Tim's Vermeer (PG-13)

Documentary 80 January 31, 2014
By Stephanie Zacharek
First, let's get this out of the way: There is no Santa Claus. Now, on to a perhaps even harsher truth: There are certain indications that Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer, whose 17th-century paintings — like Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Music Lesson -- show an extraordinarily delicate touch and a finely attuned understanding of light, color, and composition, didn't just slap his images on the canvas freehand. He may have used lenses and mirrors to reflect everything he saw before him right onto the canvas. Then, all he had to do was fill them in with his paintbrush. You could almost do it at home. And so someone has. A few years back, Tim Jenison, a San Antonio–based inventor, rigged up lenses and mirrors and built an obsessively detailed model of the room Vermeer painted in The Music Lesson, to see if he could produce his own version of the painting. He pulls it off, sort of, in a paint-by-numbers way, and Teller -- the quieter half of Penn & Teller -- records the whole arduous process in Tim's Vermeer. As partner Penn Jillette says, we tend to think of Vermeer as an unfathomable genius. "Now he's a fathomable genius." Jenison makes some intelligent points about the way art and science are often considered, wrongly, separate disciplines. Then he goes right off the rails, asserting that if Vermeer really did use these optical tools, then "we are seeing photographs. It's a photo." Only a moron would believe that. Vermeer's paintings weren't just detailed re-creations of sets and people; there's life in every corner of them, a kind of vision that goes beyond mere seeing.
Teller Penn Jillette, Tim Jenison, Martin Mull, Philip Steadman, David Hockney Sony Pictures Classics

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