Blu-ray Review: “Tim’s Vermeer” Explores Artistic Mysteries of Dutch Master

One of art’s greatest mysteries is explored in Tim’s Vermeer (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 80 minutes, PG-13), an absorbing documentary about Texas based inventor Tim Jenison’s determined attempts to reveal how Johannes Vermeer created photo-realistic paintings before the advent of photography. By studying Vermeer’s environment and recreating his workspace and methodology, Jenison attempts to paint his own version of “The Music Lesson.” Does Jenison’s brush strokes effectively capture Vermeer’s masterwork, or does his experiment go down in flames?

Since the film is produced by Penn Jillette (who narrates the doc) and Teller (who’s also the doc’s director), Tim’s Vermeer may initially come across as a tale of an illusionist who’s trying to work some magic. Instead, the project centers on Jenison’s obsessive and workmanlike efforts to replicate the Dutch master’s creative universe and explain how Vermeer captured such vivid portraits of his environment.

Tim’s Vermeer – Penn Jillette, Tim Jenison (Sony Pictures Classics)
Tim’s Vermeer – Penn Jillette, Tim Jenison (Sony Pictures Classics)

Part of the charm behind Tim’s Vermeer lies in Jenison’s unassuming personality. Although he’s achieved success as an inventor, his investigation into Johannes Vermeer originates from a place of curiosity and eventual wonderment. Jenison’s ambition is to uncover the mystery behind Vermeer to show the artist’s innovative process. Even when he completes his version of “The Music Lesson,” Jenison continues to remain humble. “Vermeer obviously had a lot of talent with the brush, and I have none,” said the inventor during a deleted scene from the documentary.

The special features on the Tim’s Vermeer Blu-ray contains over 22 minutes worth of deleted scenes. Although the 80 minute documentary is first rate, the extra sequences are a must see. The deleted scenes include:

  1. A humorous Penn & Teller opening has the pair talking about Jack the Ripper while a prostitute’s corpse(played by Lesley Cox) is nearby. Penn Jillette explains the world’s fascination with murder mysteries and then adds that Tim’s Vermeer is a unique mystery of its own, even sans all the bloodletting. Tim Jenison is also featured at the end of the intro.
  2. Penn Jillette explains how a Brazilian steakhouse dinner with Tim Jenison led to the documentary’s genesis.
  3. Jenison explains to Penn how Vermeer may have painted “The Soldier and the Laughing Girl.”
  4. A must see deleted scene has Tim Jenison completing his final brush stroke for “The Music Lesson.”

If most of these 22 minutes were added to the original cut of Tim’s Vermeer, the documentary wouldn’t have solely focused on Jenison’s laser-focused mission. The extra scenes, however, are a total treat for Penn & Teller fans (especially the intro). Other special features include audio commentary (Penn, Teller, Jenison, and producer Farley Ziegler), and a Toronto Film Festival Q&A featuring Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, Teller, and Farley Ziegler.

The Toronto Film Festival Q&A, clocking in at a little over 21 minutes, is also worth watching, as Teller explains how he and Penn Jillette shaped the documentary into a more simple and streamlined narrative (Teller talks about the deleted intro during the Q&A).

During my interview with Jenison, he talked about a great piece of advice his father gave him in regards to following through on his goals. It’s real great advice, so check out the clip below to hear Jenison:

Tim’s Vermeer is now out on Blu-ray.

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