Narrated by Penn, directed by Teller, "Tim's Vermeer" is about the efforts of inventor and software entrepreneur Tim Jenison to "crack the code" of Johannes Vermeer, beloved Old Master of limited output and boundless influence. As a portrait of soulless self-indulgence, the film is a masterpiece.
That is not, of course, this tedious documentary's intention. The aim is to show how Jenison, with seemingly unlimited time and money, sets out to prove that Vermeer not only employed the camera obscura, a primitive optical device, to bring a previously unknown degree of perspective to oil painting, but did it in conjunction with a set of mirrors by which he attained a photographic level of realism in his depiction of color and light. A painstaking process, to be sure, by which Jenison achieves something resembling Vermeer's "The Music Lesson" and Teller achieves a near-narcotic level of energy and excitement.
Artist David Hockney claimed years ago in his book "Secret Knowledge" that Vermeer used camera obscura, and it's amusing to speculate, as one might about Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford, about who did what and how and why. What's offensive about "Tim's Vermeer" (in addition to the cinematography) is Tim himself, a passion-free techie who believes that what seems magical about great art can be explained, and copied, and debunked, if one has an abundance of resources, and the smugness to spend it all proving oneself right. Ultimately, there's no reason to spend any time with Tim. Or, for that matter, his "Vermeer."
PLOT Rich guy shows us why Johannes Vermeer wasn't so great after all.
RATING PG-13 (some strong language)
CAST Tim Jenison, Penn Gillette, David Hockney, Colin Blakemore
BOTTOM LINE Self-satisfied movie about art, by people who seem immune to it.