By Christopher Calvin Murphy
Blvd Cinemas Review: Tim's Vermeer
Although I recognized many of Vermeer's famous paintings, such as the classic "Girl With the Pearl Earring", I knew nothing about the man, nor Tim Jenison whom this documentary is centered on. However, when I learned that Penn and Teller were at the helm of this project, I was eager to see it. I was able to meet Penn and Teller a couple of years ago when they performed at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center - working behind the scenes as a Stage Manager has its privileges, including personally meeting the hilarious, kind, and magical duo and witnessing Teller the "mute" assistant to Penn speak... just keep that between us!
Teller directs the film while Penn spends his time narrating and giving his own perspective as well as key insight into Tim's process. I found it sort of odd that these two would be making a documentary about this inventor turned amateur oil painter, however, at the beginning of the film we learn that Penn and Tim have been friends for over 20 years.
In the film Tim theorizes that Vermeer used special optical technology through a device known as a camera obscura to make his paintings as realistic, almost photo-like as they were. Historians have theorized that many famous painters have used camera obscuras before, but, there had to be a missing ingredient to Vermeers, as others have unsuccessfully tried to recreate it before. Tim believes he has discovered that missing ingredient: a simple mirror. With the addition of the mirror Tim is able to take an image and simply match the shades of paint on the canvas with the actual reflection of the image. Sounds pretty simple, but it is mind-blowing when you see it.
Tim realized the only way he could prove his theory that Vermeer used this technique was to duplicate a Vermeer himself. He then spends the next year traveling abroad, learning Dutch, and gathering all the information he needs to authentically recreate a Vermeer. Tim decides to copy Vermeer's famous painting "The Music Lesson", and he goes as far as grinding his own colors for paint, building an identically sized room with scale furniture and props, poses costumed actors, including his own daughter home during a college break, and creates the same type of lenses that Vermeer would have had access to in the 17th century.
He then spends the next 130 days painting his replica!
Yes, you read that correctly, 130 days!
You may find yourself going a bit mad and squirming in your seat, while Tim himself goes stir crazy finishing his gargantuan task before you. The film can be a bit tedious and indeed feel as though you are watching paint dry. However it is a fascinating documentary with a lot of funny moments due to Penn's piffy narration, and the honest frustration from Tim. It is also extremely endearing to see Tim teary eyed when he finally finishes his Olympian task.
Check out this documentary while you still can, it is perfect for all art lovers and art students. In fact you might say the film is an art lesson in itself. Just make sure you purchase some coffee or candy at the concession stand to keep you alert!