Title: Tim’s Vermeer
Language: English, Dutch
Genre: Documentary, History
Writers: Penn & Teller
Music: Conrad Pope
Cinematography: Shane F. Kelly
This USA comedy/magic duo Penn & Teller’s passion project is an intriguing documentary attempts to reappraisal the fine line between an artist and an artisan, through Tim Jenison, a successful American inventor, engineer, but an amateur of painting, who pulls his back into precisely duplicating Dutch Golden Age luminary Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece THE MUSIC ROOM with the help of a simple optic gizmo which he believes Vermeer also secretly utilized, or at least in a similar way in his creation.
Vermeer was perversely cagey about his painting technique, there is no extant documents where one can sieve through to find any evidence, the only stratagem is from his oeuvres, mostly depicting domestic interior scenes, as the watchword of the film is “every paint is a document of its own”. So Tom’s hypothesis, which also bolstered by books such as British artist David Hockney’s SECRET KNOWLEDGE and VERMEER’S CAMERA written by British architecture professor Philip Steadman, is bold and contentious, if he successes in producing a Vermeer-calibre painting through his experiment, does it debase Vermeer from a masterful artist who is celebrated for his divine treatment of light and capturing a beguiling verisimilitude of reality, to a mere inventor who laboriously but accurately duplicating real-life image onto the canvas thanks to an ingenious gadget borne out of a scientific discovery? Maybe, the art firmament itself has been longly misjudged as this venerable, superior godsend reflecting human’s uttermost self-importance has been proverbially and obstinately holds a dismissive slant towards the progress of modern science, where subjectivity always trumps objectivity.
The film is conventionally arranged in a simple and linear narrative centers on Tim’s painstaking process, spanning over 5 years, from the exhaustive preparation of the paraphernalia which should be exclusively limited within 17th century’s knowledgeability, to the reproduce of the entire tableaux exactly like that in THE MUSIC ROOM, until his four-month-long endeavor to create his own Vermeer, certain longueur is inevitable, since his technique is plainly a one-trick-pony and extremely time-consuming (plus, none too many galvanizing vignettes are included), but Conrad Pope’s soothing score always comes timely to diffuse the lurking fatigue.
When Tim finally finishes his work, circumscribed by film’s inherent attribute, audience doesn’t have the access to make the judgement by one’s own eyes through the screen, so it is somewhat a bit disappointing, the film doesn’t include the appraisal from a more canonical collective of voices apart from Steadman and Hockney, nevertheless, it surely tallies with the fact that Vermeer’s output is not as prolific as others, by this method, he could maximally produce 3 pieces a year.
Due to the fact that any concrete proof is simply not available, this documentary cannot make Tim’s viewpoint indisputable, although, in the eye of an art layman, it is remarkably persuasive, or maybe that is not the whole point at all, after all, it is Tim’s strenuous perseverance, questioning inclination, scrutinising method and can-do attitude feels more affecting and encouraging in the end of the story.