TIM JENISON is a tech inventor who's hardly painted before—and yet, he's decided to recreate a masterpiece. Amazingly, he succeeds, and Tim's Vermeer is one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen in a long time.
Fiftysomething, quirky, and likeable, Jenison is the inventor of a variety of digital modeling programs. These have made him rich and famous—or at least rich and famous enough to befriend magicians Penn and Teller who, respectively, narrate and direct the film (this is less ominous than it sounds).
As Tim's Vermeer begins, Jenison has become obsessed with the 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, particularly his painting "The Music Lesson." Jenison's convinced that Vermeer must have had help, or that he used a tool to create his paintings. So Jenison invents a simple optical device himself, using a mirror to assist him in creating lifelike renderings of still-lifes. His initial results are uncannily photorealistic.
The film jaunts along as we watch Jenison toil for months to create "The Music Lesson." He consults with David Hockney—arguably the best painter alive—for insider's advice about the painting process. He creates a life-sized diorama of "The Music Lesson" inside a San Antonio warehouse. He builds a harpsichord? He buys a really expensive rug! He curses. He cuts a lathe in half.
In the end, Jenison's obsession becomes a big, goofy, hopeful allegory for an artist's life. We come to know something that artists themselves have always known: Talent isn't something people are born with. It's something that takes a ridiculous amount of time to cultivate, and it's usually quiet, tedious, lonely, absurd work. We learn that tools help. And when it comes to the grand reveal, Jenison's painting is impressive. If you have enough nerve, apparently even a masterpiece is possible.