Despite Jillette’s bombastic voice, and their occasionally strident atheism, it’s hard for me not to like Penn & Teller. I think they are basically good classical liberals with a live-and-let-live philosophy, who are genuinely concerned about the truth.
I mention this because, if you have any kind of P&T baggage, you shouldn’t let it deter you from seeing their new movie, Tim’s Vermeer (directed by Teller and narrated by Penn).
This is a joyous celebration of life, art, and genius. It’s inspirational, compelling, and, at 80 minutes long, manages to avoid PDS (padded documentary syndrome).
It’s a simple story: Fabulously wealthy Tim Jenison has spent his life inventing wild and wacky things, when he’s not inventing industry-defining A/V software that makes him fabulously wealthy.
Well, Tim’s got it in his had that the Dutch master Vermeer was a technologist, too. And, in fact, that he used a special gizmo to get the shadings of light he got in his paintings—shadings which no other painter of the day achieved.
Having established his premise and devised a hypothetical tool, Tim (who has never painted in his life) uses it as a proof-of-concept, painting a simple image of a vase. He shows his tool to other artists like Martin Mull (!) and David Hockney, and all agree that he’s on to something.
So Tim (not a painter, remember) gets the idea to paint Vermeer’s The Music Room to really demonstrate the worthiness of his idea.
The catch is, he wants to (has to, you could argue) do the whole thing using only the technology available to Vermeer, and recreate all the elements of the music room to boot.
This takes years.
Then, when he’s done that, he’s actually got to do the painting.
I have a bias here, of course: Obsession is favorite topic of mine. (I like being obsessed, too.) I sent my mom to see it (she tackles all kinds of projects) and she also found it inspirational.
It’s just so much fun.
Also, while I generally don’t pine for wealth, I do occasionally become aware of a story that makes me think, “Yeah, that’s a good amount of money to have.” This is one of those stories, since Tim and Penn and Co. all jet off to England and Holland, or wherever they need to whenever. Tim buys all kinds of hardware and generally doesn’t let anything (least of all money) get in his way.
(By the way, my favorite “good amount of money” story is George Harrison listening to Erik Idle talk about the uncompleted Life of Brian, and Harrison funding it because it sounded like a good movie and he wanted to see it. Harrison of course went on to fund Handmade Films, which was credited with revitalizing British cinema.)
One of the best documentaries in years.