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TIFF Dispatch: 6 Secrets of Penn Silent Partner Teller

Movie Talk


Last night, the illusionists Penn Gillete and Raymond Teller touched down in Toronto for a whirlwind 24 hours between Vegas gigs. They materialized at the city's International Film Festival to present "Tim's Vermer," the fascinating documentary that Teller directed and Penn Gillette produced. But somewhere amidst the whirlwind, the pair had to eat. I joined them across from the TIFF Lightbox Theater on King Street at Dhaba for an Indian feast following their movie’s Toronto premiere.

For the record, the documentary’s subject was there, too. Tim Jenison is a digital revolution pioneer and Penn’s long-time pal. Jenison made his fortune developing digital products like DigiView, DigiPaint and the Video Toaster. While Jenison had never wielded a paintbrush, he obsessively set out to paint a Vermeer to prove his theory that the 17th-century Dutch artist used an optical device that included a mirror and a camera obscura to create his realistic masterpieces of light and depth – presaging photography.

Sitting across from Teller over chicken tikka masala and lamb chops, beside Jenison and down the table from the voracious Penn, I discovered six fascinating facts about Teller:

1. While Teller is known on stage as Penn’s silent partner, offstage he’s a soft-spoken, eloquent and articulate conversationalist. Of his movie, he said in the post screening Q&A: “This is a 300-year-old detective story…. a real event that may change art history.”

2. The Philadelphia native revealed at dinner that he is an only child and both his parents were artists, which prepped him for making “Tim’s Vermeer.”

3. Teller fights with Penn. It’s a creative thing, and while they rarely shout, it’s the way they hash out their creative differences and find the balance in their work that has paved the way for a 38-year partnership.

4. Before Teller went into business with Penn, the Amherst College alum spent six years as a Latin teacher in suburban New Jersey.

5. Teller appreciates good food. He generously stopped the waiter to tell him that he had just eaten the best lamb chop of his life – a spicy concoction topped with a butterflied shrimp. Health-conscious, and wearing a wristband that kept track of his exertion, he left the late dinner to stroll downtown Toronto and reach his daily exercise goal.

6.It's no illusion that Teller – and Penn – have entered the field of movie magic. With this buzzy doc, they are on their way to being Oscar contenders if the response at last night's Toronto premiere and last week's Telluride Film Festival reception is any indication.

Don't expect a change of careers for Teller. While he is reviving his Off-Broadway show "Play Dead" in Los Angeles and plans to direct a revival of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with an emphasis on the play's magic, he and Penn will be back in the saddle Saturday night, playing their act for Vegas audiences and developing new thrills to keep themselves entertained.