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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Vermeer: Master of Light
Vermeer: Master of Light
Microcinema // Unrated // June 30, 2009
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Patrick McCart | posted September 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Johannes Vermeer produced less than 40 paintings in his lifetime, living from 1632 to 1675. The Dutch painter's life is mostly blank, with only bits and pieces known about him. However, his paintings are quite the legacy to his name. Modern painters such as Salvador Dali admired his work, even to the point of Dali inserting or copying elements. A film was produced several years ago based on the making of his "Girl with a Pearl Earring" painting.

I find Vermeer's work to be fascinating, especially for the time period. His extreme care in his images ranges from putting tiny details such as shadows on a nail on the wall, reflections in glass, or even including his easel in a mirror. His use of color was stunning, such as painting with expensive pigments or including texture within the paint. There is also his inspiration from the camera obscura, which explains the careful perspective within paintings.

Vermeer: Master of Light provides a critical look at Vermeer's work, as well as deconstruction on several of his painting. Even with considerably padding - it takes five minutes to get to actual material on his paintings - it's a good introduction. Meryl Streep narrates the documentary, making her pleasing voice complementing the sometimes dry presentation.

To get the negative aspects out of the way, the padding can be distracting. This would have been fine as a 30-minute special, but endless stock footage of sunrises and sunsets over Delft become tiresome. Alright, we get the idea that Vermeer was inspired by these views. Some of the interviews are bit heavy in overanalysis. Some of Vermeer's paintings had changes later in his process, while leaving oddities. In "The Music Lesson" the reflection in a mirror does not show the correct perspective, but a scholar attributes it to "control over reality." I'm probably wrong, but it seems like an error.

However, this documentary has some brilliant deconstructions of his best paintings. Figures are isolated from backgrounds, layers are added bit by bit, perspectives are pointed out, and details are enlarged. This is shown via somewhat cheesy CGI wireframe, but it does provide a keen look at the painting process. The outstanding quality of his work speaks for itself.

I would imagine this documentary would work well as a screening in a school/college art class and at least worth seeing once.

Video:

Presented in 1.85:1 letterboxed widescreen, this video-based transfer is also interlaced. Quality is good enough, but the many uses of "Ken Burns" styled zooms tend to suffer from jaggies. This would have been a prime documentary to shoot in HD, if just to allow for increased resolution on the paintings.

Audio:

One stereo audio track is provided. The narration and interviews are a bit flat and mono-based, but the cheesy synthesizer score has clear stereo separation. The bitrate is standard 192kbps. It suits the presentation, even if nothing special.

Supplements:

No extras are included at all. Not that this would warrant any, but an image gallery of Vermeer's paintings would have been nice.

Overall, this is a decent documentary, but not necessarily purchasing outside of educational use.

Patrick McCart
"The Flickering Window"

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