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Friday, 07 March 2014 00:00

'Tim's Vermeer' captivates with its recreation of a Vermeer + Video

'Tim's Vermeer' captivates with its recreation of a Vermeer
Written by Diane Carson
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Eleven years ago, Teller, of the celebrated team of Penn and Teller, read David Hockney's book "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters." He became curious about 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. As Teller describes it, Vermeer's "inhumanly good" work "pops out at you from across the room," so extraordinary is the light and color depicted.

It is, as Teller told Charlie Rose in an interview, impossible verisimilitude because it's not the way our human eye sees, so nuanced and subtle are the gradations of light and color. Discussing all this at a dinner with computer graphics designer/inventor Tim Jenison, the die was cast for a five-year project. Tim decided he had to pursue the idea that Vermeer used a camera obscura or some optical tool that allowed him to mirror photography in his paintings.

They selected Vermeer's "The Music Lesson," and Tim built an exact replica of the room Vermeer painted. Mind you, Tim had never attempted an oil painting in his life, but that did not deter him. Using his own mirror contraption that he explains in the film, Tim took brush in hand and began the painstaking, delicate process of trying to reproduce Vermeer's work. We sample his herculean, 130-day effort in the documentary "Tim's Vermeer."

Tim Jenison was not the first person who theorized that Vermeer may have used an apparatus like a camera obscura, familiar to artists of the 17th century. Professor Philip Steadman's 2001 book Vermeer's Camera explores this idea, but Jenison takes it much further--to test it in excruciating detail. Steadman, Hockney, painter/actor Martin Mull, and Penn Jillette appear on camera to discuss the idea. Teller stays behind the scenes as director, and does a fine job of moving the story along with suspense at numerous turns.

Originally called "Vermeer's Edge," as the production of the film and the reproduction of the painting progressed, Tim's obsession took over as the focus, and he presents a fine, inquisitive mind. Anyone who loves any kind of art will find this investigation and the recreation of a Vermeer totally captivating. At a Landmark Theatre.

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