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Tag Archive: Wagner & Me


Tims Vermeer poster

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether learned or innate, the skill of a master artist is like nothing else.  That is true no less for the understanding of color, light, and shadow exhibited by 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. His work is lifelike, so much so that a Texas-based inventor devoted years of his life to try to understand why Vermeer painted in a style so much different from his peers.  The result is Tim’s Vermeer, a masterful documentary by director Teller of Las Vegas magic act duo Penn and Teller fame, in limited theatrical release last year and now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Video On Demand.

Scientists and artists for hundreds of years have speculated what tools Vermeer might have used to achieve his mastery, other than his sheer artistic genius.  He left no notes to this effect to assist scholars.  Tim Jenison, a successful businessman with time to devote to an immense intellectual pursuit, spent years speculating, then he created his own optical device involving a simple mirror that would allow anyone to replicate perfectly any image.  This is an even bigger feat than one might expect, because Jenison is not, and never was, an artist.  Friends Penn & Teller accompanied Jenison on his research, meeting with experts and artists, and ultimately the magic duo decided to film Jenison’s journey of discovery.  Teller directs (and co-produces with Jellette) and Jellette narrates this unusual and enlightening story.

Vermeer and Jenison compared

Which is which? Tim Jenison learns what may be Vermeer’s technique in Penn & Teller’s documentary.

Does Jenison get it right or not?  Penn leaves that question to the viewer, but he and Jenison give an abundance of reasons to support Jenison’s study.  The mission was simple:  Can a layman paint something as well as Vermeer with tools that would have been available to Vermeer in the 17th century?

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Wagner & Me poster

Wagner & Me is a documentary about a fanboy and fandom, and about whether you can separate an artist from his art.  It features the British comedian and actor Stephen Fry as he investigates his favorite musician, the 19th century German composer of the famous Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner.  What you may or may not know is that history has documented Wagner as an anti-Semite, and that Fry is Jewish.  Why does this matter?  To some Wagner is the greatest composer of his day, if not of all-time.  Yet as we learn in Wagner & Me, his works of good vs evil took on their own life under the reign of Adolf Hitler.  Hitler would whistle Wagner amongst his friends and troops and the very rousing works of Wagner were often played to inspire his men.

Stephen Fry is one of the best actors in England.  In his comedic career he often partnered with actor Hugh Laurie of later House, M.D. fame, and is known in the UK from his many series, such as a A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster, and various Blackadder series.  He is well known as a good guy, an intelligent thinker, a philanthropist, and friends with actresses Emma Thompson and Carrie Fisher.  Fans in the States know him best from his movies.  His first film was a bit part in Chariots of Fire and from there he went on to act in A Fish Called Wanda, Peter’s Friends, I.Q., A Civil Action, Gosford Park, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he voiced the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland, and narrated Harry Potter video games.  He also has a recurring role on the TV series Bones.  Most recently he played Mycroft Holmes opposite Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and later this year he stars as the Master of Laketown in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  He may be most famous to genre fans for his superb performance as a rebel hoarder of banned works opposite Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.

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