Film Review: Tim’s Vermeer

Once again it’s down to the Wittering Doctor that this documentary came to cross my path and enter my life. Amazingly given a cinema release last year, but unsurprisingly, limited in its showings I never managed to find anywhere even remotely local to get to see it. As a result, I have been patiently waiting, and waiting, or this week to arrive when it is finally released onto DVD and I get to see whether it was worth the wait.

Tim’s Vemeer, as the trailer shows, is an extended documentary brought to film by Penn & Teller about Tim Jenison’s quest, or even obsession, with proving his theory into how Johannes Vermeer was able to paint the pictures he did, and potentially solve through real world experimentation using a technique that was possible during Vermeer’s lifetime exactly how Vermeer may have achieved the astonishing results he did. And as documentaries go, it is absolutely fascinating.

I am an art lover, I have a big creative side, and while I’m not very good at painting, I’m certainly no Van Gogh or Picasso, I like to pick up a brush whether computerised or bristled and express myself. As a result, while not being a font of knowledge regarding Vermeer’s work, I know who he is and I know what he’s painted, and so, this documentary intrigued me. Was it really possible for someone without artistic training to paint a picture of comparable quality to Vermeer? This was something I needed to find out. Oh, and before you run off and Google Vermeer to see what he painted, I’m sure you’ll all be familiar with arguably now his most famous work – Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Vermeer - Girl With A Pearl Earring

Getting back to the documentary, the first thing that hits you is that Tim Jenison is one of those people who you just love to hate. He’s one of those people who comes across as a jolly nice chap, the type of person you’d like to invite to a dinner party because you know he’s good for a tale or two. But on the flip side, he’s also the person you hate more than anything else, because, he’s one of those people who just happen to be good at everything. If they try something they can do it. Not in a boastful “oh I can play any instrument” or “I done anything you can think of already, and better than you” but in a “I physically have done these things and I physically can”. The brief introduction to Tim and his life story given at the start of this documentary are almost as encapsulating and interesting as the story that unfolds afterwards. Tim is a man who’s tried his hand and succeeded at so much in life, that he’s in the enviable position to be able to say “I’m going to spend 5 years off work proving my idea is capable of painting a Vermeer” and be able to follow it through. And yet, at no point do you even start to dislike, envy or hate Tim Jenison for being so successful in life that he’s in a position to make that decision.

Tim Jenison Playing Musical Instrument

As the story moves on from Tim starting the project, refining his idea and researching Vermeer into the construction of his experiment and the painting of the picture I found myself becoming more and more entertained, more and more amazed not only at the levels Tim was prepared to go to prove his theory but also, the natural skill Tim has. This was a hands on project, literally, and it’s scary just how talented Tim’s hands are!

As the documentary progresses and you get to see the painting develop from an idea to a finished piece, the overriding sense of amazement at the finished article gives way to a sense of repetitive possibilities. If Tim can do this why can’t I? Why can’t I paint my own Vermeer? Obviously, the lack of a multimillion dollar bank account, all that free time and the ability to turn my hand with apparent matured skill to all required tasks would prove stumbling blocks, but still, I am really tempted to try!

However, there is one complaint that I have with the documentary and Tim’s technique. It appears to change from the initial “you just paint till the colours match” to more of a free hand painting. The detail work he included in his Vermeer seems to be more reflective of straight freehand painting than the original tonal matching on which it is all based. And the documentary never makes point of this, almost glossing over, pretending it doesn’t change. It’s almost as if, to ensure the world doesn’t become full of Tom, Dick and Harry’s own Vermeer’s they’ve left out a few steps. They’ve intentionally, hidden a few tricks, and it’s left me feeling slightly cheated. Questioning if it was 100% honest and real.

Tim Jenison & Penn Jillette

Penn and Teller come from a world of magic and in the same way you are left questioning the trick, confused by even simple sleight of hand, you cannot help but be totally amazed by the almost impossible act that’s been made real in front of your eyes. Tim’s Vermeer has left me wish that exact same sense. I am looking for the wires, the mirror, the clue to the trick, because for some reason, however strong the argument, I still can’t quite believe it’s all real. I still really want to give it a go though!

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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