Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
12:00 AM CST, February 13, 2014
**1/2 (out of four)
Can a movie be both fascinating and extremely boring? It can when it’s “Tim Vermeer,” a documentary directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller) about one guy’s attempts to replicate a painting by 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. As everyone knows about Vermeer—wait, never mind. I knew nothing about the guy. He’s apparently regarded as one of the greats, particularly in his ability to incorporate light without first sketching outlines.
That’s why inventor Tim Jenison, an old pal of Penn Jillette’s with time and money to spare, wants to explore the possibility that Vermeer used optical trickery. Jenison plans to apply this theory to see if he can re-create the legend’s famous “The Music Lesson,” currently housed in Buckingham Palace. So with a focus as narrow as his subject’s, Teller watches as Jenison experiments with projections and mirrors and demonstrates that an oil painting novice can in fact mimic the work of a master.
First, I still don’t believe that anyone (pointing at myself here), as Jenison claims, could do this. Second, no matter how intriguing you find the concept of “Tim’s Vermeer,” eventually you’re just watching a guy paint. Even Jenison complains that his project has grown tedious, at which most viewers will yell at the screen, “How do you think I feel?” Jenison talks to a few artists and scholars, but Teller refuses to zoom out into a thorough discussion of the intersection of art and technology. Rather, numerous folks note that Vermeer’s possible technique doesn’t count as cheating because it’s still really hard, so the whole endeavor starts to feel more stunt-like than analytical.
What did Jenison sacrifice to spend about five years on this effort? Does he still think this should be a movie when he comments, “This project is a lot like watching paint dry”? Though “Tim’s Vermeer” works slightly better than last week’s art-appreciation tale “The Monuments Men,” I still found my eyes glazing over as my brain drowsily argued, “Stay with me here.”
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