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Blu-ray Review: Tim’s Vermeer

June 10, 2014

Tim's Vermeer Blu-ray

Tim’s Vermeer – A Sony Pictures Classics Release
Blu-ray Release Date: June 10th, 2014
Rated PG for language
Running time: 80 minutes

Teller (dir.)

Conrad Pope (music)

Tim Jenison as Himself
Penn Jillette as Himself
Philip Steadman as Himself
David Hockney as Himself

Our reviews below:


Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray Review By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

The experience of watching art come alive is magical in Tim’s Vermeer, an enchanting and entertaining doc from Penn & Teller.  After being introduced to the subject through a book, inventor Tim Jenison became obsessed with proving the controversial theory that the paintings of Johannes Vermeer were created with the help of real images projected through a series of lenses, rather than from the artist’s own imagination.

His journey involves creating an accurate version of the room that the Dutch master would have used during the 17th century, and attempting to create his own version of the famous painting The Music Lesson.  I wouldn’t think of spoiling the results, which are astonishing to watch unfold as questions of how we define what constitutes art are frequently brought to the forefront.  The magician duo of Penn & Teller is the perfect pair to bring the subject of Tim’s Vermeer to the screen, delivering a triumphant documentary that fascinates and plays well with a crowd.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track, deleted and extended scenes, as well as footage of the Q&A from the Toronto International Film Festival premiere.


Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray Review By Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

I first saw this documentary at TIFF last year.  Watching it again, I was just as amazed at the techniques the film shows, and the commentary on what it means to create art.  Tim’s Vermeer follows Tim Jenison as he tries to recreate Vermeer’s painting The Music Lesson.  A computer graphics specialist, Tim for years had a “sub-obsession” on Vermeer and how he may have created his paintings.  At first exploring camera obscura as a possible technique Vermeer may have used, he instead comes up with a device that utilizes a lens and mirror that allows an individual to copy what is in front of them exactly – in particular, an accurate representation of colours and lighting.

This is what is remarkable about Vermeer’s paintings – the lighting that is captured.  And this is what drew Tim to the idea that Vermeer used a device like he created.  In order to set out and prove whether it was likely that Vermeer did use a similar device (which is made from only things that would have been available in the 1600s), Tim recreates the room from The Music Lesson and sets out to make his own Vermeer.

While some may consider the idea that Vermeer used other devices to aid in the creation of his paintings to be ludicrous or demeaning to the art world, as an artist, I consider it to rather be an extension of art to use creative measures to solve problems.  In fact, in history, inventors and artists were more intertwined than ever.  In Vermeer’s time, inventions with lenses and mirrors were being explored by many (telescopes were new at the time), and the use of aids does not negate artistic integrity.  There are many ways to create art, all the way from freeform sketching to capturing images with a camera – and no matter what, the composition and the drive to capture it is what belongs to the artist.  The extent Tim goes to test his theory is very thorough as well.

Tim’s Vermeer, a film by Penn & Teller, is entertaining, informative, and engaging from start to finish.  It is a documentary that can easily be watched more than once, and leaves you with an urge to test some of the techniques yourself.


Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray Review By Nicole

**** (out of 4)

How did Johannes Vermeer capture such realistic scenes?  Tim Jenison, a computer graphics specialist, is fascinated by Vermeer and wishes to find out his secret to photorealistic art.  Tim embarks on a journey to Holland and England, to visit Vermeer’s Dutch homeland and meet with European art experts.  But where the real discoveries come in is through science.

It has long been speculated that Vermeer used a camera obscura, or dark room, with a lens.  But a camera obscura doesn’t give the depth of colour in a Vermeer painting.  However, there is a mirror trick that does, and Tim Jenison develops a painstaking and gruelling, yet fascinating experiment to turn the mirror hypothesis into a very plausible theory.

If Vermeer used this method, that did not make him a cheat.  I am a fine artist, but I know several photographers, and they are as legitimate as other artists or sculptors.  The composition and use of lighting and colour is still the artist’s own creativity and copyright, no matter what the visual art form.

Whether Vermeer painted freehand or was a painter-photographer didn’t really matter in terms of creativity, but understanding his technique is an important and fascinating look at the history of technology and its role in the arts.


Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray Review By Maureen

**** (out of 4)

Tim Jenison is a man on a mission.  As a computer graphics specialist and inventor, he is always thinking visually.  The question that has always stuck in his mind is, how did Dutch master Johannes Vermeer get his paintings to look so photorealistic?  When Tim shared his thoughts with his good friend Penn Jillette, the magician pair of Penn and Teller knew they were on to something interesting.  And so, the fascinating documentary Tim’s Vermeer was born.

Penn and Teller follow Tim Jenison to Holland and England as he sets out to faithfully recreate one of Vermeer’s famous paintings, The Music Lesson, using techniques that Jenison suspects Vermeer likely used.  With the help of art historians, artists and his own skill as an inventor and visual artist, Jenison builds a mockup of the room Vermeer would have painted in and then sets out to patiently begin the process of painting a Vermeer.

Tim’s Vermeer is fascinating.  Watching how Tim Jenison goes about trying to solve the mystery of how the paintings were done is amazing.  Jenison is absolutely driven when it comes to figuring things out, and you have to wonder if Vermeer went through a similar process.  The cinematography is striking.  The detail and descriptions of the techniques used are always clear and easy for even non-experts to follow, and the visuals are backed by a lovely score by Conrad Pope.

Tim’s Vermeer is a must see for art history students or art students in general.  Tim Jenison’s theories are controversial in some art circles, and that makes Tim’s Vermeer all the more fascinating.


Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray Review By Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary from Penn & Teller about the replication of the 17th century Dutch artist’s painting The Music Lesson.  A very successful inventor and founder of a computer graphics firm but not a trained artist, Tim Jenison set out to prove that the photorealism of Vermeer’s work was only possible with the aid of projection using lenses and mirrors. During Vermeer’s lifetime, the Netherlands was the centre of innovation in lenses for spectacles, telescopes and microscopes, and even the philosopher Baruch Spinoza made his living there as a lens grinder. Though this optical theory was controversial, it was supported by experts including the British academic Philip Steadman and artist David Hockney.

In a San Antonio TX workshop, Jenison built a replica of the scene of the painting and set up a lens and mirrors to allow him to paint exactly what he saw superimposed on the canvas. With cameras set up around the studio, 2400 hours was recorded for the 80 minute film. The result is very satisfying in many ways, not only for the final outcome but the painstaking process over some five years to reach it, all accompanied by a beautiful neo-classical score from Conrad Pope featuring strings, a flute and harp.

Consensus: Brought to the screen by the magician duo of Penn and Teller, Tim’s Vermeer is a fascinating and entertaining documentary about the role that technology plays in art, with enchanting and satisfying results. **** (out of 4)

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