F For Fantastic 

Tim’s Vermeer: a provocative take on art and process.

Tim Jenison experiments in Tim’s Vermeer

Tim Jenison experiments in Tim’s Vermeer

In his 2012 Smithsonian essay "Teller Reveals His Secrets," the mostly silent member of the Penn & Teller team asserts, "You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money, and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest."

This insight drives the wry, persistent protagonist of Teller's new documentary Tim's Vermeer. Like Bad Words, Tim's Vermeer is about a middle-aged man on a seemingly senseless quest. But that's where the similarities end. This provocative, whip-smart film unscrews your head, fills it to the brim with combustible ideas about art, science, technology, history, and talent. Then it lights a match.

That match assumes the form of two incendiary, illuminating questions: "What is art?" and "Am I an artist if I make some?" Yet the most charming aspect of Tim's Vermeer is the polite, almost deferential way those questions are posed. Throughout the film, Penn Jillette (onscreen) and Teller (behind the camera) are atypically reverent and respectful. They aren't interested in debunking any artwork or defaming any artists; they're content to let the elbow-patch sports-jacket crowd untangle any loose ends they uncover. They are more interested in exploring the notion of "fathomable geniuses": hard-working creators who bust their asses while waiting for inspiration from either the muses or the aether to strike.

With Tim Jenison, Penn and Teller find an ideal surrogate. Jenison is a wealthy inventor and tireless autodidact who has been moved and fascinated by the work of 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer for many years. Like most people, Jenison appreciates the subtle, almost photographic play of light and shadow in paintings like "The Milkmaid" and "Girl With a Red Hat." Unlike most people, Jenison has the patience, ingenuity, and spare cash to test his theory that Vermeer achieved his uncanny effects through a combination of mirrors, reflections, and optical devices. Penn and Teller are with him the whole way as he scouts Dutch locations, learns how to grind and manufacture his own paint, and eventually builds a life-size reproduction of the room where Vermeer created "The Music Lesson."

Tim's Vermeer is barely 80 minutes long, but it's effective at conveying the tremendous amounts of time, effort, and concentration required for Jenison's mad, painstaking project. When he finally settles down to paint his own version of "The Music Lesson," wave after wave of camera dissolves combine with his arid, quietly hilarious running commentary ("Another day, more dots") to mark his slow, delicate progress. There are also some witty time-lapse passages that illustrate the fickle fidgetings of human models. (Throwaway query: What is time, anyway?) For every chuckle, there are unexpected moments of philosophical resonance and significance, like the early scene when Jenison eerily proclaims, "I'm a piece of human photographic film at this point."

As his project drags on, Jenison starts to understand and appreciate Edison's definition of genius as 99 percent perspiration. And then he comes to the end. He finishes his work, shows it to others. They approve. Cue Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Roll credits.

The overall effect is magical.

Tim's Vermeer
Opens Friday, March 28th
Studio on the Square

Tags:

Tim's Vermeer
Rated PG-13 · 80 min. · 2014
Official Site: sonyclassics.com/timsvermeer
Director: Teller
Cast: Penn Jillette, Tim Jenison, Martin Mull, Philip Steadman and David Hockney

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Tim's Vermeer

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • True Story

      Jonah Hill and James Franco spar in this true crime story
    • It Follows

      David Robert Mitchell’s new film is a modern horror masterpiece

Blogs

Politics Beat Blog

Whalum is the Cynosure on Petition Day One, Pulls for Three Positions

News Blog

Memphis Police Arrest 22 Gang Members in Drug Sting

Music Blog

Local Beer Brewed for Lucero Family Picnic

Intermission Impossible

Nina Raine's “Tribes” Maps the Boundary Between Listening and Hearing

Style Sessions

Everbloom Designs - Flower Crown DIY

Politics Beat Blog

Finally! City Candidates Can Get their Petitions

Intermission Impossible

Dido, Dirty Madrigals, Christopher Marlowe, and Sweet Baroque Music

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Addison Engelking

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2015

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation