Sunday, December 18, 2011

Neglected Gem #9: Jupiter's Wife (1995)

It’s a funny thing about movies. They may get critical acclaim, even score some box office success and years later they’re barely mentioned by anyone or even remembered. And there’s often no discernible reason for their fates. I really can’t tell why Neil Jordan’s terrific and accessible heist movie The Good Thief, which got good reviews when it came out in 2002, has pretty much vanished into the ether. Or why Steve Jordan’s powerful documentary Stevie (2002) failed to match the impact of his earlier 1994 doc Hoop Dreams. Or even why The Lord of the Rings’s Peter Jackson’s mock 1995 documentary Forgotten Silver didn’t become the cult hit it should have been. In any case, here is the latest entry in a series of disparate movies you really ought to see.

A sleeper at the 1995 Montreal Film Festival, Jupiter's Wife had its genesis in documentarian Michael Negroponte's curiosity about Maggie, a middle-aged homeless person he spotted in Central Park walking her four dogs. She told him tales about being the daughter of the late actor Robert Ryan and having friends among New York's upper class. Remarkably, all of her stories weren't complete fabrications, as Maggie turned out to be both more and less than she claimed.

Following her around during her daily routine, investigating her background, talking to the people who knew her, Negroponte slowly creates a unique, charming portrait of a rather special person – one who in her own way broke ground for women. Maggie's life is ultimately tragic and sad, but the accomplishment of Jupiter's Wife (shot in video and blown up to 35mm) is that it goes beyond the usual stereotypes of the homeless.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular courses at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute, where he just finished teaching a course on the work of Steven Spielberg. He will next be teaching a course there on the films of Sidney Lumet, beginning on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.

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