In the early 2000s, Genesis P-Orridge embarked on the latest major phase of an art career which is as erratic as they come. P-Orridge and his lover Lady Jaye undertook a “pandrogyny” project, in which they would eschew the bodies they were born with by going through a series of plastic surgeries with the goal of resembling each other as closely as possible. In effect, the aim was to meld their beings into each other’s, in spirit and body. This is the story that Marie Losier’s outstanding documentary, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, attempts to explain.
An obvious labor of love, the film took Losier ten years to film and edit. She used combined footage of concert performances of the P-Orridge musical projects (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Thee Majesty) along with conversations with the love birds at their Williamsburg apartment, performance pieces (one which included Genesis and Lady Jaye dressed up as twin Hitlers and delivering a fiery oration against their bodies as prisons) accompanied by a soundtrack from Genesis’s vast music catalog that ranges from soft, melodic folk to scorching noise.
Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation, Walk Away Renée), who was reached for the writing of this article, said this about Ballad, “I thought it was one of the most puristic cinematic love letters to their story […] the story of Genesis and Lady Jaye is heartbreaking and glorious.”
Just two faults keep The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye from being a documentary of the highest order, rather than merely a must-see film of 2012. The first is that, at seventy-two minutes it is just too short. Given this self-imposed time restriction, Losier does an admirable job both at giving the average moviegoer an accurate account of the extremely influential and varied career of Genesis P-Orridge prior to the pandrogyny project, as well as the motivating ideas behind pandrogyny (and their aesthetic ties to the works of P-Orridge’s mentors, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin).
Some salient moments in the career of Genesis P-Orridge include repeated arrests for obscenity prompted by his involvement in the Fluxus movement in London, being denounced by Parliament as leader of the art collective COUM Transmissions for of their “Pornography” exhibition, Inventing industrial music as leader of Throbbing Gristle, founding the cultish Temple of Psychick Youth, as well as its media front group, Psychic TV, being exiled from Great Britain based on the satanic rituals, castration, and other transgressive acts explicitly depicted in “First Transmissions,” a video work by Psychic TV and inventing (according to Genesis P-Orridge) acid house.
The film touches on some of these biographical details more than others (although the topic of Genesis’s exile is apparently taboo), but the telling is all so fleeting that the average viewer may not be quite up to the task of absorbing it.
The other fault, which would be crippling to the film’s execution had it not possessed other saving graces—like its compelling story and sharp editing—is that we hear precious little from Lady Jaye about her role in the pandrogyny project. Given that the project presumably revolves around equal partnership (two becoming one), it would have been nice (probably edifying) to hear Lady Jaye’s side of the story for more than the two or three minutes that we do. Genesis is ever-articulate, but perhaps too much for the film’s good.