‘Tim’s Vermeer,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


Penn and Teller’s “Tim’s Vermeer” is like a cinematic magic trick, one that unveils itself over the course of roughly 90 minutes – and encompasses the years it took Tim Jenison to work the illusion.

Except it’s not an illusion.

Jenison is an inventor who made his fortune creating software and hardware that are the foundation of much video editing and computer-generated effects that are standard today. A self-taught musician and mechanic with a singular digital vision, Jenison is friends with the team of Penn Jillette and Teller, who were fascinated by Jenison’s notion of trying to reproduce a Johannes Vermeer painting.

Jenison had read various scholarly works that posited that the leap in the quality of imagery in Dutch master painters of the 16th century had to have been aided by optics: lenses, mirrors and the like. Jenison set out to prove that Vermeer and his contemporaries must have used a camera obscura or something similar to make the leap to the kind of photorealism that distinguished their painting from generations before.

Teller is the director and Jillette is the producer and narrator but it’s obviously a team effort, as they show Jenison demonstrating a simple mirrored device he created to copy images using only oil paint and brushes. It’s a surprisingly uncomplicated little invention – and even someone who has no clue about being a painter (like Jenison) is able to create a startlingly accurate copy (of a black and white photograph, then of an actual still-life image) with just patience, persistence and time.

Then the real task begins: Jenison decides to paint Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” and sets the bar high.

This review continues on my website.

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