hidden talents, the worst job he’s ever had, and more.

Page 1 of 3,96912345...102030...Last »