Tim’s Vermeer (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

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Tim’s Vermeer winds up being one of those movies that makes you want to run out and do something.

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Tim’s Vermeer is one of those documentaries that sounds kind of boring on the surface—it’s about an inventor who thinks he can recreate a Vermeer painting with the aid of inventions and without the skill of an artist—but in actuality is a huge crowd-pleaser that I’d expect just about anyone who sees it to admire. Not just that it’s interesting, or that you’ll learn a lot from it, or whatever else you expect of documentaries; it’s that it’s a lot of fun to watch, and pretty literally feels like you’re watching some kind of magic show during the film’s scant 80-minute runtime.

The magic analogy winds up being apt, because beyond the fantastical tone of the story Tim’s Vermeer tells, the film was directed by Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, and Penn Jillette (of whom I’m not really a fan, for what that’s worth) spends a decent amount of time on screen as an interviewee. The title character Tim, though, is Tim Jenison, who founded the technology company NewTek in 1985, which company made him a bunch of money, which money allowed Tim to follow his fancy wherever it led him. And it leads him all over the place—Jenison is a restless, curious, creative person, and he’s always fiddling with stuff to see how it works, or trying to invent new or better things, or what have you. (He’s also very funny.)

The particular obsession of Jenison’s that Tim’s Vermeer follows is his fascination with the paintings of Johannes Vermeer (“Girl With a Pearl Earring”), who about 350 years ago was making photorealistic paintings, some two centuries before photography was invented. How did he do that? Jenison has some theories, and he sets out to see if he can recreate a Vermeer painting with the aid of his inventions (which inventions could have potentially been at Vermeer’s disposal when he was doing his work), regardless of the fact that Tim Jenison himself has no natural talent at painting.

While it might sound like this film runs the risk of forever ruining your enjoyment of Vermeer’s paintings, like how watching Food, Inc. can put you off of meat for a while, it’s actually quite the opposite; it at once raises my appreciation for Vermeer’s work, as well as fascinates me with the work that Jenison is doing. Tim’s Vermeer winds up being one of those movies that makes you want to run out and do something—make your own art, invent your own inventions, anything but waste your night farting around online. And really, that kind of inspiration is unfortunately rare; to have it bottled in a movie like this should be welcome to just about any audience. | Pete Timmermann

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