Film Scouts Reviews

"Jupiter's Wife"

by Karen Jaehne

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March 9, 1996

This 78 minute documentary, made for $400, sets a new low-budget record for personal cinema. Its creator, Michel Negroponte, is the brother of the M.I.T.'s cyberwhiz. One brother grapples with virtual reality, one with the harrowing reality of a flinty woman named Maggie who hears voices but refuses to admit to psychiatric examination.

With a grim fascination, Negroponte tracks Maggie, who lives in Central Park with a pack of dogs and refers to herself as "Jupiter's Wife" in a wildly imaginative cosmology that one would expect of a penniless character driven by the sun and wind. Across four years, we see her try to build a refuge in the park during a tough winter, have her "home" torn down by park police, find public assistance housing in New Jersey, and maintain her dignity even through the charity of benevolent Upper East Side friends.

Negroponte delves into the history of Maggie Cogin, once celebrated as the only female carriage driver in Central Park. He even finds a 1963 clip of her from the TV show "What's My Line?" To her utterly rational consternation, he tracks down her family and a friend who recalls Maggie as "part of the mainstream--she did everything everybody else did--but she was just a little off-center." Sufficiently so to have two children taken from her and, apparently, cooperate in her own break-down of identity.

Sobering and mesmerizing, an off-center Central Park gypsy shows how easy it is to slip through the safety net of social conformity and comfort.

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