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

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

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

Tim's Vermeer is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • The Meg

      Jason Statham gets ripped and fights giant sharks. Are you not entertained?
    • BlacKkKlansman

      Spike Lee pulls no punches with his triumphant true story of the black detective who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan

Blogs

Intermission Impossible

Ostranders 2018: Picks, Pans, and "Who Got ROBBED?!?!"

News Blog

Fans Flock to Franklin's Home

News Blog

Trial on Memphis Activists Surveillance Begins

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Stephen Chopek

From My Seat

Stubby's Stretch Run

Music Blog

Jose Feliciano Plays Unannounced Memphis Gig

Hungry Memphis

Welcome back, Restaurant Iris!

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Addison Engelking

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • Fifty Shades Darker

    America gets the boundary pushing lifestyle porn it deserves
    • Feb 16, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

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