I felt very lucky to get to watch a prescreening of Penn and Teller’s new documentary, Tim’s Vermeer. It is absolutely fantastic and when it releases next year, I highly recommend anyone with even a modicum of interest in art watch it. It will literally revolutionize and force you to rethink everything you thought you knew about art. I’ve always been amazed when I’ve seen paintings by older painters like Vermeer and Caravaggio. Who doesn’t look at the paintings of Johannes Vermeer and be in awe at how photorealistic they seem? His Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of the most haunting/famous portraits in history and looks like a photograph/ snapshot of the past. In this documentary, Inventor Tim Jenison invents or “rediscovers” a series of optical tools painters in the past could have used to create their works of art. Upon his initial discovery, Jenison, who’s clearly a genius but couldn’t draw better than stick figures, paints a photo that is incredibly realistic using his machine. In fact, it looks like a Vermeer. The voyage and the journey are amazing to follow as Jenison sets out to authentically recreate an actual Vermeer painting, The Music Lesson.
I’ve always been a big fan of Penn and Teller including their TV show, BS, as well as their live show (in which we got to meet the two). As always, Penn’s narrative flows smoothly, Teller does a great job as director showing us multiple perspectives (including talking with a human eye specialist and other skeptics). The two specialize in showing audiences magic tricks and then dispelling them by revealing how it was done. In this case, the magic tricks are those amazing paintings and they reveal how it was done through Jenison’s amazing, and some might say obsessive (though I say passionate) devotion. It’s a very short documentary at about 80 minutes but by the end of the film, you will be forced to re-examine everything you thought you knew about art. At the same time, what I liked even more is that you don’t end up with a response like, “that’s bullshit!” Instead, a sense of awe that art and technical skills could go seamlessly hand in hand to create something so amazing and beautiful.