Tim’s Vermeer

If you see this documentary, make sure it is in the afternoon. I hate to say it, but you are likely to fall asleep during an evening show.

Tim's VermeerTim’s Vermeer is a tedious documentary about genius. In a nutshell, it traces the five-year quest of inventor Tim Jenison to find out if the great 17th century painter Johann Vermeer was able to employ mechanical help to produce his exquisite art.

Hosted by Penn Jillette and directed by his comic partner Teller, you learn far more about Mr. Jenison than you do Vermeer. Given that the Dutch master left no written documentation of any kind reflecting his work, Mr. Jenison had to travel repeatedly to Europe to explore and analyze Vermeer’s ability to incorporate a wide range of sunlight in his paintings.

Mr. Jenison had never painted before, and he ended up creating a series of lenses and reflectors that were available in the 17th century. In doing so, he also reconstructed the entire content of a painting by Vermeer in a warehouse near his home in San Antonio, Texas. His goal was to see if he could personally duplicate Vermeer’s painting with the help of his discovery.

The documentary is at its best when Mr. Teller both explores Vermeer’s paintings as well as showing Jenison’s skill as an inventor. Nonetheless, that reward slowly but surely disappears as you are forced to watch Mr. Jenison in action.

The only way I can describe the tedium of this movie is to reflect on a moment when Jenison had one of his college-age daughters pose for days as a stand-in for a young woman appearing in Vermeer’s painting. In the attempt at producing humor, Mr. Jillette added that never has any college student been so anxious to end spring break and return to college.

Quite frankly, I felt exactly the same way sitting in the audience. While Vermeer only lasted one hour and 20 minutes, it seemed twice that long. Unfortunately, it would have made a great half-hour documentary on PBS.