Natalie Jenison
Owen Gleiberman
February 11, 2014 AT 05:00 AM EST

Tim's Vermeer

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
Unrated
runtime
80 minutes
Limited Release Date
12/06/13
director
Teller
distributor
Sony Pictures Classics
genre
Documentary

We gave it an A

Tim’s Vermeer is an exquisitely fun documentary that hits on a profound aesthetic question, one first posed in 2001 by David Hockney: Did the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer use optical devices to achieve his visual poetics of light? Tim Jenison, a San Antonio video engineer, grows obsessed with knowing the answer. And so, in Penn and Teller’s sly magic act of a movie (Penn narrates, Teller directs), Jenison attempts to re-create Vermeer’s 1662 masterpiece The Music Lesson. He builds, by hand, almost every object in the painting (floor tile, carved harpsichord), and that’s before he gets to the herculean task of using a homemade camera obscura and mirror to fill in what is basically the ultimate paint-by-numbers diagram. (How madly meticulous is the work? Jenison paints the stitching of the tablecloth.) And damned if he doesn’t reveal the secret science of how Vermeer pulled it off. But does all this render Vermeer’s art inferior to what we thought it was? On the contrary: Unmasking art history’s greatest trick only adds to its wonder. A

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