Even before Michael Moore appeared on the scene with "Roger and Me," the documentary genre had been corrupted. Most of the documentaries I have seen since "Hoop Dreams" have been some form of propaganda where the filmmaker has an obvious agenda and circumstances "serendipitously" manifest or are edited together to make anyone opposed to the filmmaker's opinion appear to be a blathering idiot.
Thankfully most of these films are propaganda for the left and the people who Michael Moore and Errol Morris ensnare and skewer already exist in our minds as imbeciles so spending two hours and $13 to confirm something that we already suspected is rather enjoyable. I think of it as affinity grouping. I mean, I would not go to the theater to watch a documentary directed by Ted Nugent on how to hunt a baby doe with an assault rifle and I doubt that Monsieur Nugent would sit through "An Inconvenient Truth" unless it just happened to be playing in his trailer while he whittled arrows out of tiger femurs with his teeth or whatever he does when he is not publicly spewing racist epithets.
What an extraordinarily delightful surprise it was then to stumble upon "Tim's Vermeer" which was made with such egregious child-like wonder that mirrors its main subject, namely the obsessive mind of a curious, mad genius. Viewing this film is akin to watching Leonard Bernstein unwittingly discover Mahler's 11th symphony. For 350 years people have wondered why Vermeer's 34 paintings look so dramatically different from any other paintings; the soft and subtle textures of sunlight gently beaming through windows often onto lovely female faces. And now we can follow one man's intriguing five year odyssey as he attempts to re-create a Vermeer without knowing how to paint.
Tim Jenison's passion is infectious and accompanying him down this rabbit hole as he speaks to leading experts about his seemingly outlandish theories is illuminating. The boyish grin on David Hockney's weathered face when Tim shows him his invention is worth the price of admission alone. I recall thinking that "Hoop Dreams" was a masterpiece because although the lives of the two players unfold organically over many years, the film follows a perfect Hollywood narrative structure with wonderful character arcs and unexpected twists. Similarly, in "Tim's Vermeer" the brilliant music and editing delicately guide us along a path as if we are accompanying Dorothy down the yellow brick road. It's really quite magical to share so many "aha" moments with Tim and his fool, played here by the mocking narrator, Penn Jillette.
The final reveal - Tim noticing an inexplicable curvature in the seahorse pattern on the virginal of "The Music Lesson" - unequivocally proves that one of the most revered painters of Western civilization in fact DID NOT "paint," but rather traced shades of light radiating through lens and mirrors to capture hues and flavors that are unseeable and even unimaginable to other painters.
Critics have taken umbrage that Mister Jenison spent an exorbitant amount of money re-creating Vermeer's room and lens; I would assume those critics would also reprimand John F. Kennedy for spending so much money to send men to the moon. "Tim's Vermeer" is an impeccable film encapsulating a man's love of beauty and his search for truth. While most other painters apprentice for years and years, and leave books and books of sketches and designs, Tim Jenison allows us to discover why Vermeer's luscious, etherial re-creations are more like photographs than anything painted by anyone else in the 1600s or for hundreds of years thereafter.
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