EDGAR Allan Poe once described science as a vulture, whose wings are dull realities.
That vulture trains its beady eyes on the work of a master painter in “Tim’s Vermeer,” a documentary about an American inventor who deduces and demonstrates that Dutch master Johannes Vermeer almost surely used an optical machine to create his eerily photographic canvasses.
Nobody in “Tim’s Vermeer” calls the artist a cheat, but the whiff of it is there – the movie is made by Penn Jillette, who’s made a career revealing and debunking magic, and here implies that Vermeer’s stunning images are a kind of sleight of hand.
The Tim of the title is Tim Jenison, founder of a thriving visual-effects company and who saw something uncannily modern and photographic in the 17th-century work of Vermeer. Artists of the time had access to lenses and optical devices, and Tim believed that Vermeer