An almost perfect film festival day, including two excellent documentaries, one feature that surprised and delighted me, another that was interesting and novel, and one of Jason Reitman's patented table reads: the cherry on a sundae.
Began with "Tim's Vermeer," the documentary about a wealthy, eccentric multi-millionaire, Tim Jensen, who spends lots of money and time trying to duplicate a Vermeer by using a camera obscura and mirror contraption. The movie is directed by Teller and features jovial, whimsical commentary by Penn Jillette. Others have speculated that the genius of Vermeer was assisted by technological means, including Philip Steadman in his book "Vermeer's Camera" and David Hockney in "Secret Knowledge." I find it odd that no contemporary accounts, or usage of such techniques by other, later artists, has come down to us. Plus, so what, I says, so what -- does it matter how masterpieces are achieved, as long as they exist? Jensen indeed duplicates, with some verisimilitude but less artistry, a "Vermeer," tediously but tenaciously. The most poignant moment? Displaying the completed "Vermeer" in a room decorated in a risible combination of bad taste and no taste: a shiny mantel of cheap new wood, dried flowers, a bench upholstered in fake leopard. Oy.
Segued to "The Invisible Woman," directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens, about the love affair Dickens carried on with actress Nelly Ternan, begun when she was 17 and the long-married (and father of ten) Dickens was 45. I had skipped seeing it at Telluride in favor of what I thought would be more ambitious fare. In fact, everything about "The Invisible Woman" surprised and delighted me: the unsentimental and original conceptions of the many nicely delineated characters, the witty script by Avi Morgan, the lavish settings and costumes. From the first long shot of the older Nelly striding along a beach, which looked like a Caillebotte (still thinking in painterly terms, a holdover from "Tim's Vermeer"), I was completely enthralled.
Directly to a documentary by Chuck Workman, "What is Cinema?", the kind of overloaded, overstuffed, slick, quick-cut clip show that will remind some people of why they are obsessed with movies, and can serve as a seductive invitation and initiation to others. Workman combines over 200 film clips (ranging from silents to contemporary experimental films and videos) with snippets of new interviews with David Lynch, Kelly Reichardt, Michael Moore, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, Costa-Gavras, Bill Viola, and Mike Leigh, archival footage of Bresson, Herzog, John Ford, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and Chantal Ackerman, and overlays the whole with graphics and tasty quotes from yet more auteurs, including Bergman, Fellini, like that. It's only 83 minutes long, and it's the kind of overegged pudding that I could have eaten much more of.