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Movie review: 'Tim's Vermeer' a work of art, exposed and explained

Tim's Vermeer


Tim Jenison is a middle-aged inventor. Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter in the 17th Century who is now known as one of the greatest painters in history. What do the two have in common? Tim's Vermeer (opening today) is a documentary that follows Jenison's obsessive quest to figure out how Vermeer's paintings were ahead of their time.

Scenes from "Tim's Vermeer."
Scenes from "Tim's Vermeer."
2014 Sony Pictures Classics
"Tim's Vermeer."
2014 Sony Pictures Classics

This is a mostly educational experience, but one that fascinates on many different levels. It features magician/comedian Penn Jillette and is directed by his silent stage partner, Teller. Penn & Teller, from their Vegas show to their provocative ShowTime series, Bullsh!t, have always had a knack of looking at serious topics through the lens of an every-man, and putting their own unique comedic spin on it to boot. Penn doesn't necessarily need to be in Tim's Vermeer, but that doesn't stop him from guiding the average viewer along in terms they can easily understand.

As the documentary informs us, Vermeer had an amazing knack for painting using light and his paintings stand out during that era because none of his contemporaries were doing similar work. Jenison is completely dedicated to understanding and decoding Vermeer's techniques and once he thinks he discovers them, he sets out to create an exact replica of one of Vermeer's works. He deciphers not only Vermeer's methods, but tries to duplicate the exact paint color, tools used and techniques of the famous painter, who is revealed here to be more of an illusionist than perhaps a genius.

If you're wondering, like I was, why Penn & Teller are involved in this film, that's the reason. Vermeer probably is an inspiration for the magic-performing duo, in that he has never revealed his true secrets for success...just like any respectable magician. What Tim finds though, is that even though their may have been a method to Vermeer's madness, that doesn't mean that they were easy to make.

I was also vaguely reminded of the brilliant 2010 doc, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which examined the very meaning of art and what made something artistic. Because Tim may be able to explain Vermeer's methods, does that make Vermeer any less of an artist? Tim more of one?

I will avoid going into the details as to the hows and whys. But Tim's Vermeer is a must for any art enthusiast, a fan of spoilers, or if you ever found yourself interested in how things work. It's not ground-breaking cinema, but it was a refreshing divergence. If you're going to have to learn something, it should always be this engaging.

Genre: Documentary

Run Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, Rated PG-13

Starring: Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, Teller, Martin Mull

Directed by Teller (feature-film debut)

Opens locally on Friday, Feb 28, 2014 (check for show times).

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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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