Penn Jillette

Tim’s Vermeer (2013, Teller)

Tim’s Vermeer is simultaneously an intensely personal look at a guy–the titular Tim, Tim Jenison–and also not an intensely personal look at him. Jenison sums up his hypothesis in the first few minutes of the film–what if Vermeer (and some of his contemporaries) were less hippy dippy artists (my term) and more inventors? They were using cutting edge technology to make what we now consider fine art, but at the time they were creating the form.

The documentary, which barely runs seventy minutes, doesn’t really discuss any specific friction caused by Jenison’s venture. It mentions general friction at the idea, but I think I remember from art history classes the idea of Vermeer using science to accomplish his paintings. What Jenison does himself could be handled far more like Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, only director Teller and co-writer (and narrator) Penn Jillette don’t go that route. Because it’s not actually a personal look at the guy or even a questioning one about the cultural connotations of his experiment.

The film has three sections–the introduction, the building of the set, then the painting. The de facto fourth section is the abbreviated reaction to the final product. The fourth section could be the whole picture. But the film’s not grandiosely ambitious, it just wants to show this guy’s experience. Only not too personally.

Technically, Vermeer is decent. Teller has fine composition. Lousy editing from Patrick Sheffield though. Conrad Pope’s music is awesome.

It’s cool stuff.



Directed by Teller; written by Penn Jillette and Teller; director of photography, Shane F. Kelly; edited by Patrick Sheffield; music by Conrad Pope; produced by Jillette and Farley Ziegler; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Dark Horse Presents Annual 1997 (February 1998)

For a Presents annual (or oversized special), this one has a lot of solid work.

Pearson’s Body Bags is a fun diversion. The art’s great and the story moves. It gets a little visually confusing, but it’s good.

And Verheiden (with Marrinan) finally produces a decent installment of The American. It’s a thoughtful story, very well written.

Arcudi and Musgrove’s The Oven Traveler is dumb. It’s a one page story dragged to four.

Aliens (from Smith and Morrow) is atrocious. It’s Aliens meets Westworld. If it weren’t terrible, it’d be an interesting genre mix—plus, Morrow can’t draw the aliens. They look awkward and goofy, not at all frightening.

Jillette and French’s Rheumy Peepers and Chunky Highlights is overwritten but mildly diverting….

Stephens and Allred’s The Stiff is decent, if too silly.

Then there’s a decent Pope finish. It’s a talking heads story, which seems like a waste of Pope.


Body Bags; story and art by Jason Pearson. The American, The Big Deal; story by Mark Verheiden; art by Chris Marrinan; lettering by Sean Konot. The Oven Traveler; story by John Arcudi; art by Scott Musgrove. Aliens, Tourist Season; story by Beau Smith; art by Gray Morrow; lettering by John Costanza; edited by Bob Schreck. The Adventures of Rheumy Peepers and Chunky Highlights; story by Penn Jillette; art by Renée French. The Stiff, Disappearing Act; story, inks and lettering by Jay Stephens; pencils by Mike Allred. Four Cats; story and art by Paul Pope. Edited by Jamie S Rich.

Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989, Arthur Penn)

I really wish I knew what Arthur Penn was doing directing (and producing) this film. I suppose it’s a follow-up of sorts to Alice’s Restaurant or something. Penn did some great stuff in the 1970s, so seeing him doing a fill-in job (anyone could have directed this film) is kind of strange. Maybe he really likes Penn and Teller or something.

Besides the oddity of Penn directing it, the film’s really got nothing going for it. Turns out Teller’s a good actor. Penn (Jillette, not Arthur) appears not to be, but the film’s paced so you can’t really tell. Caitlin Clarke spends the film doing one bad accent or another and the film never quite can make you believe she’s Penn’s girlfriend. The film showcases a few of their tricks and loosely continues through different tricks, ones either Penn or Teller are playing on the other. After the movie gets going on its path–Penn invites people to kill him and a crazed fan takes the challenge–things go from being mildly amusing to tedious. The film’s from 1989, so maybe it was relying on the viewer being unfamiliar with Penn and Teller beyond late night appearances.

There’s one really annoying black and white sequence, which goes on forever, and some long, drawn-out ominous chase scenes. There are funny ideas throughout, but they’re rarely successfully executed. Arthur Penn didn’t direct any other comedies and it shows. The film has a forced quirkiness about it and only finds its footing in the last moments–if the movie had started with the last scene (not in terms of framing, but tone establishing), it probably would have turned out a lot better.



Directed and produced by Arthur Penn; written by Penn Jillette and Teller; director of photography, Jan Weincke; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Paul Chihara; production designer, John Arnone; released by Lorimar Film Entertainment.

Starring Penn Jillette (Penn), Teller (Teller), Caitlin Clarke (Carlotta), David Patrick Kelly (Fan), Leonardo Cimino (Ernesto) and Celia McGuire (Officer McNamara).

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