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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shining new light on Vermeer, literally... great documentary!
"Tim's Vermeer" (2013 release; 80 min.) brings the story of Tim Jenison, an inventor who has amassed a small fortune over his life time and now has become fascinated (obsessed may be the better word) with the 17th century Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer. Tim examines in particular Vermeer's painting "The Music Lesson", which has an astonishing amount...
Published 11 months ago by Paul Allaer

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not convincing
Tim's device is incredibly ingenious and it is amazing that he could produce what he did using the device, given his lack of talent or training in the field. However, to suggest that the finished result comes anywhere close to a Vermeer is nonsense and this film avoids using the the opinions of 'experts' who may disagree with Jenison's theory. I would imagine this would...
Published 7 months ago by Compans


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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shining new light on Vermeer, literally... great documentary!, March 6, 2014
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer (DVD)
"Tim's Vermeer" (2013 release; 80 min.) brings the story of Tim Jenison, an inventor who has amassed a small fortune over his life time and now has become fascinated (obsessed may be the better word) with the 17th century Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer. Tim examines in particular Vermeer's painting "The Music Lesson", which has an astonishing amount of details in it. Tim eventually comes to the conclusion that Vermeer used a variety of optical devices (mirrors, camera obscura, lenses), and to test his theory, he decides to recreate "The Music Lesson" from scratch, even though he is not a skilled painter by any means. To tell you more would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: first, this documentary is made (and narrated) by Penn, he of Penn & Teller. Turns out that Penn and Tim have known each other for many years, and it's easy to see why this particular topic would have peaked Penn's interest enough to make it into a documentary. Second, the feeling of the documentary is pretty much one of a crime caper, in that we get to find out in detail how Tim goes about testing his various theories and his recreation of "The Music Lesson". Third, if you don't care for art, in particular painting, save yourself the trouble and catch another movie, as obviously the entire 'raison d'être' of the documentary is the making of a painting. At some point during his recreation of the painting, Tim gives an exhausted look towards the camera and sighs "it's like watching paint dry", much to the delight of the theater's crowd, which exploded in laughter. Last but not least, there is a nice soundtrack to this movie, composed by Conrad Pope and I've made a mental note to myself to check that out as well. (Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" plays over the documentary's closing credits, an obvious but nice choice.)

I saw this documentary recently at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC, and the early evening screening I saw this at was absolutely PACKED, which I think is great news. Facts always trump fiction, reason why I love a good documentary more than anything. If you are interested in art and you marvel at how Vermeer might've created some of his best work, you will absolutely love this. "Tim's Vermeer" is absolutely worth checking out, be it in the theater or on DVD. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible presentation, April 29, 2014
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Tim just joined the ranks of David Hockney and Philip Steadman in pi$$ing off the Old Master art snobs, as you might see in other reviews here. Incidentally, he consulted with both of those scholars and, while nothing is absolutely proven, he managed to convince each that his optical gadget is at least as believable as Hockney's camera lucida or Steadman's camera obscura.

It's quite amazing that Tim Jenison had not only the idea about Vermeer's possible optical aids, but the means and the time to create such a convincing demonstration. He started by knocking a wall out of his warehouse workspace, and painstakingly reconstructed the room of "Music lesson." Working at various times with live models, this complete tyro to painting created a remarkable replica of that great work, documented in detail in videos that eventually made up this presentation.

It wasn't just the demonstration, plus the demonstration that others could use his method equally well, that supported Tim's ideas. Given the endless time he spent staring at original Vermeers as well as at the scene in his own studio, he noted things like chromatic aberration, a common defect of lenses back then, captured in the original paintings. A true artist (if that phrase actually means much) might have "fixed" such things. A purely literal reproduction, like the one Jenison proposed, would simply record it along with everything else. Then, his own experiments with cameras obscura showed that, although they could help in capturing the lines and shapes of an image, they'd be nearly useless for color reproduction as faithful as Vermeer's. Also, Tim's process help's explain how Vermeer, almost uniquely among the Old Masters, could go directly to color without an underpainting to define the lights and darks. Again, nothing about Vermeer's process is totally proven, but such support makes Tim's remarkable claims even more credible.

Whether or not Vermeer in fact used a gadget like Tim's, this offers a very coherent theory, backed by thorough experimentation. And, for what it's worth, Jenison spent about five years on this project - a period comparable to the time many PhDs need for completing their research. He certainly made a contribution at least the equal of many dissertations.

-- wiredweird, reviewing the release to theaters
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You'll likely see this film only once..., June 29, 2014
By 
Robert L. Berkowitz (Natick, MA United States) - See all my reviews
...because once the secret behind a magic trick is revealed, there really is little need to see the trick again. Upon seeing it, you will understand immediately why a magician like Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) would take an interest in producing and directing a film about Vermeer, the Dutch Master, whose paintings far exceed in realism those of his contemporaries. Of course, the film is just as much about Tim Jenison -- a name unknown to me prior to seeing this film -- whose genius is quite astounding. That Tim and Penn have been lifelong friends -- a fact one learns early in the film -- makes perfect sense because Tim's genius is like that of a great magician. Inspired by the David Hockney book "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Technique of the Old Masters", Tim came to believe that there was some "trick" at the heart of the genius of Vermeer -- the kind of trick that is at the heart of much good magic. I am trying to not give away what the trick is, because that would be a spoiler for this film.

The film is hugely thought provoking. I, for one, am entirely convinced that Tim Jenison has discovered the secret of Vermeer, and that leaves me with a mix of feelings. I cannot look at Vermeer in the same way. If Tim Jenison is correct, then Vermeer's genius is that of a magician. Like all great magicians, he guarded his secret so that none of his contemporaries knew how he did what he did, and it took another magician to uncover the secret 350 years later. One gets the sense that both Penn Jillette and Tim Jenison want you to come away still regarding Vermeer with what wonder and affection you brought to his work initially. Their dilemma is that of the magician: If he reveals the trick to you, you are edified but no longer enchanted. Wonder and Naivety give way to Cynicism and Maturity. Despite their protestations, it cannot be otherwise. Magicians guard their secrets for good reason: They know that a part of you really _doesn't_ want to know how the trick is done.

"It's just a trick" is the response that is the bane of the magician's existence. The problem in that phrase is the word "just". There is awe and splendor galore in the technology that makes magic possible. If we think about it, the iPhone is an astoundingly magical device, and it would have seemed as such to anyone who would have been able to view it before its time as recently as 25 years ago. But we tend to celebrate such achievements differently than we do those of an artist. Penn and Tim want us to reconsider that distinction. After all, those in the vanguard of the Enlightenment made achievements in both the Arts and Sciences -- Leonardo Da Vinci comes to mind. These disciplines were integrated within each of these great individuals, so why do we tend to separate them? They have a point, and yet....

The questions with which I am left are these: 1) What distinguishes great art from great craft?, and 2) Was Vermeer a great artist or something else? Watch this film to engage these questions, and you will be forever rewarded.

Highly recommended.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not convincing, July 1, 2014
Tim's device is incredibly ingenious and it is amazing that he could produce what he did using the device, given his lack of talent or training in the field. However, to suggest that the finished result comes anywhere close to a Vermeer is nonsense and this film avoids using the the opinions of 'experts' who may disagree with Jenison's theory. I would imagine this would appeal to anyone who knows little about art history or art making, as the premise that Vermeer is somehow a one off in art history, simply isn't true. And what of the realist artists who came after him and, not only documented their practices but taught others? Dozens of 19th century Salon artists, orientalists, later photo-realists etc. They were schooled in the 17th Century Dutch tradition and in many cases, their work was equally detailed. To suggest that Vermeer's technique is somehow inhuman (as the film did while talking of the 'camera-like' light in the original) is like suggesting that Einstien secretly used a pocket calculator. Vermeer WAS that talented and, more importantly, had an intellectual training that enabled him to realize what he was seeing. Years and years of drawing from the cast, from life, leaning how to realize form in pencil, charcoal and eventually in paint. A training, a journey. The people in Mr Jenison's painting have no form - a common trait to projected drawing. There is no paint quality whatsoever, nor use of brush stroke to describe form. The painting is also devoid of glazing - the layering of thin washes of paint that give many of Vermeer's paintings the glow described in the film. The way that Jenison applies paint is like a paint by numbers artist.

Another major point not addressed is that it wasn't some visual trick device that changed Medieval art into Renaissance art, but rationalism and the relaxing of the hold the Catholic church had over how artists worked. The great works of the High Renaissance didn't just 'suddenly happen' but both painting and sculpture went through 200 years of a rational intellectual process that re-aquired the lost knowledge of the ancients and eventually led to masters like Vermeer, Velazquez etc in the 1500 and 1600s. Also, to suggest that any Renaissance painting is even trying to be realistic in a photographic way is a nonsense. The Italian Renaissance was always projecting an ideal - a model coupled with the artist's idea of perfect proportion. The same is true of any painting of the 1600s. These are not truly 'realistic' in our sense of the word. The artist is perfecting reality.

Lastly, there is much talk here about 'convincing the experts'. I thought, as a painter, Hockney looked distinctly unimpressed with the finished painting, though interested in the device. As an art teacher (and painter) I recognized his silence followed by seizing on a part of the painting (that worked) to talk about as a recognition of someone's enthusiasm and effort, even if the end result is naive. It's a bad painting. I'm not an 'art snob' and I think any modern (or ancient) technology that helps with the process is fine - the end justifies the means. Vermeer probably did use a camera obscura, but this was as an aid to his intellectual and technical genius, not a substitute. Whilst interesting, this documentary is one-sided and entirely misleading.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting film, May 30, 2014
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
This film presented several interesting techniques on how Vermeer may have painted his masterpieces. While I don’t think the film definitively proves the device/contraption shown in this moves was actual used by Vermeer. The film did bring up possible scenarios where Vermeer and others of his time used optics and devices to aid in there painting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DOCUMENTARY DONE RIGHT, July 16, 2014
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I can't begin to tell you how much I loved this movie. It held me in its grip from start to finish, made me wonder just how someone could be so possessed to do what Tim Jenison did and then made me notice that I had just spent 80 minutes never looking at the clock to find out when the movie would end. I just enjoyed it from start to finish.

Narrated by Penn Jillette and directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller fame), the movie tells the story of Penn's friend Tim Jenison, an inventor and electronics whiz who loved the paintings of 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. What intrigued him the most was the fact that Vermeer's paintings had an almost photographic appearance to them, something impossible to be done at that time since photography was years away from being developed. How had Vermeer accomplished this? Jenison set out to discover how.

Using the knowledge that was at hand at the time, Jenison decides that Vermeer must have used a series of mirrors and lenses to discover a way to paint as he did. Jenison constructs a small version of what he envisions Vermeer did and then paints a picture of his father in law from a photograph, even though he'd never painted anything at all in his life. The effect and painting that result is amazing. But that's on a smaller plain here, not near the size of the actual paintings that Vermeer did. So how did he do it?

This becomes the quest that Jenison then begins, a quest that takes him well over a year to finish and be filmed. When attempting to recreate Vermeer's painting "The Music Lesson", he begins by building the entire scene real size from scratch, using as many methods of recreating the actual items as possible. He goes so far as to research the way Vermeer would have made the paint that he used to create this work and follows those same sets of instructions to make his own paints. All of this works toward the single goal of trying to paint his own rendition of Vermeer's work or this time around, Tim's Vermeer.

This is perhaps one of the best made documentaries I've ever seen. It never gets dull, never gets boring no matter if at times you are simply watching someone paint. The entire process that Jenison goes through as he tries to figure out just how it was done and then the patience he uses to accomplish the same thing is mind boggling. While you enjoy each minute of the film it almost takes on a Christmas morning type quality as you wait to see the end product or if it can even be accomplished.

This film was nominated for best documentary last year and it's easy to see why. What's not easy to understand is how it lost. It is an amazing film that you won't want to miss and that you may want to revisit from time to time. That's something most documentaries can not lay claim to, multiple viewings. But this movie deserves that and more. On the downside it leaves you wondering what Jenison has up his sleeve next. It also makes you hope that both Penn and Teller do more items like this. Not only was this movie worth watching once, it is one that deserves a place on the front of your collection shelf.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art + Technology + Unlimited Patience & Funding = Brilliant, June 11, 2014
By 
D. Hodgson (Cupertino, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tim's Vermeer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The graphics geek in me wants to say that this is the Greatest Art Documentary Ever Made. Penn & Teller's film takes you on an 1,850-day journey where NewTek's Tim Jenison (Amiga VideoToaster and Lightwave 3D fame) attempts to recreate "The Music Lesson", one of the famous photorealistic oil paintings of the 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.

But Tim has an optical cheat - one that he suspects the other Dutch Masters in Vermeer's class may have used as well. Nonetheless, it takes four solid months of mindless perfectionism for Tim to recreate the Queen of England's artwork, from a meticulously crafted handbuilt recreation of Vermeer's original room. The girl at the harpsichord is modelled by his (now fully grown) daughter, whom Amiga fans might recognize as the stunning preschooler whose bundled scan helped sell a million NewTek DigiPaints.

The clincher is that Tim Jenison's optical device (and his oil-based recreation created with its help) revealed subtle distortions that turned out to be... also in the Dutch Master's original. Not that Tim knew at the time, however - Mind Blown.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes obsession is inspirational, June 12, 2014
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
It matters not whether Vermeer used Tim's device or technique. It matters not whether anyone else thinks so.

While it may at first appear so, this movie is not about that.

The movie is about one man's personal obsession. Not Vermeer's. Tim's.

Sometimes "obsession" has a negative connotation. Tim's obsession is anything but negative -- it's inspiring.

In some sense this is an adventure movie. Tim's adventure. Driven by his unique passions and intellect.

As the movie makes clear, Tim's passions are immense, and not just for oil painted on a canvas.

It's a wonder to behold.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant movie about a mans obsession and his place in today's internet world, June 1, 2014
By 
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Tim Jenison is something like Steve Wozniak in desktop video. He created NewTek company and like Woz was able to do all the initial hard work by himself from the hardware to the software. And become wealthy in the process while his company becomes self running empire that doesn't need him.
And now with his time and money he is looking for a new way to engage his obsession for detail in a world that is obsessed with likes and followers.
I really like this guy.
So he sees Vermeer paintings in the gallery and being a desktop video guru and former engineer who can't paint he obviously thinks that this is no way painted without some mechanical aid. Nobody can be that good, right?

In the process of proving his smartly modified camera obscura/lucida theory he recreates the whole scene from Vermeer painting in real life, travelling back and forth to Netherlands to measure things, having the exact pottery made, getting the patterns and textures, making the exact replica of the furniture. But it doesn't stop there, he start making his own lens and of course making his own oil paint from the exact ingredients of Vermeer era. And time flies.

Obsession makes a great documentary. It gives us a view into Tims head but hardly any view into Vermeers.

Movie plus:
- he doesn't verbally claim authority over the topics he knows little, this is pure engineering exercise and he tries to make that clear despite jumping into wrong conclusion
- he does really recreates the scene and light to the last detail - this is not a painting from a photo, this is painting from the real deal (despite the artificial lighting)
- he uses mostly materials available at the time of Vermeer, no computer or modern photo trickery
- he is down to earth, practical and almost humble guy - a novelty with the kind of people flying private jets
- he is very likeable and you see that after months painting "pixels" he would love to quit only if he didn't agree to make the darn movie
- he proves 100% that it is doable (but not that an artist would or even want to use this technique)
- he brings Vermeer to attention

Controversial topics:

- Vermeer seems to paint in dead layer (underglaze) technique or so most scholars of today believe, he doesn't mention that or even show he is aware of that. That means he is not trying to paint using what is believed to be the correct technique of the era but inventing his own painting technique

- He doesn't talk to experts on Vermeer painting technique which is puzzling but I guess it is to emphasize the tone of the movie. A simple talk with a real Vermeer expert would bring a lot of small issues and controversies with Tims approach. For example to this day we can see little hole in the girls bright arm from the pin that hold strings to create a very precise linear perspective of the image with vanishing point at that hole. While it is often said vermeer placed exact brush strokes exactly and then leave them there, the fact is that x ray show he would repaint crucial parts of the image for better effect: the man was moved to the right, the girls head was originally turned towards him. The mirror reflection do not correspond to the correct head placement and vermeer would add and remove shadows not to be photographically accurate but for the best visual effect (for example there is no shadow of the harpsichord on the back wall, just its legs and they are not accurately placed either). And an expert can go on and on about tiny little details that do not fit the photo-copy technique of Tims.

- Tim makes the device look a very simple to use but he doesn't mention the fact that you can move your head only in the direction towards the lens or away from it , the other direction (left to right) has to be deadly still in the middle of the mirror because the image in mirror moves in the opposite direction. Also you can't just move the mirror where you need it, moving it closer or further to the lens will make the projected image bigger or smaller and nothing will fit anymore. I still honestly don't know how he managed to paint the borders of the image using his mirror technique. And also they didn't really spelled the fact that he was painting it looking at it on the side. Also a tiny miscalculation in the angle and the mirror would make the image squished on one top and enlarged on bottom or vice versa. It is just extremely painful way to paint this way where you can move your head in only one direction. Honestly a good painter would break his mirror after few hours and just paint it normal way.

- Tim didn't make any effort to look at how any good painter paints, he simply assumes that because he cannot paint himself, nobody can paint image like vermeer without mechanical aid. This is simply wrong. Maybe he can spend some time watching how a really good artist work and he may be amazed that some people are actually really, really good at it. He is at the end of the movie 90% convinced that this is similar how Vermeer painted, disregarding the fact that he painted his version the most torturing way, sitting in precise spot with the image on its side, with the canvas in horizontal position.
If real painters painted this way, we would have very little art to put in any museums as they would be dead after few paintings. The Vermeer own portrait image in Artist in his Studio shows pretty much how he and other painters painted in his era.

- Tim didn't mention nor knows that using mirrors and two reflecting mirrors was a technique used by Vermeers peers and likely by Vermeer. Looking at the scene through two mirrors allows for better judgement of colors (especially because 17th century mirrors will dampen the light dynamics to more photography compressed like image). As a homework there is Vermeer image that clearly shows use of the mirror. Can you find it?

- the movie kind of suggest it is either/or deal. Either Vermeer didn't use this technique and he was an humanly impossible painter or he used it fully and so he was more of a brilliant engineer (this was actually spelled out by Tim and also in interviews). It is extremely flawed view IMHO and Tim as an engineer should know that. You don't stick with a single technique for the sake of it, you always use what is the most cost effective method at any time regardless if you are dutch painter or an american engineer. And for many great painters, just simple painting is the most effective method without constant using gizmos.

As for the movie I was very pleased with the chosen subject, but it would be wrong to take it more than it is. It is not a scholarly study how Vermeer painted. Tim may re-invent one of the optical technique the painters of the era "could" have used (the optics were very "in" at that time) in their toolbox but I really doubt about practical use. It is fine for Tim but it is a torture for a real painter.
I really like Tim and he painted a very good painting (the turkish carpet on Tim's is an phenomenal work btw)
but it is kind of hard to extrapolate that to the Vermeer as his "lost secret". Yes we can find areas of paintings which would be obvious candidates for using such gizmo (like the various patterns on the Music lesson) and it is very likely many optical gizmos including camera obscura were used, but so we can find paintings where such tool would be highly impractical or impossible (View of Delft for example) and then we are back to the thesis that someone had to paint them from the head and the someone had to be very good at it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Art History Documentary with a Confusing Message, September 21, 2014
By 
Dr. Laurence Raw (Beckenham, Kent United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Tim's Vermeer (Amazon Instant Video)
TIM'S VERMEER is an exceptionally strange documentary. Inventor Tim Jenison, with a proven track record of scientific and other discoveries, sets himself the task of recreating Vermeer's "The Music Lesson" using optical techniques with mirrors. The task is long and laborious - from inception to conception takes five years - but in the end Jenison manages to produce a copy of the Vermeer work that is thoroughly creditable. Teller's film includes several clichés of the tele-documentary genre; the highs and the lows, the periods of difficulty when Jenison wonders whether his task has any real values; the intense emotion when he finishes; and the triumphant vindication of his thesis that painters were often more scientific than was first assumed.

To prove his point, Jenison enlists the help of a long list of experts, led by David Hockney and including Martin Mull, and Professors Philip Steadman and Colin Blakemore. All of them support his theory that the division between 'art' and 'science' is not quite as great as art critics might have first assumed; like Jenison himself, Vermeer probably made use of scientific or optical techniques while creating his work.

This point is good as far as it goes, but it leaves the viewer confused. If, as Jenison proves, a painter uses optical techniques, and a self-confessed non-painter such as Jenison can successfully reproduce the painting, then it follows that the artist is not quite the genius that critics might have first assumed. As Andy Warhol proved nearly fifty years ago, art is infinitely reproducible, which therefore confounds the Romantic veneration of the author/ artist as genius. On the other hand, Teller's documentary celebrates Jenison, not necessarily as a painter, but as a successful inventor with a unique capacity for computer recreation. In his way he is just as skillful as Vermeer was nearly four centuries ago. TIM'S VERMEER actually ends up by celebrating the genius of the individual, even while trying to show that their works can be reproduced by self-confessed amateurs in the painting arts.

Jenison is an engaging presence onscreen, but we do wish that the documentary had been a little bit better thought out.
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