The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, which plays tomorrow night at BAMcinemaFest, blends seven years of intimate footage with archival glimpses and old-school bohemian stylization to tell the story of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the frontman of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, and his wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, and their ““pandrogyne” project, as they got extensive plastic surgery to resemble one another more closely, so as to transcend the limitations of the body. I emailed this week with director Marie Losier.
I’ve heard Genesis and Lady Jaye approached you at the start of the pandrogyne project, because they knew they’d want to document it-how well did you know them, and their histories in the music/art/fetish world going in? How was the project presented to you, and how did your sense of it evolve over the course of the film?
I knew nothing about Genesis and Lady Jaye, their music, art or history. I first saw Genesis perform seven years ago, at the Knitting Factory. I went to see Alan Vega but the third part was Thee Majesty with Genesis, Lady Jaye and Bryin Dall. Watching Genesis perform was pure enchantment. His words from the stage hovered somewhere between song and speech, deeply poetic, primitive, at times frightful. It completely hypnotized me.
In a typically miraculous New York City coincidence, I met Genesis the next day at a gallery opening in Soho, in one of those sardine-can spaces where you can barely walk and hardly breathe. Being relatively small, I got pressed into a corner where I inadvertently stepped on someone’s toes. I turned to apologize and there was Genesis smiling, his gold-capped teeth glittering down over me. We spoke briefly, but in that time I felt something special had passed between us. He asked me about my films and gave me his email. Whether it was fate or pure clumsiness, this marked the beginning of an artistic collaboration that would develop into a close friendship.
Soon after I was invited to his home and sat there in the basement when Lady Jaye appeared with her beautiful self and a giant glass of tea for me… we talked, and very soon, Jaye said to Genesis, “She is the one”—so I smiled wondering what that meant—”the one we have been waiting for to film our life and love and pandrogeny project” Of course I make films and it always happens with sudden encounters, and surprise, so I said yes without knowing a thing about the project. Two weeks later I was on tour with Psychic TV on a bus, my first rock ‘n’ roll experience and the beginning of many years of friendship, filming, learning and shaping the film.
They never questioned me, or directed me, they let me film what I wanted, and I felt myself, free and clumsy but just able to be there and do it my own manner, with deep respect and love for them both and their life. There was not sense of what the project would be, I first thought it would be a documentary on music… and fast I saw it would be a love story because of their deep relationship that was in front of my camera at all time, such a peculiar love story mixed with art and music… but love above all.
Did it seem like there was a sexual element to the pandrogyne project? Of course Gen frames it as a convergence of these two souls, and you’ve produced a deeply moving film on the subject. But given Lady Jaye’s history as a dominatrix and the, I guess, somewhat more noticeable transformations undergone by Gen (along with the sort of ticklish excitement from transvestism as glanced a couple of times in the film), I wonder whether you have any insight into the sexual side of things.
To be true, I never really questioned that part of their relationship because it was pure love always, very romantic, sexual, sensual and on that level not much different from the typical couple you can see around most likely. They both were extremely open and their work is often very much on the body: Genesis for decades worked and works still today on performance, body art, collages, writing, always using the body as a center for much happening, experience, and discovery; same for Lady Jaye who was not just a dominatrix but also a nurse, a dancer, a performer… so of course that brings much of the subject of sexuality. But when you know them both and spend time around them, they are just like an eccentric couple with a very balanced relationship, who love to dress up, transform, transfer, masculine, feminine at the same time and deeply in love at the end.
You use some rudimentary experimental techniques—mixing stocks and frame speed, say—reminiscent of New York’s underground cinematic history. You’ve also made short films with Tony Conrad, the Kuchars, etc.; how do you see your work, here and elsewhere, in relation to this tradition? How do you apply this aesthetic sensibility in a documentary such as this one, where there’s also an expository imperative?
I have to say I never learned how to make films, I come from literature and painting, so I just made my first film with a Bolex someone gave me as a gift and I learned how to load film and shoot my first with the wonderful and wonderfully clumsy Mike Kuchar… So that really helped not worrying much about my lack of technique and knowledge, and just play. I had already been in the circle of the “underground” world for a while, while working for Richard Foreman, programming films at Robert Beck, being around those people I really loved. So it was quite natural to me to be there and participate, yet not having a preconceived idea at all. Yet at the same time because I have no lineage in it, it took a long long time for me to show work and have a place there… and I’m still not showing much in NYC actually. Coming from loving films and classical cinema and being a painter, making experimental films was very natural and logical transition to me.
The film portraits I made were all based on encounters and friendships. I never go make a film with an idea that I want to make a film about such and such artist, it would not work.
As for the style, it is the same style for the shorts and the feature, the way I film, the way I edit and shoot alone so without synch sound, make costumes, make a lot of tableau like Melies to set the characters in them… and what is surprising is that Genesis’s work and “cut up” project with Lady Jaye, is very close to the manner I myself make films, collaging, using different formats, raw and quick editing… so aesthetically the sensibility was one of the closest to my style.