Like high romantics everywhere, the lovebirds named Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye felt as if they were really one soul separated into two bodies. Unlike everyone else, they did something about it. After meeting in New York in 1993, the two set about becoming mirror images of one another, first with small things like matching bleached bobs, matching pop and fetish inspired fashion and slashed red anime make-up, before moving on to the hard stuff in 2004: radical, transformative cosmetic surgeries meant to make them look two matching halves of a single “pandrogynous being,”
And that is how we meet musician/artist P-Orridge (born Neil Megson, 1950) and Lady Jaye (born Jacqueline Breyer, 1969) in Marie Losier’s remarkable new film, with matching hair and fashion styles, breast implants, plumped Restalyne lips, and enhanced cheekbones.
A total break with any music-doc form, The Ballad of Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye also drops any semblance of linear narrative. It opts instead for a jangly non-stop montage of associative images, ideas and sounds to navigate P-Orridge’s five-odd decades of working subcultural fringes—from being an early performance art and industrial music pioneer, to becoming a modern primitive provocateur—and makes it all seem like falling off a log.
But the illusion of effortlessness is just that. Cinema like this, that makes poetic connections entirely on symbolic, suggestive, or subconscious levels, requires a degree of aesthetic focus and rigor you find once every few years, if that.
Losier—a 2006 Whitney Biennialist and collaborator with Guy Maddin on the short film Manuelle Labor (2007)—is up to the task. Like the artist being uncovered, her film is all about a charmingly knockabout faith in strange connections—aesthetic, interdisciplinary and maybe even spiritual.
And so it’s playful and ironically perverse that Losier starts off by disconnecting P-Orridge from his/her exotic strain of fame (damn these pronouns!), limning the artist as just another eccentric expat Brit living in Brooklyn, an arty, eccentric fifty-something guy making dinner in formal drag wear.
But Losier knows she has a secret weapon that will stop audiences fromdismissing P-Orridge as a Quentin Crisp wannabe: his adorable, reserve-melting, total adoration of Lady Jaye.
She’s an ice-blond contradiction, a fetish-styling glam girl who’s also a nurse specializing in the care of kids with incurable disabilities.
P-Orridge recalls staying at a dominatrix friend’s dungeon in the East Village when a door opened, and into the light stepped Jaye, a vision in groovy 60’s style clothes and fetish accoutrements (“my two favorites!”).
Smitten, P-Orridge prayed, “Dear Universe—If you find a way for me to be with this woman, I will sleep with her forever.”
The universe would give one of the worst conditional “yes” answers ever. But P-Orridge didn’t know that, of course.
And then, only after the Genesis/Jaye origins story, does Losier make room for biography, as hercameras roam P-Orridge’s basement. Hundreds of boxes and crates hold thousands of files of newspapers, magazines and ‘zines, while more boxes hold thousands more home, network, pirate and internet video, all of it documenting and critiquing over thirty years worth of performance, music and art-making at the interstices of international fetish, BDSM, industrial, and body modification cultures.
In this blizzard of outlier arts history—post punk, Beat and UK history bits in multiple formats mix and match to becomes mini music videos accompanying P-Orridge’s stream-of-memory narration—but two elements are especially fascinating and essential: a video of P-Orridgein the ‘80s, dressed in hyper-masculine military mufti and practically attacking an admiring crowd. Where, one wonders, did this manned-up Genesis go?
And there is a lot about P-Orridge’s mentor, William S. Burroughs, who in the late 60s went out of his way to land the young and struggling P-Orridge arts funding grants and also introduced Genesis to the cut-up method, wherein linear texts are sliced into impossible-to-predict ‘new’ works.
The cut-up defined P-Orridge’s ‘70s band, Psychic TV, and his ‘80s band, Throbbing Gristle, both way-ahead-of-their-time groups that co-created the industrial genre that led to groups like Nine Inch Nails and provided basic DNA for all electronic dance music genres. But the ultimate cut-up, of course, was the form Genesis and Lady Jaye’s partnership took.
Which most people would think the act of two very disturbed people. And so, in the spirit of cutting folks off at the corner of Freud and Rosebud, Losier and P-Orridge (it’s unclear how closely the two worked on this project for the eight years of production) offer up a video recreation.
A cute sad boy of about twelve years, dressed in British school clothes stands, in front of an institutional edifice, as P-Orridge recalls years of daily bullying, in which he was almost beaten to death.
Cut to: The real P-Orridge wearing a cacophony of contradictory fashion semiotics—Fascist S&M chic. Red lipstick. A Hitler moustache. Warhol hair. He screams, “I am so sick and tired of being told what I’m supposed to look like! This is not my body! This is not my name! This is not my personality!”
It’s an almost shockingly bare declaration of independence. But what of Lady Jaye?
During the film there’s a sense of mystery about her. She always seems to be finishing something, or leaving somewhere, of in the middle of laughing about something we don’t know about. The film has no special effects, clever editing, or odd framing, but she still seems . . it’s hard to explain . . . spectral in some way.
During a Psychic TV reunion, P-Orridge tells us she’s upset about something, but all I could see was a blur of her moving and, yes, looking pissed, but then we were on to something else.
Then the hammer fell and I wondered about that:
Lady Jaye died in 2007. Cancer. Next to her beloved after making love, or so goes the ballad.
First off, I was glad Losier didn’t cheapen Lady Jaye’s story with talking head treacle that would “explain” her. And P-Orridge, who speaks glowingly about how “we made love” or how “she looked so beautiful,” wants to keep details about Lady Jaye private and cherished at the same time that he offers her legend as a lasting image and archetype for everything he might consider pure and beautiful.
That some of Losier’s film can be read as myth-creation does not devaluate the far greater parts that are inarguable acts of music history and culturally integrated biography. But the film doesn’t forget to remain true to its title as it evokes another ballad, another musical couple walking in another park, as P-Orridge and Lady Jaye, dressed all in white, stroll through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
“I love you,” says one voice. “I know,” says the other.
Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times, gothic.net, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out/New York.