One of the opening night films was “Tim’s Vermeer,” a terrific documentary about how computer-graphics mogul and obsessive tinkerer Tim Jenison set about to prove, with, I think, high plausibility, that the great 17th-century Dutch artist rendered his paintings aided by a combination of lenses and mirrors. This theory has been around for a while – David Hockney, who appears in the film, is its most famous exponent – but Jenison takes it a step further by actually re-creating, dab by dab, over a grueling 213-day period, one of Vermeer’s masterpieces in his San Antonio studio. “It was torture,” he explained to the audience afterward. “Actually, I guess we don’t use that word anymore. It was enhanced interrogation.”
The film was coproduced by Penn Gillette and directed by Teller, who is mute onstage as one-half of the magic act “Penn and Teller,” but, at least in Toronto, otherwise quite gabby. He called his film “a 300-year-old detective story,” and so it is.
The kind of hoopla I prefer was the screening in an old-time movie palace of “Visitors,” a weirdo documentary from Godfrey Reggio, who gave us “Koyaanisqatsi” and its follow-ups. The film, “presented by” Steven Soderbergh, and scored by Philip Glass, both in attendance, is as slowed down as Reggio’s other films are furiously fast. Shot in impeccable black and white, without dialogue, it has something to do with metaphysical musings about the nature of watching a movie and features a big, unsmiling lowland gorilla borrowed from the Bronx Zoo. But what made the evening special was the live orchestral accompaniment in the pit by 66 members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Most people don’t realize that in the silent era, at least in the big cities, this sort of thing was not uncommon. Those days are long gone. Today you couldn’t even fit a string quintet into many of the shoebox multiplexes.