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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sean Kelly

My Thoughts on Tim’s Vermeer

timsvermeerDirected and produced by the popular magic duo Penn & Teller, the documentary Tim’s Vermeer tells the story of the duo’s friend Tim Jenison.  Tim is a successful computer engineer and inventor, who sets out to try and recreate the photorealistic paintings of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.  To this day, nobody knows how exactly Vermeer achieved the level of detail in his paintings, which are described by art historians as having been “painted with light.”  Tim devises a system, using a mix of lenses and mirrors, to create simple paintings remarkably similar to the ones Vermeer created.  The success of these experiments leads Tim to recreate the same conditions Vermeer painted in the 1600s and see if Tim can reproduce one of the artist’s famous paintings.

If anything, Tim’s Vermeer is a demonstration of what someone can accomplish if they have a lot of time and money on their hands.  In the introduction of the film, it is stated that the success of Tim Jenison’s software company NewTek has given him the freedom to pursue a lot of inventions and hobbies, with his quest to recreate a Vermeer painting being only the latest.  From start to finish, Tim’s Vermeer quest lasts about five years, which includes the 200 plus days he spent building an exact replica of Vermeer’s studio.

I would estimate that at least a third (maybe even half) of the film is spent on Tim actually painting his Vermeer reproduction.  This results in a lot of screen time spent solely on shots of Tim painting, with an on-screen counter marking what day he’s on.  While this section of the film does feel a bit monotonous at times, it is also amazing to see how well the painting progresses and the question quickly changes from “can Tim reproduce a Vermeer paining” to “how long will it take him?”  These types of paintings are all about the smallest details and film humorously plays up how many days it takes for Tim to paint the individual weaves on a rug (aka a bunch of dots).

The film was created by the duo of Penn & Teller, with Penn being the producer and narrator and Teller being the director.  Their involvement, particularly Penn’s narration, adds a lot of humour to what is otherwise a straight-forward human interest story.  Half the enjoyment of the film comes from the duo being the outside witnesses to Tim’s epic quest.

Overall I have to say that I found Tim’s Vermeer to be an enjoyable documentary that just goes to show that all you need to paint a Vermeer painting is a lot of money and A HELL OF A LOT of time.

8 | LIKED IT

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).