Take a Drink: for awful 90s fashion
Take a Drink: for each painting Tim does
Take a Drink: every time Tim admits his lack of experience in something
Take a Drink: whenever he makes things more difficult for himself
Take a Drink: whenever his awesome resources become apparent
Do a Shot: for Penn & Teller-y flourishes
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One of the more interesting Oscar contenders last year was Tim’s Vermeer (although it ultimately fell short of a nomination). Penn and Teller take a break from obnoxious pedagoguery…
Didn’t you guys used to be magicians or something?
… to bring the tale of their rich inventor friend Tim, who has a hell of a theory. He made his fortune in television and optics, so it’s unsurprising that when he looks at the unparalleled manipulation of light and color in a Vermeer painting, he thinks “photograph!” Cameras didn’t exist in the 17th century, but the understanding of lenses and light that would lead to them did, and he posits that Vermeer built an optical apparatus to help him paint his masterpieces. The only way to prove it is to do it, so the middle-aged American who’s never picked up a paintbrush sets out to do just that- paint a Vermeer.
This is a fascinating idea with many implications for art history and theory, and our hero Tim Jenison puts five years of his life into proving it to the extent of his considerable abilities. Just the idea of an untrained, mom-jeans clad 21st century American reproducing a 17th century Dutch Master’s painting is incredible in and of itself, and is enough reason to watch.
Artist? I’d buy acclaimed fantasy novelist…
However, a more interesting film yet emerges from this quest- like most great documentaries, this becomes a study in humanity beyond just that of an event or idea. Tim’s journey becomes a very affecting character piece, as we witness this modern day Renaissance Man at first revel in the challenges this problem offers, then come to terms with them, and finally despair at what he faces. When he finally breaks down in front of his completed painting, Tim’s Vermeer transcends the bounds of mere documentary.
Teller directs, and while he does manage one painterly outdoors shot, the rest of the production is workmanlike and simple. This could easily have been an extended TV episode, and if not for the emotional depths Tim reaches, probably would’v e been.
As always with Penn & Teller, Penn does all the talking, but here he forgets that this film isn’t about him. He doesn’t add anything with his analysis that we can’t (and shouldn’t) deduce on our own, so every time he talks it smacks more of vanity than necessity.
I shouldn’t have to Teller you to Penn those lips shut.
Tim’s Vermeer examines an interesting art theory, but evolves into something greater- a study in the elements of genius and perseverance that go into any great achievement.