Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray Review
“Sometimes when I’m laying in bed at night trying to get to sleep, all I can think about is this goal of trying to paint a Vermeer…And, at the face of it, that seems almost impossible.”
Those words come from inventor Tim Jenison, who openly admits he is far from being a painter. But he has made it a mission to recreate The Music Lesson (c. 1662-1665), a famous work by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, whose masterpieces also include The Milkmaid (c. 1658), Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665) and The Art of Painting (c. 1666) and whose works are displayed in such museums as the Mauritshuis in The Hague, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Some, according to the narration by magician Penn Jillette (who also served as a producer on the film), consider him the greatest painter in history.
Vermeer, unlike most Dutch painters of the time, didn’t serve as an apprentice. How, then, did he accomplish such amazing feats? Jenison cites technology, which might seem questionable since he did his works during the 1700s. Of course, Vermeer didn’t use computers, but rather, it’s theorized (by the likes of pop artist David Hockey, who wrote about the idea in the book “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters,” and who appears in the documentary), a camera obscura, a device that projects desired objects with light and maintains precise colors and details. The artist can then use mirrors to accurately translate the objects to a canvas.
We see Jenison use a photograph of his father with such tools. Five hours later, he’s finished his painting; it’s quite good and, more importantly, very accurate. And so he builds the confidence to attempt the experiment. To add to the accuracy, he’ll use only materials available at the time Vermeer worked. (This turns out to not be entirely true, as Jenison uses power tools to create his set and surely Vermeer didn’t take a trip to Home Depot before starting on The Girl with the Wine Glass.)
Jenison isn’t trying to copy Vermeer with the purpose of selling the paintings for millions of dollars, but rather because of his drive to know. Jenison has a serious and obsessive (why else would he learn Dutch?) passion to see if the feat is possible. Some might wonder, Isn’t he just trying to achieve something that has already been achieved or, What’s the point? Both are valid questions and might lead to viewer frustration; so, too, will learning that Jenison is good friends with the producer and director (Teller, the mute partner of Penn) and hearing Jenison spout lines like “This really looks like a Vermeer!”, both of which will additionally make the project seem more vain than intended. Jenison may show his doubts, but he also seems to secretly want the viewer to be as impressed by him as they might be of Vermeer.
Still, even if you find the project to be an unnecessary and egotistical one, it’s hard not to admire the amount of detail and work (over 200 days building the set, more than 1800 days from inception to completion) that goes into the process, and it’s satisfying seeing just how happy it all makes Jenison.
TIM’S VERMEER BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. The video is quite nice and offers some fine details, but lacks much depth.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English and French. The audio is also acceptable but without dimension.
Commentary with Teller, Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler: The quartet offers a very good commentary that accompanies the film very well and ends up enhancing the documentary.
Toronto International Film Festival Q&A (21:21): Thom Powers moderates this discussion with Jillette, Teller, Jenison and Ziegler after the premiere of VIM’S VERMEER.
Deleted Scenes (22:45): There are six here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Penn & Teller’s Deleted Intro,” “Tim and Penn on How It All Started,” “Tim’s ‘Indy’ Moment,” “Penn & Teller’s Deleted ‘Queen’ Tirade,” “Tim’s Collection of Tools” and “Final Brush Strokes.”
Extended and Alternate Scenes (2:18:13): There are five here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Tim Teaches Martin Mull Some History,” “Tim, Martin and Caravaggio,” “Painting the First Live Model,” “David Hockney on Art, Life and Cigarettes” and “Painting Video Log.”