Parkland Press

Monday, December 9, 2019

Movie review: 'Vermeer': Paint by mirror?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

Sometimes, you have to catch films before they get away. Even if you miss them at the multiplex, neighborhood theater or indie and foreign-films art house, certain films are must-sees whenever and wherever.

The following three films are well worth seeing. Each is linked by a magnificent obsession or passion. So, put on your film-hunting gear and don't forget the popcorn.

In "Tim's Vemeer," inventor Tim Jenison wants to find out how 17th Century Dutch Master Painter Johannes Vermeer, perhaps most famous for "Girl With A Pearl Earring" (1665 - '67, and subject of a wonderful 2003 film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth), created his luminous oil paintings, comparable to contemporary photo realism for their startling beauty and detail.

Jenison, 58, is a multi-millionaire who in 1985, with Paul Montgomery, founded NewTek, Inc., producer of live and post-production video and visual imaging software (LightWave 3D, TriCaster).

Jenison had the time, money and determination to recreate one of Vermeer's most challenging works, "The Music Lesson" (1662). He spent the better part of a decade researching and then working on the painting.

Jenison theorizes that Vermeer used a camera obscura device (lens and mirror) to paint his masterpieces.

Jenison's theory is based the books, "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters," by British artist David Hockney, and "Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces," by London architecture professor Philip Steadman.

Jenison, who never painted before, traveled to Vermeer's hometown, Delft, Holland; studied the actual painting at Buckingham Palace; recreated a room in a San Antonio, Tex., warehouse for the setting of the painting; commissioned contents; made a chair; replicated pigments from the era, learned to polish glass and spent 220 hours to paint his version of "The Music Lesson."

Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller fame, narrates the documentary, directed by his magician partner Teller. The film dutifully follows Jenison in his quest. Hockney and Steadman are interviewed, as is singer-songwriter-artist Martin Mull.

"It seems to glow like the image on a movie screen," it's said of Vermeer's painting.

The movie disputes the theory that "art and technology must never meet." Instead, it's claimed, "In the Golden Age, they were one and the same." Can you say Leonardo da Vinci?

The documentary is indeed magical, even though at one point, I thought and then jotted down in my notebook, "This is like watching paint dry," only to hear Jenison say seconds later, "This project, you know, is a lot like watching painting dry."

That said, the film is fascinating, jubilant, even thrilling. "Tim's Vemeer" is a must-see for artists, art lovers and documentary film buffs.

"Tim's Vemeer," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.) for some strong language; Genre: Documentary; Run time: 1 hr., 20 min.; Distributed by Sony Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Bob Dylan sings and plays his song "When I Paint My Masterpiece" during "Tim's Vemeer" closing credits.

"Gloria" is an exuberant, off-beat comedy-drama set in Santiago, Chile, about a free-spirit female named Gloria (Paula Garcia), who's going through a mid-life self-discovery.

There's laughter, some tears and lots of disco dancing, including to, yes, "Gloria," the 1982 hit by Laura Branigan.

Don't let the subtitles discourage you, the emotions transcend translations. Gloria is all about passion. Paula Garcia's performance rises above the often mundane storyline in the film directed by Sebastian Lelio.

"Gloria" was Chile's official foreign-language 2014 Oscar submission.

"Gloria," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for sexual content, some graphic nudity, drug use and language; Genre: Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 50 min.; Distributed by Roadside Attractions.

"The Great Beauty" received the 2014 foreign-language film Oscar.

Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) isn't facing a mid-life crisis. He is all about dancing through any crises in his life. The one-time novelist and all-time journalist parties like he's not 65 (it's his birthday), but like a much younger man.

Director Paolo Sorrentino uses Rome's sumptuous settings, a circus-like atmosphere and the film's larger-than-life characters, including Sabrina Ferilli as Ramona, Jep's girlfriend, to create a Fellinieque parade of spectacular frivolity.

Servillo gives a performance of exquisite sadness.

"I'm feeling Pirandello-esque," says Jep at his absurdist best.

Again, don't let the subtitles put you off. Inventive camera work, wonderful images and Jep's own keen observations make "The Great Beauty" a dream-like, impressionistic cinema experience.

As Jep concludes about life, "It's just a trick."

Penn and Teller, Tim Jenison, Vermeer and Gloria might agree, with passion.

"The Great Beauty," No MPAA Rating; Genre: Comedy, Drama; Run time: 2 hrs., 22 min. Distributed by Janus Films.

Box Office, March 21: "Divergent" opened at No. 1 with a strong $56 million, diverting movie-goers from "Muppets Most Wanted," opening at No. 2 with only $16.5 million, and sending "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" way back from No. 1 to No. 3, $11.7 million, $81 million, three weeks;

4. "300: Rise of an Empire," $8.6 million, $93.7 million, three weeks; 5. "God's Not Dead," $8.5 million, opening; 6. "Need For Speed," $7.7 million, $30.4 million, two weeks; 7. "The Grand Budapest Hotel," $6.7 million, $12.9 million, three weeks; 8. "Non-Stop," $6.3 million, $78.6 million, four weeks; 9. "The Lego Movie," $4.1 million, $243.3 million, seven weeks; 10. "The Single Moms Club," $3.1 million; $12.9 million, two weeks

Unreel, March 28:

"Noah," PG-13: Director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan," "The Wrestler") tackles the Biblical epic with a little help from his stars: Russell Crowe (as the title character), Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson.

"Sabotage," R: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard and Oliva Williams star in the action thriller about a Drug Enforcement Administration task force.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site,; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.