Home Video Hovel: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, by Dayne Linford
Documentary filmmaking is such a strange art form, a juxtaposition of two words immediately in conflict, the first a dry documentation of events, persons, places as they are, and the second a word that directly evokes the dirty, wet process of creation, the first a denial of subjectivity, the second an embrace of agency and an implicit rejection of objective truth as it is commonly seen. All documentaries necessarily toe this line, but few in such a fascinating, powerful way as The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye.
It might be helpful to give a little background here. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge was born Neil Andrew Megson in England in 1950, and went on to become everything that Genesis currently is – a singer, songwriter, performance artist, musician, poet, personality. P-Orridge fronted the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, then the acid house band Psychic TV, founded a temple, rewrote the rules on gender. On that last bit, it’s rather impossible to apply any pronouns to P-Orridge, or even to use the singular when referring to h/er. This is where Lady Jaye comes in. Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge was born Jacqueline Mary Breyer in New York, 1969. S/he (this gets complicated fast) was in her youth a dominatrix/performance artist, and would later, once taking the name Lady Jaye, become pretty much everything Genesis is. Which leads us into the last bit about this incredible couple, in that, according to them, they’re not a couple at all. Undergoing dramatic cosmetic surgery to look as alike as possible, getting implants, restructuring their bodies and personalities, Genesis and Lady Jaye embarked around 1998 on the Pandrogyne project, the goal being to evolve into a new gender and a single being called Breyer P-Orridge. Consequently, pronouns are floating, bodies are changing, and everything previously understood about art and gender simply goes out the window.
So how do you make a documentary, as a filmmaker, about a personality(s) so overwhelming, so striking? It seems impossible to do it any way other than what Marie Losier, the director, chose to do. She made a film as DIY, self-creating, convention smashing, genre bending, etc., as her subjects were. The camera pans, tilts, zooms, cuts at will and seemingly capriciously but with an incredible agency behind it. As regards the earlier discussion about the line between document and created film, this is a film that can only achieve the former by fully embracing the latter. Never is the camera unacknowledged, in fact, Genesis spends much of the film mugging for it, flashing h/er breasts, jumping on a bed, playing hide and seek. Losier brings us much closer than any biography style documentary could by creating an immediate piece of art, with no reference to any of the complicated backstory outlined above, because that’s what her subject is – a love that exists only in this moment and therefore seems to exist eternally, a couple that defies what once was, what is, what will be, for – who knows? Is that even the point, to have a point?
Ultimately, Losier focuses Ballad on the dignity and the humanity of her subjects, people who have chosen to violate many of the unspoken rules of what human is or even can be. Regardless of discomfort, even disagreement, Losier wants her audience to see these people as they really are, perhaps in a small way helping in the Pandrogyne project, by emphasizing the common humanness of her subjects, without recourse to gender, race, socio-economics, etc. The takeaway of this film is that Breyer P-Orridge completely transcends even the categories s/he appears to stand in opposition to.
To be honest, I find this film completely unexplainable, its impact deeply felt yet unable to be vocalized in any coherent form. For that reason alone, this movie should be seen. It defies almost any possible expectation, even as it creates them, forcing the viewer to be complicit in its self-creation. Doing so, it’s an incredibly rare gift to those who see it, an opportunity to experience something deep, lasting and incredibly powerful, a chance to cut to the quick of the notion of humanness and explore it fully, without judgment. Even if the rest of this review confuses you as it does me, I’ll make it simple for you – see this film.