TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2013: Teller's 'Tim's Vermeer' is a Fascinating & Fun Art Doc
by Alex Billington
August 30, 2013
Can I man who has never painted before duplicate one of the most famous Johannes Vermeer paintings? That's the mystery, the great challenge presented to Tim Jenison, the titular "Tim" of the documentary Tim's Vermeer. Produced by Penn Jillette and directed by Teller of Penn & Teller, Tim's Vermeer is a doc following Tim as he invents and attempts to paint and recreate the "The Music Lesson" painting from the 17th Century in the same way Vermeer did. The big problem is that no one knows how Vermeer painted such immaculate art, but this documentary might just solve the 350 year old mystery. And it's utterly fascinating.
A great documentary, one that stands out and leaves an impression, usually has a narrative uncovered while filming. Instead of finding a subject and telling their story and that's it, it follows all the discoveries, the surprises, the honest moments, the lucky captures and everything inbetween. It tells the kind of story where no one involved, neither the filmmakers or the subject at hand, know how it will end. Tim's Vermeer has that kind of engaging concept that ponders whether or not someone could paint a Vermeer on their own time in a warehouse in the 21st Century. Without spoiling everything, Tim does invent a method using a lens and mirror that does work and he does indeed paint a comparable Vermeer - though it takes him half a year.
While the documentary is exploring a serious subject (how exactly did Vermeer paint these paintings?), we can't forget that it is made by Penn and Teller, and they're entertainers. Tim's Vermeer is as fun as it is fascinating, with some great comedic moments thanks to the lovable personality of Tim Jenison (founder of NewTek). From a technical standpoint, it's not the best documentary out there, and it ends rather abruptly without much of a conclusion or wrap-up aside from "he did it!" But it's an enjoyable experience, and should even be considered highly inspiring from a creative standpoint. The way it explores art, both classical and modern, and questions whether artistic technique and technology can be combined, is the best part about it.
This documentary is one of those wonderful discoveries at a film festival that I'm so glad I decided to walk into and watch. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, what we would see, if it would be boring or interesting, and yet I had a great time. It's not a doc that will entice art history buffs or change anyone's mind about Vermeer (maybe), but it is a doc that will make you smile, laugh and watch in awe as one man, who has never painted before, attempts to recreate Vermeer with his own hand. Thanks to Penn & Teller for telling this mesmerizing story in such an entertaining way. And thanks to Tim for the newfound inspiration.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing