Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tim's Vermeer, a film by Teller

Tim Jenison is a former rock musician whose tinkering with sound equipment led to his becoming an inventor and computer graphics artist. At some unspecified time in the past, he noticed how perfect the light, shadows, and colors are in the paintings by Johannes Vermeer. He read books questioning Vermeer's undocumented techniques and concluded that the Dutch painter had to have used an optical device. Flush with funds from all of his successful inventions, he set out to discover Vermeer's method.

Tim's Vermeer is an entertaining film documenting Jenison's obsessive five-year effort. The "proof" of discovery would be Jenison's recreating one of Vermeer's masterpieces using the theorized methods. How could the inventor pull this off, for he was not even an amateur painter? Confidence in himself is something Jenison seems to have in abundance. His experience with the infinitesimal details of computer graphics probably helped developed his awareness of all things optical. Through trial and error, he developed an unusual sequence of mirrors that helped him paint spot by spot with no underlying drawings. The results were almost photographic.

Many in the art world doubt that Jenison really discovered Vermeer's method. If Vermeer did use Jenison's system of mirrors, it would help explain why there are so few paintings by the master, for it is a very slow process. But neither the secretive Vermeer nor any of his contemporaries wrote about how he painted nor left any such mirrors in their studios. We will never know unless some 17th century documents are discovered.

In any case, as I have said, the film is very entertaining. Jenison and the cast of characters around him, including magician Penn Jillette and painter David Hockney, are fascinating people. The mysterious subject of Vermeer appeals to many art fans. Viewers are left with numerous unanswered questions. I think Tim's Vermeer is a great choice for film discussion groups.

Tim's Vermeer. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2014. 80 minutes.

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