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Tim’s Vermeer

Tim’s Vermeer

An improbable subject has inspired a unique documentary
which comes with an unusual pedigree: it was produced by those inventive
magicians Penn and Teller, and directed by Teller. It profiles their longtime
friend Tim Jenison, whose high-tech inventions have made him a wealthy man…the
kind who can indulge his whims. His latest is also his most ambitious: he
intends to reproduce Johannes Vermeer’s lifelike 17th century
painting “The Music Lesson,” even though he’s never held a paintbrush in his

The inspiration for this bold project is a series of books
and essays by art experts, including the redoubtable David Hockney, speculating
that Vermeer used primitive optical instruments to achieve the realistic look
of his paintings. Jenison proposes to recreate Vermeer’s process—and does. It
takes him more than four years to bring his experiment to fruition.

Jenison is obsessive and, to a degree, so is this film. I
found myself wearying of the process at a certain point, even though the conclusion
is nothing short of extraordinary. The film also makes no pretense of
objectivity or arm’s-length distance on the part of the filmmakers and their
subject: they are friends, and gratefully used Jenison’s video diary of his
daily labors when they weren’t present to document them. Penn Jillette narrates
the film and appears casually on camera at various times as he, Teller, and
Jenison travel to Amsterdam and London to eyeball original Vermeer canvases and
consult with art experts, including Hockney.

Tim’s Vermeer is
undeniably fascinating, as we watch a dedicated amateur set his sights on
replicating the work of an Old Master. You’ve never seen anything like it
before, and if you’re patient, it’s worth following the journey. 

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