– by David Morgan-Brown
Coming from the magician/sceptic duo Penn and Teller (the former narrating and appearing as a talking head, the latter directing, both producing), there is a sense that something as incredible and as jaw-dropping as the subject matter of this documentary may end up being a hoax, utilising the now popular mockumentary formula to fool the audience a la Forgotten Silver, Exit through the Gift Shop, and I’m Still Here. Fictional docos masquerading as real seem to be quite the rage these days (especially with the surge of found-footage films now), yet a quick scan of the internet seems to confirm that this doco is for real and that the unbelievable task portrayed in it is to be believed.
Tim Jenison is a great technological entrepreneur, but he’s not a painter. That doesn’t stop him from trying to attempt to recreate Vermeer’s ‘The Music Lesson’, one of the most highly praised paintings of the realist style, using only technology that would’ve been accessed to Vermeer in his time (which means no modern paints, only natural lighting). With a variety of home-made tools and techniques, Tim sets out to this challenge that requires as much endurance and patience as it does talent and technique.
Documentaries are generally as good as their subjects, and Teller’s handling of the capturing and presenting of this ambitious project is appropriately understated, not much voiceover or quick editing or constant scene changes – its mostly just the progress of the task at hand set to a terrifically easy-listening soundtrack, and this works effectively at portraying this long, arduous, insane, yet incredibly impressive project.
Not a lot is said about the reasons behind Tim’s endeavour and although it would’ve been interesting to get various insights of what these people featured in the documentary thought of the objective of this accomplishment, I suppose the reasons are left up to each individual audience member. It could be a dramatised demonstration of how Vermeer was able to paint so realistically, it could be a huge waste of time and money, it could be to show how connected technology and art can be, or maybe it was accomplished and filmed just to impress people.
It could be said that this film seems tele-visual and that perhaps it doesn’t have a place at the cinemas. However, to see this on the biggest screen possible is essential, as you’d want to indulge in all the fine details of the various paintings shown throughout the doco, as well as Tim’s work-in-progress recreation. Tim’s Vermeer is essential viewing for not just all art enthusiasts to see at the cinema, but anyone in general as, like all good documentaries, this one makes its subject matter appealing on a universal level — to not be impressed by the undertaking and its portrayal in this film may mean you have a dead pulse.