Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tim’s Vermeer

The film Tim's Vermeer, directed by Teller of Penn & Teller, documents what might be the ultimate DIY project. Tim Jenison, developer of the Video Toaster, an early video editing application for desktop computers, is obsessed with the 17th century Dutch painter Vermeer. The film follows him as he sets out to paint his own version of The Music Lesson, attempting to recreate Vermeer's photorealistic effects. Mr. Jenison is a talented tinkerer but not a painter. Inspired by the research of architect Philip Steadman & artist David Hockney, both of whom appear in the film, he devises an ingenious system of lenses & mirrors to guide his brush strokes. The preview audience I sat with gasped when it watched him use the technique to paint a copy of a black and white photograph with astonishing fidelity. There are many such “Wow” moments.

With unflappable calmness & grit, Mr. Jenison constructs an exact replica of the room depicted in the painting, builds his own furniture, learns to read Dutch, makes his own lenses & even grinds his own pigments. The final third of the film captures his painstakingly slow but steady progress as he fills in the painting over a period of months. Even though we are basically watching paint dry, the sequence is captivating.

The film’s dreamy, contemporary score by Conrad Pope figures prominently, but I initially mistook a track with a busy violin solo as the “Dogjam” movement from John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams. The best musical moment, though, occurs when Mr. Jenison receives a viola da gamba as a prop for the painting & immediately puts it between his legs & plays "Smoke on the Water.”

Tim’s Vermeer opens in San Francisco on February 14th & around the Bay Area on February 21st.

§ Tim’s Vermeer
A Penn & Teller Film
Teller, dir. USA. 80 mins.

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