Friday, September 6, 2013

TIFF Day 1

Tim's Vermeer
Penn & Teller's movie about their friend Tim Jenison's attempt to recreate Johannes Vermeer's "The Music Lesson". Vermeer is an interesting case of a painter with limited documented history. There is no record of his apprenticeship, and no records of his techniques. His paintings have no underlying sketches as would often be found. They also tend to be incredibly realistic for the time. Perspective is perfect, shadows are realistic, and most interestingly, there is often a depth of field that you find not in paintings, but photographs. Except that Vermeer predates photography by centuries.

This has led to theories of Vermeer using a Camera Obscura for his work. Essentially a dark room with a hole in one wall, creating a giant pinhole camera. Vermeer's Camera by Philip Steadman and David Hockney's Secret Knowledge are two books that explore this idea. However, there are shortcomings in the theory.

This is where Tim comes in. A genius who founded NewTek (Video Toaster, LightWave 3D), Tim had an idea of how Vermeer could have achieved his "painting with light" with simple tools. So he he set out to see if his idea worked. Not by just painting any old thing, but by physically recreating the scene in "The Music Lesson", grinding and mixing his own oil paints, and grinding his own lens using equipment available in the 1600's.

Teller directs this documentary in the best possible way - simply. The film focuses on the idea that Tim is not a painter, but an inventor and enthusiast about figuring out how things work. There is none of the traditional Penn & Teller humour or magic tricks or cutaways explaining things. This is a movie about Tim, Vermeer, and dedication. Penn narrates and fills in some spots, but does so mostly sitting in a chair, talking to the camera. Teller revealed in the Q&A afterwards that they had tried tying the techniques to illusions, or using skits, or having Penn talk about everything, but that none of that worked as well as just letting Tim build this world and paint.

The film also achieves an interesting balance while the painting is actually taking place - it conveys the tedium of this act without being itself boring. This was no small project, the count of days by the end of the project is staggering. As Tim himself pointed out - exploring how Vermeer could have achieved what he did doesn't lessen his work. It many ways, it makes them more impressive.

All in all, an enjoyable documentary on a topic I find fascinating.

Standing Aside, Watching
Yorgos Servetas' film about a woman moving to a small Greek town after maturing in Athens is a commentary on a changing world. Antigone (Marina Symeou) has moved to a small, local vacation town in the off-season after living in Athens. She's clearly lived here before (her Uncle is resident, an ex-boyfriend is back, an old friend greets her, etc.), but her experiences outside of the town have clearly shaped her differently than its residents. She is independent, progressive, and forthright, while those around her are either stuck in rapidly disappearing world or are apathetic to the problems around them.

The men are generally small-time tough guys who are in charge of their own little kingdom (with a couple exceptions). Misogynists who intimidate their way through life. Antigone's ex/friend Dimitris just wants to live in his small beach house without bothering anyone. Another old friend is in abusive affair with one of the town bullies. Everyone knows what's going on, but they're all standing aside, watching, instead of doing something about it.

Antigone, however, isn't wired that way though. She just wants to settle in, do her job, and live her life. But her mere presence is a catalyst for change. Through little direct action of her own, tensions in the town escalate rapidly. Attitudes begin to change. The changes of the World begin to encroach on this working-class town. Her ire grows as the days pass until she can't stand idly by, waiting for everyone else to do something.

The film itself has a deliberate pace without ever being too slow. It moves at the pace of the town it's set in. It never aims for grand theatrics, and while it's classified as a "thriller" it's really more of a basic story of how simple things can have significant effects.

A solid day 1 for me. Only 10 days and 18 films to go.

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