Tim’s Vermeer *** (out of five)
The concept of Teller’s eighty minute documentary Tim’s Vermeer is simplicity itself: a man (Tim Jenison) sets out to prove a theory of how the Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer achieved his particular – spectacularly beautiful, phenomenally “lit” – style of painting. But what it turns out to actually be about is Tim Jenison, and what it means to be a member of the new (techno) rich in the United States of the 21st Century.
Jenison made his (obviously many) millions in the early tech boom, founding a company that has been involved with video games, 3D imaging, live broadcasting, and any number of technical innovations servicing the needs of those insatiable beasts. He is a “man of leisure”, or he could be. Instead, he devoted around four years of his life painstakingly creating the conditions to test his theory.
About half of this film is spent watching him undertake the most laborious aspect of this experiment, which is to say, watching him paint. As you can imagine, this is slow going, and is not helped by an amazingly repetitive musical score, which is, in a display of terrible directorial judgement, constantly repeated. If repeating something inherently repetitive is designed to infuse us with a sense of the painstakingly slow and arduous nature of what Tim is doing with paintbrush and canvas, it works thematically, but is death dramatically.
Nevertheless, the experiment itself has merit, Tim is an amiable (though far from fascinating) subject, and it is indeed intriguing to see someone who could do anything do this every day for four years – in a converted shed in Texas – when they could, for example, live in the great cities of Europe. Thank goodness he himself admits occasionally finding the going a bit monotonous, or this may well have been a portrait of a mad man, rather than simply an obsessed one.