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MIT alumnus brings magic to mind of enigma

Jupiter's Wife

Produced and directed by Michel Negroponte.

Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Starting Friday.

By Craig Chang
Associate Arts Editor

During his MIT graduate career in the seventies, Michel C. Negroponte '76 found refuge in the Institute's now-extinct Film Section. Its ghosts, today hovering in such programs as the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, instilled in Negroponte a sense of wonder and independence about filmmaking that have followed him all the way to his premiere of Jupiter's Wife last Thursday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

As one of the first American films to have spawned from a consumer video production, Jupiter's Wife is both Negroponte's largest feature and a touchstone to personal filmmaking. Nearly alone, Negroponte (also the brother of the Media Lab's Nicholas P. Negroponte '66) has been making films in Boston and New York for the past 15 years. Teaching film production at NYU for the past eight years has broken the dedicated schedule required by his production of such films as Space Coast and Silver Valley.

Above all, Jupiter's Wife is, in Negroponte's own words, "a personal essay." Produced almost completely on his own, the documentary draws from initial inspirations at MIT. Most importantly, the 70s introduced Negroponte to Ricky Leacock and Ed Pincus, pioneers of cinema verit, and what rubbed off on Negroponte we can now see in Jupiter.

After 50 hours of tape and almost four years, Jupiter's Wife offers the personal journey which grew from a chance encounter with a New York schizophrenic named Maggie. She caries with her not only a one-hundred-pound backpack, but also a fantastic imagination. This homeless woman intrigued Negroponte so much that he found himself forging ahead with the project even without a definite route.

The "real-life mystery" Jupiter looks into, explains Negroponte, is the "intricate language [Maggie] invented to describe her life." In fact, life for Maggie is enough to intrigue anybody, for Greco-Roman mythology infuses her stories with magic. First, she believes her husband is Jupiter, supreme god and patron of the Roman state. She is well-acquainted with Hemera and Iris, the goddess of discord. The history of gods surrounds Negroponte's subject as mysteriously as do her lost children.

If the film exudes a social bent, it is no surprise. Unlike brother Nicholas, whose 50s upbringing planted boundless enthusiasm, Michel carries with his career the social conscience of the 1960s. Expectedly, those decades nurtured a freedom that rose to the ideal forum of independent film.

When asked about the film, Michel reminisces that Jupiter was like a journey "about homelessness, about trying to decipher a language and a mythology which were at first confusing." What resulted was an intimate portrait of life on the streets that points out that the mind is far from impoverished in the midst of poverty. Negroponte notes something "enigmatic" compelled him about Maggie. That Cinemax and BBC have clamored for its rights, however, suggest that his ensuing search for answers has already lent the documentary universal appeal.

Negroponte speaks of his films' roots in "analog reality" in reaction to his brother's having gone digital. But, with a camcorder in hand, Negroponte proves that money cannot buy a real documentary.