The best thing, worst thing, and main thing about the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer. Also don’t forget to take a shot at the best ever challenge in the comments!
Sometimes viewing documentaries can be like watching paint dry, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
“Tim’s Vermeer” is a documentary film about inventor Tim Jenison’s efforts to figure out how 17th century painter Johannes Vermeer made such photo realistic paintings, and then duplicate the process himself. Magician’s Penn & Teller document the process with an intricate detail that mirrors the paintings themselves and results in an incredibly compelling film. Put simply, this is just a fascinating story.
At it’s heart this is a story about obsession and invention and how the two can combine to create understanding and art. To see a man who has never painted with oils before create an era appropriate machine that allows him to attempt to duplicate one of the most beautiful paintings of all time is absolutely astonishing. And we are carried along the journey expertly by Penn Jillette and his partner Teller (who also directs) so that we are allowed to watch Jennison’s own life and obsession evolve alongside his painting. The pair seem to understand that the story speaks for itself and rarely get in the way by overcomplicating the storytelling process. But the best thing about this movie for me had to be the way it focuses in on the false dilemma between technology and art. Does beauty come from inspiration, perspiration, or desperation? Does the avenue of creation impact the value of the product? If Vermeer used a device of lenses and mirrors to create his masterpieces is he less of an artist or just a different kind? To me it was a beautiful reminder that technology and art are intertwined and to abandon either side of that equation is to miss the true depth of the human experience. In the same way you can’t boil art totally down to an equation, you also can’t boil it totally down to a mystery, and this movie allows us to marvel at how closely the two work hand in hand. Pretty heady stuff for a movie about a guy essentially doing a giant intricate paint by numbers, isnt it? But it’s all there and it had me pondering my own obsessions and creative outlets in a new light for days after.
So what didn’t I like? Well for one, I think the film has a few moments and stories that could have been trimmed out. Though Tim’s personal anecdotes were interesting enough, they at times seemed so insignificantly tied to the overall project that I could have done without them. Of course that could also be that the painting itself was so compelling that I was over eager to return to it. I also wondered, and lets call this the worst thing, if the film could have done a better job at placing this effort in context in the art community by getting interviews with more art historians both before and after the process. If suggesting Vermeer might have painted this way was as controversial as we are led to believe, it would have been nice to have heard the other side, and to have seen their response to the stories conclusion. It seems like that might have added that last bit of oomph in an already astonishing story.
All in All “TIm’s Vermeer” is an artistic endeavor you must see to understand. It’s a testament to the beauty of art and the beauty of science and the beauty of how the two play together. Even if it could have used a tad more editing polish for context I still give it an A-.
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