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Tim's Vermeer - Film Review

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by Gary Yeates (subscribe)
Baby booming freelance travel writer, blogger and photographer, Gary Yeates is now temporarily nesting back in his home town Sydney and pretending, albeit unsuccessfully to live a Gen Y life. His blog site;
Published June 10th 2014
A whodunnit but who done it?

It may have taken some time but Johannes Vermeer is widely acknowledged as one of the doyens of painters from the Dutch Golden Age.

This wasn't the case during his lifetime when Vermeer enjoyed at best moderate recognition. If that life success was humble then after his death the kudos deteriorated even further to the point where his name was relegated to historical obscurity. It wasn't until 2 centuries later that the Vermeer name was heralded for his masterly use of light.

That's the Vermeer part of the documentary "Tim's Vermeer" due for limited release in Australia early July. The Tim part of the title takes us down another tangent altogether. Tim Jenison is an American computer and video engineering whizz of self-confessed minimal artistic talent. He constructs a mirrored contraption that he claims will allow him to recreate "The Music Lesson", a signature Vermeer work. Going one step further, Jenison claims that Vermeer himself must have used a similar device during his own career. Did somebody suggest cheating?

Photo by Shane F. Kelly
2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

The documentary is the brainchild of Penn and Teller, a pair of magicians branching out into the wide world of film making. They obviously have an eye for a story and Tim's Vermeer is an engaging one. While Teller occupies the director's chair, Penn pulls the narrative strings and the result is a highly watchable production.

In the end though this is a film that initially appeared intent on trivializing Vermeer's work but ended up asking more questions than it set out to answer.

Photo by Shane F. Kelly
2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved..

The film throws out the conundrum of whether techno interference in the artistic process is actually cheating just as many would consider photography is no longer photography once Photoshop is thrown into post production. Jenison also considers the possibility that if Vermeer went down such a path then how many of his Dutch contemporaries bent similar rules.

Whatever your interpretation, study the not so subtle morphing of Jenison's persona from the moment he begins putting brush to canvas. From his initial near contempt at Vermeer's artistic talent - anything art can do technology can do better - Jenison's exponentially increasing tension with each stroke can be translated as an equally increasing respect for what Vermeer went through in creating his small cache of works.

The one constant throughout is Jenison firmly sticking to his theory that Vermeer, and perhaps plenty of others, utilized more than just brush, paint and canvas to achieve their final product.

Photo by Shane F. Kelly
2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

Penn and Teller have used plenty of quirk in piecing together what could have been a dry, snooze-inducing documentary. Having said that, the film still has its flat spots. To use a line of Jenison, it was occasionally like watching paint dry as our hero toiled through 1,825 days of mostly tedium just to prove a point. Then again, if Jenison can commit that much time then it shouldn't be too much of a strain for the viewer to sit through a couple of dead patches amongst the 90 minutes running time.

Penn and Teller haven't pushed too hard to shove Jenison's theory down the viewers' throats. They leave the final opinions to the ticket buying punter themselves.
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*Gary Yeates was invited as a guest
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Why? A lovely documentary on story waiting 300 years to be unveiled
When: Australia release July
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