Tim’s Vermeer seems to have been constructed like a historical document, albeit an engaging and funny one. It follows Tim Jenison’s eight-year exploration of the hypothesis that Johannes Vermeer, painter of The Girl With the Pearl Earring, used an optical device in order to paint with such remarkable detail. Jenison wondered if this was the case, couldn’t Vermeer’s works be replicated? For 80 minutes, we watch Jenison go through an incredibly thorough process of developing his own version of a Vermeer painting using his astounding background of skills and resources coupled with an envy-inducing ability to learn new talents at will.
Much to my disappointment, the film is more interested in showing the evidence to prove Jenison’s discovery than explore the ideas that his discovery provokes. Tim’s Vermeer presumes to ask the question, is the separation between technology and art false? Or in other words, is it better for an artist to paint straight from their mind or to use technology to aid in accomplishing the goal of re-creating that imagination? Ultimately, the film merely asks this question out loud while documenting Jenison’s accomplishments, it doesn’t explore the ideas and their implications.
As a result of the decision to focus on historical accuracy rather than artistic exploration, the film becomes a bit shallow. The facts this film presents are quite intriguing but you should expect to do the analysis on your own. Much of the entertainment of Tim’s Vermeer comes from its makers, famed duo Penn and Teller. Penn narrates and Teller directs. The result is an entertaining but limited documentary.