Film

Film

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A SIDEWALK ASTRONOMER

Directed by Jeffrey Jacobs

July 6 through 12, Two Boots Pioneer

A Sidewalk Astronomer is an unenlightening recitation of lay science and salad bar spirituality that could only resonate with those audiences who last year actually flocked to a movie called What the Bleep Do We Know!? Astronomer profiles John Dobson, who since 1968 has promoted his design for inexpensive homemade telescopes, inspiring a cult of amateur Galileos worldwide. Apart from encouraging the use of found materials, Dobson’s innovation was to mount his scope on a swiveled base, like a cannon. “It’s the easiest way to aim up,” he shrugs. Overnight, weekend stargazers were able to affordably graduate from eight-inch to 30-inch-diameter devices. Composed mostly of video interviews of and lectures by Dobson, illustrated by satellite photos and computer-generated images of the solar system, Astronomer is as cheerfully DIY as a Dobsonian scope. But however well-intentioned, the movie fails to explain why it’s so important to look up—perhaps because Dobson himself doesn’t either. The only apparent point of all his groovy exclamations—which the gaunt, pony-tailed octogenarian delivers in his rapid Irish lilt—seems to be that the universe is a really big fucking place. Dobson’s populist enthusiasm feels genuine, and if it seems churlish not to marvel at the heavens with him, maybe that’s because the ex-Vedanta monk insists on supplementing his scientific data with paeans to the “Exterior Decorator.” These stabs at bland metaphysics don’t ultimately elevate an otherwise fascinating subject above the interest level of a middle school filmstrip. BENJAMIN STRONG

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