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Toronto International Film Festival, Day Two: from Penn & Teller's 'Tim's Vermeer' and Fiennes' 'Invisible Woman' to Reitman's 'Boogie Nights'

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood September 9, 2013 at 1:18PM

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.
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Ralph Fiennes in "The Invisible Woman"
Ralph Fiennes in "The Invisible Woman"

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.

'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer

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.  

This article is related to: Toronto, Festivals, Jason Reitman, Jason Reitman, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Tim's Vermeer


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.