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Tim’s Vermeer: Something different from Penn and Teller

by Mark Burger

Since Tim’s Vermeer was produced by Penn Jillette and directed by his long-time performing partner Teller, one perhaps can’t help but wonder if what’s being presented onscreen isn’t some sort of put-on.

After all, that’s what Penn and Teller are known for.

However, this quirky and lightly appealing documentary, which marks the feature directorial debut of Teller, is essentially a straightforward and (relatively) straightfaced portrait – no pun intended – of Penn and Teller’s longtime friend, hi-tech wiz Tim Jenison and his obsession with the works of the 17 th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer – specifically his long-theorized used of optics to create his greatest works. In short, he wasn’t painting from memory, he was replicating imagery he’d captured.

“This project is kind of like watching paint dry,” someone quips, and for those viewers unfamiliar or unconcerned with Vermeer’s legacy that quote may be a valid observation. (It’s also a great line from the 1975 mystery Night Moves referring to the films of Eric Rohmer, and ironically enough Night Moves director Arthur Penn later made the 1989 big-screen bomb Penn and Teller Get Killed.)

This is a film with specialized (even marginalized) appeal, although hardly unsuccessful on its own terms. To what degree audiences share in the filmmakers’ fascination with Jenison’s quest will undoubtedly determine how compelling and entertaining they’ll find the film.

Tim’s Vermeer is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture cinema in Winston-Salem. !

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